Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Silver Chalice (dir by Victor Saville)


If you ever needed proof that everyone has to start somewhere, look no further than the 1954 biblical epic, The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice features the film debut of Paul Newman, who later proved himself to be a legitimately great actor.  It’s true that, unlike a lot of actors, Newman made his debut in a starring role.  He never had to humiliate himself with any one-line roles or walk-on bits.  No, Paul got to humiliate himself with a starring role.

Paul Newman was 29 years old when he played Basil, a former slave turned sculptor.  Not only did Newman bear a disconcerting resemblance to Ben Savage (of Boy Meets World fame) but he gave a performance that was so bad that it’s kind of a shock that he ever worked again.  Basil is a passionate artist, one who survived being betrayed by his adopted family and slavery.  Newman comes across like a nice, young man from Iowa.  Usually, Newman looks miserable but occasionally, he flashes a somewhat weak smile.  When Basil gets mad, Newman speaks in a squeaky voice.  When Basil is feeling reverent, Newman furrows his brow like a hungover Russell Brand staring straight into the sun.

“But me and Topanga are soul mates…”

Then again, I’m not sure that any actor could have given a good performance as Basil.  The Silver Chalice has a terrible script, one that was written by Lesser Samuels.  (I’ll avoid the obvious joke about whether or not The Silver Chalice would have been better if written by Greater Samuels.)  Apparently, before Newman was cast, the producers pursued James Dean for the role.  I’m sure we all would have enjoyed seeing Dean slouch his way through the film but I doubt that even he could have done much with The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice is based on a novel, which perhaps explains why there’s so many characters and so many unnecessary subplots.  Basil follows a path that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a 1950s biblical epic.  He’s a young Greek who is adopted into a noble Roman family.  When his kindly stepfather dies, Basil’s stepsiblings sell him into slavery.  It’s not an easy life but Basil is a talented sculptor so Joseph of Arimathea commissions him to make a silver chalice for the Holy Grail.  Basil goes from poor to rich to poor again to rich again to ultimately saved by grace.  He even gets to do the same walking towards Heaven thing that Richard Burton did at the end of The Robe.

Meanwhile, Simon Magus (Jack Palance) is wowing the citizenry with his magic tricks and claiming to be the risen Messiah.  Simon’s assistant just happens to be Helena, who knew Basil when he was younger.  Young Helena is played by dark-haired Natalie Wood.  Grown-up Helena is played by blonde Virgina Mayo.  They were both good actresses but there’s seriously no way that Natalie Wood would have ever grown up to be Virginia Mayo.

Jack Palance pretty much steals the movie, mostly because he gets to wear the silliest costumes:

Poor Paul Newman has to settle for a tunic and a miniskirt, while Jack Palance gets to wear this:

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the story of Simon Magus.  He tried to show off by flying over the Roman Forum so St. Peter said a prayer and Simon promptly plunged to his death.  Take that, you Gnostic!

Another interesting thing about The Silver Chalice is that the sets are very deliberately fake.  I don’t mean that they look cheap.  I mean, much as in the style of German Expressionism, the sets are specifically designed to remind you that you’re watching a movie.

For instance, look at the wall behind Palance:

Look at this pleasure palace:

Look at Rome at night:

The sets are extremely dream-like and yet everything else about the film is extremely slow and conventional.  One wonders if director Victor Saville was trying to make an art film, though there’s nothing else in his long filmography that would suggest that Saville was anything other than a workmanlike director.  In fact, most biblical epics of the time took a lot of pride in looking as expensive and “accurate” as possible.  Major studios in the 1950s were not known for artistic experimentation, especially when it came to Biblical epics.  It’s hard to know what to make of The Silver Chalice‘s artistic flourishes, which is why it’s easier to just focus on what a terrible performance Paul Newman gives.

That’s certainly what Paul did!  In 1966, when The Silver Chalice finally premiered on TV, Newman took out a newspaper ad in which he apologized for his performance and then asked people not watch.  Apparently, he also used to show the movie during parties on the condition that his guests mock the film while watching it.

I don’t really blame him.  It’s an amazingly dull film and Newman looks absolutely miserable in nearly every other scene.  However, because it did star Paul Newman, The Silver Chalice will always have a life on TCM.

Speaking of TCM, they last broadcast this film on February 24th as part of their 31 Days of Oscar.  (It was nominated for both its sets and its score.)  That is when I recorded it.  And, after watching it yesterday, I was more than happy to erase it.

Experience Matters: THE PROFESSIONALS (Columbia 1966)


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A quartet of macho mercenaries – Lee Marvin Burt Lancaster Robert Ryan , and Woody Strode  – cross the dangerous Mexican desert and attempt to rescue a rich man’s wife kidnapped by a violent revolutionary in writer/director Richard Brooks’ THE PROFESSIONALS, an action-packed Western set in 1917.  The film’s tone is closer to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns than the usual Hollywood oater, though Leone’s trilogy wouldn’t hit American shores until a year later.

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Rich rancher J.W.Grant (screen vet Ralph Bellamy ) hires the quartet to retrieve wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale) from Jesus Raza (Jack Palance ), formerly a captain in Pancho Villa’s army, now a wanted bandito. Marvin is the stoic leader, a weapons expert who once rode with Raza for Villa, as did Lancaster’s explosives whiz. Ryan plays a sympathetic part (for a change) as the horse wrangling expert, while Strode is a former scout and bounty hunter adept…

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Halloween Havoc!: MAN IN THE ATTIC (20th Century Fox 1953)


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The story of notorious 19th Century serial killer Jack the Ripper has been told countless times on the screen. The case has never been officially solved, and there are probably more theories about Jack’s identity than there were victims. Author Marie Belloc Lowndes wrote “The Lodger”, a speculative fiction novel based on the Ripper murders, that was in turn made into a silent film by the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock  in 1927. The film was remade in 1932 with the same star, Ivor Novello, then again in what’s probably the most famous version, 1944’s THE LODGER , starring Laird Cregar, Merle Oberon, and George Sanders. Almost a decade later, the tale was again remade, this time with Jack Palance as the mysterious MAN IN THE ATTIC.

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Fog shrouded London’s Whitechapel District is being terrorized by a fiend known in the press as Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard is baffled, police patrols have been…

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Horror Film Review: Alone in the Dark (dir by Jack Sholder)


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“There are no crazy people, doctor.  We’re all just on vacation.”

— Frank Hawkes in Alone In The Dark (1982)

What is the difference between being crazy and being sane?  Why are some forms of delusion considered to be socially acceptable while others are condemned?  Who is the ultimate authority on what is normal and what is abnormal?  These are just some of the issues that are raised by the gleefully subversive 1982 horror film, Alone In The Dark.

We know that there’s something off about Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence) from the minute we meet him.  His smile is a little too nervous and his constant patter of positive words sound a little bit too rehearsed and convenient.  When he greets another doctor, he insists on hugging him but it’s an awkward hug.  Dr. Bain seems to be trying just a little bit too hard.  (In many ways, Pleasence seems to be poking fun at his best-known role, Halloween‘s intense and dramatic Dr. Loomis.)

Dr. Bain is in charge of a psychiatric hospital.  He doesn’t believe in conventional therapy.  Instead, his hospital is perhaps the most oppressively positive place in the world, a place where every delusion is treated as being perfectly normal and where the patients are treated very leniently.

In fact, security is only present on the third floor of the hospital.  That’s because the third floor is home to four inmates who are criminally insane.  Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance) is a former POW who suffers from paranoia and gets mad whenever he hears anyone curse.  Bryon “Preacher” Sutcliffe (Martin Landau) is a pyromaniac.  Ronald Estler (Erland van Lidth) is a gigantic child molester.  And finally, there’s The Bleeder, who always hides his face.  The Bleeder is a serial killer who is called the Bleeder because, whenever he kills, his nose starts to bleed.

Dr. Bain scoffs at the idea that these four even need security but, as he explains it, the state requires it.  However, one night, the power goes out and the four of them manage to escape.  As they make their way into the nearby town, they rather easily blend into the mob of “normal” people who are using the blackout as an excuse to go looting.

However, these four patients are on a very specific mission.  They had all grown to trust their psychiatrist, Dr. Merton.  However, Dr. Merton was eventually hired away by another hospital.  Frank is convinced — and has convinced the others — that Dr. Merton was murdered by their new psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz).  They’re goal now is to track down Dr. Potter and kill him and his family.

Meanwhile, Dr. Potter has issues of his own to deal with.  He’s a nice guy but he’s also a bit too uptight and rational for his own good.  (Early on in the film, he gets upset when his wife tries to get him to go see a band called the Sic Fucks.)  His younger sister, Toni (Lee Taylor-Allan), is visiting while she recovers from a nervous breakdown of her own.  She manages to get arrested while protesting a nuclear power plant and, when she gets out of jail, she insists on bringing another protester, Tom (Phillip Clark), home with her.

It all leads to one long night, during which the inmates lay siege to Dan’s house.  And, all the while, Dr. Bain worries about whether or not they’re all mad at him…

Alone in the Dark may come disguised as a slasher movie but actually, it’s a pitch black comedy, with a lot of the humor coming from the contrast between Dan’s rationality, Bain’s nonstop optimism, and the fact that every one else in the film is literally batshit insane.  The final siege is a masterpiece of suspense and Palance, van Lidth, and especially Martin Landau are memorably frightening in their menacing roles.  The film’s final scene deserves to be iconic.

Alone in the Dark is one of those horror films that definitely deserves to be better known.  Do NOT mistake it for the Uwe Boll film.

Guilty Pleasure No. 21: Hawk the Slayer (dir. by Terry Marcel)


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Tonight was the season finale of Game of Thrones season 4. It was another great piece of storytelling that managed to juggle several subplots and giving each one their own time to shine.

The latest “Guilty Pleasure” is the 1980 epically mind-numbing fantasy film Hawk the Slayer starring the great Jack Palance in the the villainous role of Voltan the evil elder brother to the film’s title character, Hawk the Slayer. This film is in the other side of the quality spectrum of tonight’s Game of Thrones season finale.

Hawk the Slayer was part of the 80’s flood of sword and sorcery films that included such titles as Conan the Barbarian, Beastmaster and Ladyhawke. To say that this film was bad would be an understatement. Yet, I’m quite drawn to it whenever I see it on TV. In fact, it was on syndication that I first saw this when I was just a wee lad. I might have been around 9 or 10 when I came across it halfway through.

Maybe it was the fact that I was just discovering Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but this film  spoke to me. It had that timeless story of brother against brother. The evil tyrant with legions of evil ne’er do wells against a small band of class-specific heroes and rogues. I mean this had it all. We had the hero of the film who I would probably place in the swordsman class. Then we had Ranulf with his repeating crossbow that would be the band’s rogue. Of course, there’s Gort the giant with his mighty hammer and Baldin the dwarf skilled in the art of the whip. But the one character that really shouted RPG for me throughout this film was Crow the Elf who could fire his bow as fast as any machine gun I’ve ever seen.

I think it’s very awfulness is why I keep returning to it whenever I see it on TV. The acting is atrocious with special effects that even in 1980 would be seen as laughable. The characters themselves were so one-note that one wonders if the person who wrote the screenplay was actually a trained monkey. Yet, the film was fun for all those reasons. It’s one of those titles that one would express as being so bad it’s good. Even now, with childhood several decades past, I still enjoy watching Hawk the Slayer and always wonder when they plan to get the sequel set-up and made.

Oh, the synth-heavy disco-fantasy-western soundtrack was also something to behold.

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla