Friends, Bloggers, Countrymen: I come to praise Brando, not to link to a YouTube clip of his posthumous performance in Superman Returns. This star-studded 1953 production–directed, like Cleopatra, by Joseph L. Mankiewicz–provides everything you’re looking for in a Shakespeare adaptation: statues, togas, striking profiles, and superhuman eloquence.
James Mason plays moody Brutus, John Gielgud his fellow republican conspirator Cassius, Louis Calhern the doomed tyrant Caesar, and Deborah Kerr has a scene as Brutus’ wife Portia. Brutus is the play’s central character, but it is Marlon Brando, in the role of Marc Antony, who rules supreme. He’s introduced with his shirt off, looks impossibly regal in a robe, and ends up smiting his enemies in full armor–and when he opens his mouth, he spouts some of Shakespeare’s best speeches.
The merits and problems of this adaptation are so obvious that even ol’ Bosley Crowther got it right: “The vibrant illusion of mighty doings flows strongly from the screen” but:
Breathes there a high school junior who doesn’t know that the high point of the play is Mark Antony’s stirring oration over the body of his friend? With Mr. Brando delivering this oration in a brilliant, electrifying splurge of bitter and passionate invective about two-thirds of the way through the film, the remaining decline and fall of Brutus and Cassius seem spiritless and drab. If ever there was an anti-climax in a film (or a play), it is here.
Julius Caesar. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1953. ***