A tedious religious epic that wasted the talents of many, THE SILVER CHALICE marked the movie debut of Paul Newman at the age of 29, and it's a tribute to his staying power that he has managed to have such a tremendous career after the terrible lambasting he took from the critics and the

ennui shown by audiences for this $4.5 million loser. Based on a best seller by Thomas Costain, it's a rambling tale that never comes into focus, and the result is a lot of people running around without motivation. Newman is a young Greek sculptor with something of an inheritance. His greedy

relatives sell him into Roman slavery so they can get their hands on his drachmae. In the Eternal City he has several adventures, and, eventually, his sculpting abilities are recognized. Newman marries Angeli, a shy young woman who adores him, but he is not above dallying with curvaceous Mayo,

whom he's known since his earliest days in Greece. He winds up in Jerusalem, where he accepts an assignment from the Christian leaders (Lorne Greene plays Peter) to design and sculpt a receptacle for the chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper. The chalice is coveted by a horde of characters, so

Newman is forced to engage in various feats of bravery, is captured, escapes, and finally finds happiness. Along the way, Newman meets Palance, a magician who thinks he can fly; Aubuchon, as the mad Nero; several of the Apostles; and what must have been the first Palestinian rebels. The chalice is

eventually lost and Greene predicts that it will be found in the future to help lead a battling world back to the basics of Christ's teachings. Too many words, not enough drama and a poor debut for Newman. More interesting than any of the leads is a brief appearance by Natalie Wood, who plays

Mayo's character as a youngster; Peter Reynolds plays Newman as a youth. One other notable item is the inclusion of the Laguna Arts Festival Players, who appear as tableau performers. THE SILVER CHALICE somehow managed to receive two Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best

Score; it lost in both categories.