Lavish, starstruck and for the most part, splendid. When John Houseman and Joseph Mankiewicz, brother of Herman, decided to film Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, they picked an elegant and distinguished cast--Mason, Gielgud, Calhern, O'Brien--but they also shocked the industry and not a few
literary scholars by selecting Brando to play Marc Antony. He was then still known as "The Mumbler" and "The Slob," for his brutish performance as Stanley Kowalski in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. But Brando turned that opinion about in a startling performance.
JULIUS CAESAR was the brainchild of Houseman and Mankiewicz, the producer having worked with Orson Welles and the Mercury Players on the 1937 version of Caesar. Houseman, who had been lobbying to make the film for years, heard that the property was seriously being considered and contacted studio
boss Dore Schary, saying that if he were not named the producer he would leave MGM. The studio reluctantly agreed, but did not expect much from this production. Films based on the works of the immortal Bard had been box-office poison at best, especially ROMEO AND JULIET, produced by MGM in 1936,
starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, a pet project of then-production chief Irving Thalberg. But this film surprisingly turned in a considerable profit, much of which was due to the astounding performance of Brando as Marc Antony, a role first intended for Paul Scofield, and then for Leo Genn
or Charlton Heston. Performances aside, this is clearly Mankiewicz's film, expertly crafted from every angle, with the mob and murder scenes adroitly staged.
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