Julius Caesar is one of the most famous people in history, and William Shakespeare’s play is perhaps the most referenced account of his life, with many of Caesar’s moments immortalised by Bard’s take on his life. The filmed version of the play with Marlon Brando is perhaps the most famous, but I was curious to find yet another version was made — in 1970, no less, and featuring a cast that contained Charlton Heston, Diana Rigg, Jason Robards and Christopher Lee. How could such an outstanding cast in such a famous film be so forgotten? Well, the answer is simple. The film, regrettably, is terrible. But that’s not to say Imprint’s package isn’t worth your while.
The film, it should be said, looks great. As with its other 1080p efforts, Imprint has offered a very fair upgrade on an older film that would likely never see the light of day otherwise. Images are clean and clear, and one wishes the film truly deserved such an update; to Imprint’s credit, they published such a nice version of such a poor picture.
Is this film that bad? Yes. Am I just being mean? No. I won’t delve into the plot details; everyone knows them, and those beats are hit. Despite his excellent acting pedigree, Robards derails the whole thing as Brutus. His line readings are deadpan when they should be passionate, he looks about 40 years too old for the part and he has zero chemistry with anyone else. It is quite something to see an actor take a film and drive it off a cliff by sheer force of will. As for Heston, he’s fine as Marc Antony; this was a vanity project for Heston that went oh so badly. Sadly, Rigg and Lee make only brief appearances.
True cinema fans though, know, that a bad film is not the worst thing; that would be a boring film. To wit: The entirety of the extras in this set are essentially, and incredibly, about why this film doesn’t work — taking a fantastic dive into what went wrong in this production, why it doesn’t work, how it doesn’t work and so on. This consists of a new audio commentary and two new video-essay features, as well as a documentary that interviews surviving production crew members.
So, while this package offers a lovely presentation of a subpar film, it also offers you a hidden master-class in film critique and production understanding, something I especially enjoyed. Movies that often go right are often hard to imagine going wrong, but 1970’s Julius Caesar shows how films can go wrong at crucial junctures. Despite its poor quality, the film has lessons to impart, and Imprint’s set (with its fine extras) will make you appreciate your favourites even more.