Paul Newman is an absolute Hollywood legend, but his film debut nearly derailed one of the most prolific film careers of all time. One might think Newman would be sentimental looking back at his first film, The Silver Chalice. However, according to the website By the Gods, he later called it, “the worst film to be made in the entirety of the 1950s.”
In The Silver Chalice, adapted from Thomas B. Costain’s 1952 novel, a young Greek sculptor named Basil (Paul Newman) is sold into slavery. Newman was 29 when he took the role. You’d think that Newman would have worn only all-out enthusiasm while appearing alongside big Hollywood stars like Natalie Wood and Pier Angeli. It even featured future Bonanza star, Lorne Greene! However, once he saw the completed project, Newman was anything but enthused. Maybe Newman should have known the script wasn’t very strong. James Dean passed on the project.
In Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy, the acting icon explained his disdain for the film. “I was horrified and traumatized when I saw the film, Newman explained. “I was sure my acting career had begun and ended in the same picture.” Newman disliked The Silver Chalice so much that he spent $1,200 to advertise against it. He hated the wardrobe, his performance, and most of all, the fact that critics continuously compared him to Marlon Brando. “It was god-awful,” Newman said of the film.
How Paul Newman inadvertently got more eyes on his least liked film
The 1950s ushered in an era of “sword and sandals” epics. These were Biblical stories and Greek myths that were met with box office success and critical acclaim. The 1956 film The Ten Commandments and 1959’s Ben-Hur are still some of the most iconic and renowned films in cinema history. However, The Silver Chalice was destined to be considerably less revered.
The film was lambasted by critics for its obvious faults and ludicrous presentation. The film has a pitiful 13% (out of 100) rating on Rotten Tomatoes. One reviewer even said of the film, “The pic is so bad, you can hear the dogs barking.“
However, it did manage to achieve modest commercial success in an amusingly ironic way. Paul Newman’s ads for The Silver Chalice backfired when he tried to warn people away from watching it on television in 1963. It’s actually got people interested in seeing the film. The film debuted with fantastic ratings and viewership, but it quickly became apparent how awful it was. For a time, it was considered one of the biggest turkeys in Hollywood history. However, Newman managed to live the blunder down. The Silver Chalice faded from memory, and Newman is one of the most admired actors in film history.