"Ye gods! Must I endure all this?" understandably bellows Cassius (Richard Johnson) in the last lap of the third filming of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," which opened yesterday at the Kips Bay Theater. Made in England and Spain and in color, with a perfectly viable cast headed by Jason Robards and Charlton Heston, the new picture is generally as flat and juiceless as a dead haddock. In this third go-round, Willie and Julius, both, really get the business.
It's Shakespeare all right, at least in dialogue. Dramaturgically, the blueprint adheres to the Hollywood version back in 1953. That solid, intelligent treatment may have lacked majesty but it did have two fire-and-ice performances by John Gielgud as Cassius and Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. And the tormented soul of the real hero, Brutus (James Mason), was sufficiently and touchingly bared.
Then there was an even earlier "Julius Caesar" from Chicago, of all places, with a newcomer named Charlton Heston as Antony, which he repeats here. The movie did have a raw, shoestring vigor and a bit more.
The new movie moves sluggishly, as directed by Stuart Burge. As the center of the whole thing, Robards is incredibly dull and wooden as Brutus, the "noblest Roman of them all." Heston supplies laconic bite and delivers a good, ferocious funeral oration. For all his professionalism, Gielgud's Caesar is just an old shrewdie who yields to his ego.
In Sir John's former Cassius slot, Johnson looks anything but "lean and hungry," with a bearded sneer, contrasting Robert Vaughn's bland, eye-rolling Casca. However, Diana Rigg and Richard Chamberlain, as Portia and Octavius Caesar, are briefly excellent in their quicksliver precision and feeling.
But it's hopeless. Now "Julius Caesar" looks left out all night.