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All Hail Caesar At Block Cinema

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 30, 2014 6:00PM

Photo: Chalmers Butterfield

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar has been brought to movie and TV screens several times, but the version playing this Thursday at Block Cinema on the Northwestern campus certainly ranks as one of the more rarely shown adaptations, and a real curio for those interested in movies shot in the Chicago area.

A low-budget and independently mounted production, this 1950 version was the first feature-length treatment of the play, and it was cast with unknown actors, largely students in Northwestern's theater department. However, the actor playing Marc Antony was about to break big in Hollywood...really big. In short order, Charlton Heston would become box office gold.

While the chance to see Heston on the brink of stardom is undoubtedly a draw for this event, the DIY approach to the production might be the most compelling aspect. Among other locales, director David Bradley used the Museum of Science and Industry, with its classic Roman columns, as a stand-in for period architecture.

Shot on 16mm, the film was intended to be marketed to educational outlets, but Heston's emergence as a star led to a limited theatrical release on 35mm blow-up prints. As an artifact of local filmmaking, this Julius Caesar certainly seems worth a look. Heston would again star as Marc Antony in a 1970 screen version of the play and in his own directorial attempt at Antony and Cleopatra in 1972.

Prestige seems to have eluded director Bradley, but he claimed some cult movie immortality for the 1963 film, The Madmen of Mandoras, later rejiggered and sensationally retitled They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

Aside from the film itself, this event is a good chance to support co-presenters The Northwest Chicago Film Society, one the city's great revival programming enterprises. Since losing their last regular venue, the Patio Theater, the NCFS' showings have been more irregular. Here's hoping they find a permanent home soon.

Julius Caesar plays 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2 at Block Cinema, Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston.