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The Silver Chalice

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The Silver Chalice, starring Paul Newman, Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo, Jack Palance
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The Silver Chalice, starring Paul Newman, Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo, Jack Palance

Synopsis of The Silver Chalice

Paul Newman – in his screen debut – plays a 1st-century Greek sculptor who is sold into slavery. He escapes harm when his talent is discovered and he is commissioned to create a replica of the chalice Jesus drank from at the Last Supper.


In short, The Silver Chalice is an interesting, although not riveting, extra-Biblical Bible epic. It’s set twenty years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The elderly Joseph of Arimathea wants to create a silver chalice to contain the cup from the Last Supper. He wants it embossed with the faces of the twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. Why? Because we wouldn’t have a story otherwise, I suppose.

The Silver Chalice, starring Paul Newman, Pier Angeli, Virginia Mayo, Jack Palance

Frankly, the movie is slow in parts. For me, the most riveting part of the story is the portrayal of Simon Magus by Jack Palance. He’s a magician — at one point he does the classic appearing tree trick. And he’s planning on setting himself up as the “true” messiah, by fooling the masses with his false “miracles”. He’s untrustworthy, scheming, egotistical … and a delight to watch.

Cast of characters

  • Paul Newman (The Cinncinati Kid) as Basil. The Roman (not Christian, at least initially) silversmith. Sold into slavery, redeemed by Joseph of Arimathea, to make a silver chalice to house the cup from the Last Supper. He falls in love with (and marries) the Christian Deborra, while being tempted by the beautiful Helena.
  • Pier Angeli (Merry Andrew) as Deborra. Beautiful young Christian believer. She’s Joseph’s relative, unafraid to denounce Simon Magus as a false messiah — even at the risk of her life. She falls in love with Basil, and marries him. Even knowing that he’s still attached to Helen.
  • Walter Hampden as Joseph of Arimathea. The Pharisee who, in the Biblical account, became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and had him buried in his own tomb. After Jesus’ resurrection, he became a Christian follower. The movie is set twenty years later, when he’s old. He hires Basil to make a silver chalice, with the images of the twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. And performs the wedding ceremony between Basil and Deborra … before his death.


  • Virginia Mayo (The Princess and the Pirate) as Helena. Simon Magus’ assistant and lover. She’s attracted to Basil, but riding Simon Magus’ coattails to power. And isn’t about to give that up for Basil. But, she’s willing to bring him along …
  • Jack Palance (Sudden Fear) as Simon Magus, the villain. And what a villain he is. He felt insulted by Simon Peter years ago (story in the Biblical Book of Acts, for those interested). And he’s seeking revenge. He plans to set himself up as the “true” messiah, destroy the young Christian Church, and destroy the cup from the last supper in front of Simon Peter. He’s a magician, doing “cheap tricks” which he’s using to fool the simple minded. But, he begins to believe his own propaganda

Secondary characters

  • Joseph Wiseman as Mijamin
  • Alexander Scourby as Saint Luke
  • Lorne Greene as Peter
  • Natalie Wood, who plays Helena as a youth.
  • Victor Saville was the director.

 Editorial review of The Silver Chalice courtesy of

He looks like Marlon Brando, some reviewers said of this movie’s 29-year-old star, but those comparisons would soon end. Soon to impress with his own intense brilliance, Paul Newman made his movie debut in this Biblical saga in the mode of Quo Vadis and The Robe. Set in Rome during the early Christian era, it focuses on an ill-fated sculptor sold into slavery and torn between his adoring wife (Pier Angeli) and a wily temptress (Virginia Mayo) – and threatened in his work by a power-mad sorcerer (Jack Palance) bent on overturning Christianity and becoming his own “true Messiah.” The Silver Chalice‘s cast also includes Lorne Green, E.G. Marshall and a blonde Natalie Wood. But Newman is the movie’s heart. “This young man,” director Victor Saville predicted, “is destined for great things.”

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