Friday, April 4, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

For a while there Charleton Heston was contractually obligated to appear only in huge sprawling historical and biblical epics. Ok, I exaggerate a little bit, but only teeny tiny bit. And while we all know about Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, here is one you don’t hear about too often. The topic was unique, the cast was impressive and it has plenty of “epic” moments, but how come you never hear about this film?

The year is 1508 and Michelangelo Buonarroti (Charleton Heston) is hard at work on a glorious tomb for Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison). But Pope Julius is more concerned with transforming the Sistine Chapel into something worthy of Papal power. So he demands that Michelangelo paint the 12 apostles on the ceiling. Michelangelo hates this idea, and he tells the pope that to his face. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor first and foremost. His painting skills were merely a stepping-stone in his education. But Pope Julius insists, and when he insists – he means it.

And so a battle of wills plays out. Michelangelo eventually takes the assignment, but feels no spark of inspiration for it. He drags his feet, and makes many excuses to not work, even fleeing from Rome to escape Julius’s soldiers who have orders to drag him back to the chapel or face prison. While on the run, he is suddenly struck by inspiration – the creation of the world would be a much better and more interesting topic for the ceiling. So he returns to Rome to begin painting, much to Julius’ delight. Unfortunately Michelangelo is a perfectionist. Years drag on and the ceiling is nowhere near completion. Michelangelo begins to go blind and Julius’ health starts to fail him. Will either one survive The Agony and the Ecstasy of this creation of one of the most famous pieces of Renaissance art?

Good Points:
  • A wonderful dynamic between Heston and Harrison
  • Impressive scope and visuals
  • Wonderful score by Alex North

Bad Points:
  • Moves in fits and starts with long dialogue scenes doing little to advance the story
  • The topic seems a bit strained for an “epic” style film
  • The dubbing of the supporting cast may distract some viewers

This seems a strange topic for a huge budget Hollywood epic, and at times the material seems a bit stretched. However the dynamic acting between Heston and Harrison are a real draw. Their scenes together keep the film cooking. The visuals are impressive with beautiful location shooting and impressive sets and interiors. Alex North provides a wonderful musical score. It’s an interesting film done in that classic epic style.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. Truth be told, I like Charlton better in campy scifi like Omerga Man or Soylent Green.

    1. Yeah I can see where you're coming from. I think he was really good in Ben Hur, gave him a fairly well defined character to work with. He's good in this one too. For me the historical epics of the 50s and 60s are a mixed bag. I love the scope and grandeur, but they tend to plod along too much. Lots of padding.

      I'll admit it, I still haven't seen "Soylent Green". I think I need to revoke my sci-fi fan status. :)