Against a backdrop of political-religious upheaval during the Italian Renaissance, The Agony and the Ecstasy focuses on the personal conflict between sculptor-painter Michelangelo and his patron, Pope Julius II.
Scripter Philip Dunne has zeroed in on a four-year span during which the painter labored on the ceiling frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. The potent seeds in Dunne’s excellent treatment [of the novel by Irving Stone] are the artistic arrogance of Michelangelo and equally stubborn mind of the soldier Pontiff Julius.
Rex Harrison is outstanding as the Pope, from the moment of his striking entrance as a hooded soldier leading the suppression of a pocket of revolt, to his later scenes as an urbane, yet sensitive, pragmatic ruler of a worldly kingdom.
Charlton Heston’s Michelangelo is, in its own way, also outstanding. Combination of austere garb, thinned face, short hair and beard, plus underplaying in early scenes, effectively submerge the Heston image fostered by his earlier epix.
Assisting Harrison’s verbal whiplashes are the grandiose engineering plans of the architect Bramante, then engaged in building the new basilica of St Peter. Harry Andrews excels in the role, while his protege, the painter Raphael, played by Tomas Milian, projects very well as Heston’s possible replacement.
[Prior to roadshow presentations of the pic, a 12 1/2-min. documentary Prologue was included, featuring the sculpture of Michelangelo and scored by Jerry Goldsmith.]
1965: Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Original Music Score, Sound