Brothers Karamazov, The (1958): Richard Brooks Version of Dostoevsky Epic Novel, Starring Yu; Brynner, Maria Schell in her Debut, and Lee J. Cobb in Oscar Nominated Performance

Richard Brooks directed The Brothers Karamazov, a flawed, sharply uneven adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1880 epic novel, co-written by him, Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (better known for their “Casablanca” scenario).

Our Grade: C (** out of *****)

The Brothers Karamazov
Brothers Karamazov.jpeg

Theatrical release poster

The story follows Fyodor, the patriarch of the Karamazov family, and his sons. When he tries to decide on an heir, the tensions between the brothers increase, leading to infighting and murder.

The brothers are played by Yul Brynner (at the height of his career), Richard Basehart, and the young William Shatner in his film debut.

The movie played at the 1958 Cannes Film Fest.

Marilyn Monroe was intrigued by the role of Grushenka, and MGM exec said she’d turned down because she was expecting a baby; Monroe’s agent denied claimed the studio had never made her an offer. Richard Brooks like the idea of Monroe but claimed that negotiations fell through “because of her contractual demands and personal troubles.”

Carroll Baker was the next choice for the role, but Warner Bros. put her on suspension after she refused to play Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon. In the end, the role went to Maria Schell (sister of Maximillian), who made her American debut, marked by charmingly naive touches and sort of a Mona Lid smile.

As co-writer, Brooks has tried to compress a rich and detailed epic novel into a simpler two and a half hour frame, emphasizing the vigorously dramatic events at the expense of the book’s complex characterization, profound ideas, and multi-nuanced tone.

His direction is heavy-handed, relying too much on folkloristic dances and overwhelming music (used as punctuation marks to the narrative’s big scenes)

Berman’s production is sumptuous all right, and the acting passable, if not great, with the exception of Brynner and Lee J. Cobb, who brings passion (he was the only member to be Oscar nominated). The other thespians seem lost, lacking genuine understanding of their character’s motivation

The movie, a prestige literary production, was only moderately successful at the box-office, barely recouping its budget.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Supporting Actor: Lee J. Cobb

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Burl Ives for “The Big Country.”

Yul Brynner as Dmitri Karamazov
Maria Schell as Grushenka
Claire Bloom as Katya
Lee J. Cobb as Fyodor Karamazov
Albert Salmi as Smerdyakov
William Shatner as Alexey Karamazov
Richard Basehart as Ivan Karamazov
Gage Clarke as Defense counsel


Directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein. Richard Brooks, based on The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography John Alton
Edited by John D. Dunning
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: February 20, 1958

Running time: 145 minutes
Budget $2,727,000
Box office $5,440,000

TCM showed the movie on July 11, 2020.