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What a masterpiece! Visually stunning and deeply moving, even for the
non-religious. DeMille was at his best in the silent era, and I have never
seen the story of Christ told so beautifully. With more than a passing nod
to nineteenth century Biblical painting, DeMille recreates the last days of
Jesus' life in painstaking detail. He takes some liberty with chronolgy,
and there is his trademark combination of religious fervour and delicious
decadence. But the passion and sincerity are so strong that I'll be
surprised if you don't shed a tear once or twice. And Joseph Schildkraut is
stunning as Judas.
Eye-popping sets and superb photography combine with huge crowds of extras and excellent costumes to create one of the great epic films. And dig that opening orgy scene involving a scantily clad Mary Magdalene, a couple of old men, a leopard and a hunky charioteer leading a team of zebra! Wow! The first shot of Jesus is also cinema magic, an unforgettable moment. This film is superb.
I first experienced Cecil B. DeMille's beautiful telling of the Life of
Christ, his 1927 THE KING OF KINGS, in a local theatre in the late
1950s. It impressed me then as a teenager and it impresses me even more
now, having just experienced a special viewing of the double disc DVD
that is being released on December 7, 2004 under The Criterion
I purchased a 16mm print of this film many years ago as well as buying the Criterion Laser Dics release a few years back, so I am well versed in this classic. Until now, everything shown theatrically, on 16mm, VHS tape and Laser Discs has been of the re-edited version that DeMille prepared in 1928, a year after the film played its roadshow engagements. Millions of people the world over have seen the shorter 112 minute cut, which is included on the Criterion disc with both the original Hugo Riesenfeld score (and sound effects) as issued in 1928, and an outstanding newly recorded pipe organ score by Timothy J. Tikker, done especially for this release.
For years I have been aware that the roadshow version as shown at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in LA and at the Gaiety in NY, ran 155 minutes, some 37 minutes longer then I had ever seen it. From James D'Arc at the Brigham Young University Archives (which houses the DeMille collection) I learned that the full length version still existed and was in the possession of the DeMille family. That complete version is now the highlight of the Criterion DVD release and it is MARVELOUS!
I've always thought highly of DeMille's THE KING OF KINGS -- but now seeing it in this wonderfully preserved full-length print, complete with an outstanding original orchestra score by Donald Sosin, I can say without hesitation that it is a more spiritually uplifting experience in this version then it ever was in the fine shorter cut. This is a MASTERPIECE, not only of the silent cinema, but of all-time!
And that's not all -- the EXTRA's included on the two DVD's are also a marvel. There is almost 15 minutes of priceless behind-the-scenes footage on the set of the film. You'll see DeMille directing a huge cast and at times view three cameras being hand-cranked. There are shots of D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks visiting with DeMille on set. There are production and costume sketches by renowned artist Dan Sayre Groesbeck as well as a stills gallery of rare production and publicity photos. The original illustrated theatre program and press book are pictured also -- and there's more. In short this is the finest DVD ever released on a film from the silent era, even surpassing Fox's marvelous job on F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE (also a 1927 release).
In my opinion, DeMille's THE KING OF KINGS in this full version is the finest rendering of the Life of Christ ever put on film! Criterion, known as the leader of fine DVD's, has done it again. Don't hesitate on picking up a copy of this if you love great movies and want a spiritual experience!
King of Kings is an extraordinary movie. I was so caught up in it if
they had said in the credits "Jesus as played by himself" I would have
believed it. The scenes of the little blind boy finding his way to
Jesus, and the interaction between Jesus and the little children stand
out as the high points of the movie. There is a "healing" while with
the little children that stands out as one of the finest movie moments
It is a silent movie, but if you get caught up like me, you will swear there was talking as you look back on it.
I saw it in May of 1977 at the 50th anniversary of the Graumanns Chinese theater in Hollywood. It had opened 50 years ago that night with its first movie being King of Kings. Interesting, the next night was the premier of the first Star Wars movie.
Mr. DeMille's daughter or niece shared anecdotes about the filming after the movie. For example, there is a seen during the last supper, where, after everyone gets up and walks away a dove comes and lands on the table by the holy grail and gets lost in the lighting special effect. She informed us it was not planned.
She told us the movie played somewhere in the world every night for 46 years. And in South America, people would get on their knees in the theaters after the performance.
Powerful movie and very moving.
Movie follows the story of Jesus Christ (H.B. Warner) starting with Mary
Magdelene (Jacqueline Logan) and ending with his resurrection.
While not exactly accurate (Magdalene was Judas' lover?) to the Bible this is actually an excellent movie. It's very reverent to the story and doesn't preach to the audience like other Biblical movies did. Some of the shots of Jesus were stunning--he (literally) GLOWS. It's all done with lighting but it looks realistic. And since it's directed by Cecil B. DeMille it's a spectacle--this movie is BIG! The sets are colossal, there's a cast of hundreds and a big huge Crucifiction sequence that is quite impressive. There's also some nice special effects--surprising in a movie that's over 70 years old. Also, it's well-cast. The standouts are Warner as Jesus; Logan making a very impressive Magdelene and Joseph Schildkraut playing a very young and handsome Judas. Also his father Rudolph Schildkraut plays Caiaphas. And the Resurrection sequence at the end is in two-color Technicolor.
This is a much better than the 1961 remake. That one was badly cast (Jeffrey Hunter was way too young for the role), too long (almost 3 hours) and dragged. This one is barely 2 hours and moves very quickly.
A very impressive silent film--well worth catching.
This may be one of the very best movies made about Christ. In the
beginning I didn't really know what they were doing. It looked like
they were making their own story up. But things got better and better
as the movie went on. There were so many effective images in this movie
that it is unforgettable.
The magic starts when Jesus is finally introduced. What an entrance he makes. A blind girl goes to Jesus for help. There is a bright light and you can tell by the little girl's performance that something is happening. Our view gets blurry because we are seeing through the little girl's eyes. Then the picture comes into focus and we can see Jesus standing in front of her. From that moment on the movie was amazing.
H.B. Warner is one of the greatest actors to portray Jesus. He has such a commanding presence in the movie. He does look a little old to be playing Jesus. At the time of Christ's crucifixion he was around 30. Warner was around 50. But this does not hurt the film at all. Warner does not look like an old man one bit and he had the perfect eyes and perfect face for the part he was playing. In the crucifixion scene when you see H.B. Warner without his shirt it's amazing how he has the perfect built to play Christ.
There were so many things that amazed me. The movie was silent, but it didn't even matter. There were so many effective images. This is what people went to the movies for before there were talking pictures. The first amazing scene was the scene when Jesus cures the blind girl. That was very well done. Every scene of Jesus performing a miracle was amazing. The Last Supper scene was very well done. When everyone leaves the table, the cup that Jesus was drinking from is shimmering. That would later become the Holy Grail. Throughout the movie Jesus is a glowing image. This added to Warner's presence in the film. The scene when Jesus is condemned was very well done and accurate. I was glad they got Pontius Pilate right in the movie. Pilate did not want to kill Jesus. The film also shows you how his wife truly felt. In this movie you see Pilate send Christ to be chastised rather than put to death. After the scourging, you see the people condemn him. You even get to see Pilate washing his hands. People complained about how Gibson's Passion of the Christ made Pilate look, but no one complained when they did the same in this. It is widely known that Pilate was not a villain. The King of Kings that came later in 1961 failed miserably in how it portrayed Pontius Pilate, not to mention a lot of other things. Seeing this makes you wonder what King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter would've been like if Demille made it. Too bad he didn't.
My favorite scene in the movie would have to be the Resurrection. You will know why when you see the movie. Seeing everyone hugging Jesus in the end was so heartwarming. In the end you even get to see Jesus ascend into heaven. That was all very well done. The special effects in the movie were unbelievable. I was surprised how great they were. The movie was made in 1927. The storm after Christ commends his spirit is an awesome display. Amazing special effects. Seeing H.B. Warner on the cross is also a haunting sight. He really looked the part.
The final thing that I must praise is the performances by the actors. Everyone was great. Every single person in the cast. Everybody looked the part that they were playing. It was amazing. Dorothy Cumming was the perfect choice to play the Virgin Mary. Ernest Torrence was great as Peter. Victor Varconi was great as Pontius Pilate. Joseph Schildkraut was great as Judas. I couldn't believe that was the old man I saw on the Twilight Zone. In this movie Judas is a handsome young man and it is also the first movie were I've seen Judas without a beard. Schildkraut's interpretation of Judas will be something very new to you, but it turns out great. His performance was especially good when you see him in agony over betraying Jesus until you finally see him hang himself. Jacqueline Logan was a great choice to play Mary Magdalene. She was very attractive and great in the scene when Jesus casts the seven deadly sins out of her. Great effects in that scene too. Joseph Schildkraut's father Rudolph Schildkraut was also great as Caiaphas. This movie shows him for the villain that he was. Again, nobody complained about that in this, but they complained about Gibson's movie. Finally, H.B. Warner was great. I couldn't believe that was Mr. Gower from It's A Wonderful Life.
This is one of the greatest movies you will ever see about Jesus Christ. This is way better than King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter. This movie was for the most part, very accurate. The special effects were great. The direction by Cecil B. DeMille was great. Again, too bad he didn't do the Jeffrey Hunter one. The performances by the actors were great. The King of Kings is an amazing movie and you will not soon forget the images that you see. Be sure to see this one. I promise you will not be disappointed.
This Cecil B. DeMille silent classic is still well worth seeing. It is
creative and interesting, while remaining respectful to its subject, and
thus it is among the best of the many movies made about Jesus. Unlike most
directors (especially today), DeMille did not think that he was bigger than
his subject, and thus he uses his skills to illustrate the well-known story
and to make it memorable, rather than expending time and energy in trying to
push some trivial perspective of his own. He makes it lavish when it should
be lavish, and keeps it simple when it should be simple.
The opening scene, with Mary Magdalene and her admirers hearing bits of news regarding Jesus and Judas Iscariot, is a good introduction to the rest of the story, and also sets the tone for what follows. While it is a fictionalized scene not found in the Bible, it seems natural and works well. The rest of the movie likewise does not always follow the biblical narratives exactly, but the added material is always in keeping with the main themes. The cast is pretty good, although given the nature of the story, most of them have limited screen time. H.B. Warner looks just a little too old to be fully convincing as Jesus, but otherwise he is good enough in a difficult role. Probably the best performance is given by Joseph Schildkraut as Judas. He is quite believable, and is especially good in the Last Supper scene. His father Rudolph is also good in a smaller role as the high priest Caiaphas.
With the vast number of movies that are always being made about religious subjects, no doubt it will only be silent movie fans who will seek out this version of "The King of Kings", but that's unfortunate because it is nicely made and has many positives that make it worth seeing.
Cecil B. DeMille produced this masterpiece over 80 years ago and it still retains its great power and reverence. Everyone associated with the production put their heart and soul into this work and it certainly shows on screen. The photography and background music score are to be particularly commended. By the way, any on-screen violence during the scourging and crucifixion sequences were kept to a minimum. Parents can view this film with their children and have no concerns. For some reason, this has very limited play on television in the United States. TCM plays the film twice a year during Easter and Christmas. That cable channel seems to be the only place to watch this wonderful film. The Kino video tape and Criterion DVD release remain available for purchase. The DVD offers the original premiere cut and the shorter sound reissue. Some important sequences are shown in the uncut 155 minute version ( such as Peter's denial of Jesus). The sound reissue version is missing slightly less than 30 minutes and this is the one most people have seen throughout the years. Both versions are superb in their own way. This film will truly touch your heart. By all means, seek it out. A true silent classic.
Cecil B. DeMille's film about Jesus was made during a period in his
career when he left Paramount and organized his own studio.
Unfortunately for DeMille his studio went belly up after the stock
market crash of 1929. The King of Kings is unquestionably the greatest
film he made during that period.
But in DeMille's cinema gospel he eschewed the traditional Christmas story to be found in those four other gospels. DeMille begins his movie with a real lavish party at the home of a noted women of the town Mary Magdalene played by Jacqueline Logan. It's DeMille showing revelry at its best and most alluring.
Logan asks why one of her favorites, Judas Iscariot hasn't been attending her clambakes recently. She hears he's been hanging around with this carpenter from Nazareth reputed to have performed some miracles and who doesn't approve of her lifestyle.
That's it for Ms. Magadalene; she's not about to let this hick take one of her favorites away. Off in a chariot pulled by Zebras she goes after this carpenter. She finds H.B. Warner as Jesus doing one of the miracles and becomes a follower herself.
After this the film becomes a reverential straightforward account as you would find in the Bible.
Reverence and revelry, the hallmark of a DeMille film is found in equal measure in The King of Kings. H.B. Warner does a fine job in the lead role, he makes a saintly Jesus. I do wonder what led DeMille to cast Warner, to think of him in the first place. Warner was 52 at the time playing a 30 something Jesus.
The King of Kings offers the movie fan to see father and son Rudolph and Joseph Schildkraut who play Caiaphas and Judas. Both contribute fine performances to the endeavor. Unlike later gospel based films, this one clearly has Caiaphas as the villain of the piece. He's described in the subtitles as a man concerned more with 'revenue than religion' which doesn't make him all that different from some folks I could mention today. The Schildkrauts however were Jewish and stars in the Yiddish Theater in Europe and America. They got good and slammed for their participation in The King of Kings by more than a few of their co-religionists.
Sharp eyed viewers will also note that the guy playing Simon of Cyrene who helps Jesus with his cross is none other than Hopalong Cassidy, William Boyd. Boyd was a DeMille discovery and had previously starred in another DeMille production, The Volga Boatman. This of course was years before he became the idol of the nation's children.
In his autobiography DeMille goes into some detail about how Jeremiah Milbank helped him with the financing of the DeMille Studio from which The King of Kings was produced. After the initial run, Milbank set up a foundation in which prints of The King of Kings were copied and made available to various Christian mission groups free for their work. It's one reason why this particular film is never in any danger of being lost.
DeMille was told on at least one occasion that this was his greatest picture because there is no greater subject. It's arguably one of his best from a technical standpoint. Still for the hundreds of millions of affiliated Christians on the planet, The King of Kings certainly occupies a special place.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a theologian "by trade," and so I am always curious about how
others portray the Subject of my faith.
This film is actually the first of a series of "Jesus" movies that I and a number of people from my congregation are watching in a series called "Jesus in Film," and it was a good place to start. How would Jesus be portrayed by Hollywood in the Roaring 20s? How different would the silent medium be compared to today? How would Cecil B. DeMille, known for his blockbuster extravaganzas portray the story? I intentionally did not prepare the group by telling them that this was a silent film. I simply stressed that it was made in 1927 by Cecil B. DeMille. None of them put 2 and 2 together to figure it out, which was just fine. I would say it took about 10-15 minutes for everyone to get into the silent presentation--the conversation and comments about the exaggerated facial expressions etc. eventually just ceased as the story absorbed them...which is probably the best way to describe our viewing experience. All of the viewers were long-time believers who know and love the story backwards and forwards. These were knowledgeable critics of the story and how it would be presented.
First of all, with regard to the "art" of the movie itself, all of us thought it was fantastic as a period piece. It seemed to us that while there is a good deal of "action," (healings, miracles, etc.), DeMille's vision worked masterfully toward a series of still life portraits with each episode, with each character intentionally blocked and staged around Jesus, "The Last Supper," "Behold the Man," etc. (Though, I will have to say, since we watched the original uncut version--all 155 minutes of it--it did get a wee bit tedious toward the end with one still life portrait after another, especially since we knew how it ends!) Second of all, there were a number of extremely masterful movie story-telling techniques. DeMille did a tremendous job of introducing Jesus, keeping the audience in suspense, since of course, everyone's wondering, "What will he look like?" Jesus is referenced numerous times both as protagonist and antagonist before the audience actually gets to see him, and the WAY the audience finally gets to meet Jesus is quite good.
Third, there were also some interesting little connections throughout the film, as well, and I don't want to give too much away here. We see Peter's sword long before it ever gets used. Notice, as well, what eventually happens to the rope that is used to bind Jesus' hands.
Fourth, we watched the movie with the digitally remastered music, which was also very good. Not only did it complete the silent film experience (we were wondering before hand whether it would be sort of the stereotypical melodrama or "Keystone Kops" type music!), but it was simply beautiful music. And of course, it helps convey the characterization, as well--think "Darth Vader's" theme from Star Wars.
DeMille does play fast and loose with the Biblical text itself, some of it is not so bad; other moves are terrible. It was a little annoying how words and dialog are taken out of biblical context in order to fit the scene that DeMille has set. Similarly, the relationship between Judas and Mary Magdalene is pure bunk. On the other hand, while DeMille completely leaves whole episodes out (obviously) but then also seems to give a creative nod to some of those episodes with wholesale new interpretations. For example, in John's Gospel we are privy to the words between Jesus, the disciple John, and Mary the Mother of Our Lord: "Son, behold your mother; mother, behold your son." That is not present in King of Kings. However, there is a touching little vignette at the foot of the cross in which the mother of one of the thieves on the cross is consoled by Mary. Completely creative license, but not outside the character and possibility of the story at all.
Wonderful movie. Not exactly something I'd pop in all the time. But a great study in movie history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though I've had it ever since its release, for obvious reasons I
decided to watch THE KING OF KINGS (1927) over the Easter period. Apart
from CARMEN (1915), this was the only De Mille film I've seen from the
Silent era and, given the subject matter, I kind of expected an uneasy
mix of ostentatious production values and heavy-handed sermonizing.
While I got that in spades, resulting in my failing to keep a straight
face virtually throughout the entire film, it was however
counterbalanced by a surprisingly efficient pace (for a 2½-hour Silent
picture about over-familiar events, I didn't find it draggy at all) and
quite a few impressive individual sequences:
the first view of Jesus as a blind girl regains her sight
the cleansing of Mary Magdalene from the 7 deadly sins
a surprisingly tender and humorous touch as a little girl naively asks Jesus the "Miracle Maker" to mend her broken doll
the ever-ambitious (and sorely misguided) Judas attempting to cast the devil out of a possessed child
the tax-paying sequence when Christ asks Peter to catch a fish found to be carrying a gold coin in its mouth followed, amusingly, by the Romans themselves casting hooks in the river hoping to make a similar catch!
Christ leaning on a piece of wood and being distressed when realizing that it's a concealed cross, an omen of his own imminent fate
the stoning of the adulteress with Christ exposing her accusers' own failings by writing them down on the ground (I had always wondered just what he was supposed to be scribbling, and this here explanation is most satisfactory methinks)
the Devil's temptation of Christ (though it takes place in the temple rather than the desert)
the spectacular earthquake sequence following the Crucifixion, in which even the tree on which Judas hangs himself is engulfed
the Resurrection sequence, and especially the final dissolve from Christ being surrounded by the Apostles to his ascent over a modern-city skyline
Naturally, I preferred the "Roadshow" edition to the shorter "General Release" version (***) which omits several of my favorite sequences and even changes them around a few times. However, I was disappointed that the latter also featured very brief scenes which were missing from the longer cut (the picking of olives prior to the "Suffer little children" sequence, Caiaphas taking the blame for Christ's death before Pilate washes his hands, Jesus being offered a 'drink' by the Romans as he is being prepared for the Crucifixion) though these admittedly add very little to the proceedings, I would have preferred an uncut version of the film to two vaguely different ones! The extras were mainly text-based and kind of light for a Criterion 2-Disc Set (I skipped their typically bulky booklet for now, as going through them is always a time-consuming task!) though, of course, still quite interesting in themselves.
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