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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I happened on this little known religious film quite by accident during
the wee hours of the morning on Easter. The Great Commandment refers to
what Jesus said, an additional commandment to love one another as I
have loved you. Those words are put to the test by a new follower of
the Nazarene when his brother is killed by a Roman soldier during a
Our protagonist who becomes a follower of Jesus is played by John Beal who is the son of Maurice Moscovitch and brother of Warren McCollum. Beal is in training to study the Hebrew law and become a rabbi. He's also inpatient as his brother awaiting the promise of a Messiah. McCollum is for action ASAP against the Romans, but Beal hears of a carpenter who has taken up preaching and miracle cures who hails from Nazareth. Let's see what he's about before taking up arms reasons Beal.
There's an additional problem in the mix. Moscovitch because Beal will be away in Jerusalem studying at the Temple has entered into a marriage agreement with Lloyd Corrigan for marriage of Corrigan's daughter Marjorie Cooley to McCollum.
Irving Pichel as director did not have a Cecil B. DeMille type budget to operate with. Yet he gets restrained and dignified performances from his cast which includes Albert Dekker as a Roman centurion and Ian Wolfe as a truly sleazy tax collector. Seeing him no wonder Levi left the profession to become Matthew the Apostle.
The Great Commandment was shot on a shoe string, but it's a sincere effort and should get a lot more exposure.
The oldest, yet longest, of the four religious films commissioned by various Christian groups that I watched (I opted not to go through too much 'straight' stuff while waiting for the result of the General Elections over here!) actually had the backing of one of the Hollywood majors Twentieth Century Fox. The familiar events of The Passion are played out as a backdrop to the main narrative that involving a couple of zealot brothers who clash over their mission (the impulsive younger sibling wants to act now while the more practical older one, played by John Beal, wants to wait for the arrival of The Messiah); the latter also falls out with his father because he has in mind for him to become a scholar while marrying off Beal's sweetheart to his brother! Eventually, he sets out to find Jesus and offer him his sword of allegiance but he slowly comes to understand his message of Peace and Love. Also involved is a Roman officer, well played by Albert Dekker: as it turns out, Beal's brother winds up dead after an attempt on Dekker's life (who is crippling the Jews with taxes, gathered by the "snivelling" and typically slimy Ian Wolfe); however, Beal inspired by his new faith takes care of the wounded Dekker who, noticing the Jews' confusion and anger at Beal for his conduct, decides to lock him up. During his tenure in jail, it transpires that Christ was tried, convicted and crucified; still baffled by Beal's behavior, Dekker asks him to explain the catch is that the person who 'converted' Beal towards helping even his enemies turns out to be the very same one in whose side Dekker had just driven the proverbial spear!
Well done especially for such an older film. Not all saccharin-like dialogue as in many older films. The dialogue was serious enough and everything wa tastefully done. The plot is straightforward and not full of twistsand turns and complexities like so many newer films are. Yet though Ilike many older films, even the flash-shots and fast camera action ofnewer films such as many adventure films like "Bourne Ultimatum," I can also equally enjoy the older style films with more of a storybook narrative such as this one. I also enjoyed the shot wedding festival scene and the singing. Also, Jesus himself was displayed in a low-key manner where you do not even see his face. He did not "steal the show." And the Scriptures used reflect Jesus message of love and forgiveness which go along with the central theme of the movie. I also liked the fact that Beal's character, Joel, was not instantly "converted" to the Lord's Gospel. Seemed more real that way. I saw this on a cheap CD set of older Christian films and I was pleasantly surprised.
IF your looking for lots of bible in this movie it is lacking but the message is here and that message is don't judge a book by it's cover. If you are seeking the truth you will find it. This movie is about a zealot who becomes a changed man even after his own brother is killed by a ROMAN soldier. Some preaching of the actor playing Jesus Christ is shown but more would have been better. I liked the other movies the Rev. JAMES K. FRIEDRICH did much better like "THE LIVING CHRIST SERIES" and "THE LIVING BIBLE" also called"THE LIFE OF CHRIST" and even "LIFE OF ST. PAUL SERIES".Well keep the good,throw away the bad. Well as far as i know it was his first movie in 1939.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a Biblical period piece, though its style and content is very
different from a Biblical epic. It's much more low-key, low-budget and
low energy than the later Bible pieces churned out of Hollywood. Plus,
it's almost like Jesus and his life are really incidental--background
stories that contribute to the main story. It's all about a fiery young
Jew who, like so many others of the period, is angry about the Roman
occupation. And, he's also very angry because his father has arranged
that his brother marry the woman of his dreams. So, he storms off in a
rush and seeks out Christ--hoping Jesus would lead this violent
revolution. Instead, he's dismayed that Jesus is so darn peaceful.
Perhaps his new friend, Judas, can help....
When you see "The Great Commandment", it's odd because most of the actors who aren't wearing fake beards all seem to look like they stepped right out of 1939--not 33 AD. The hair and styles just don't look right. As for the story, it's not bad--as there was a strong anti-Roman movement in Judea that eventually led to war--a war that went VERY badly for the Jews. As such, I could ignore the silly acting and cheapness of the film--at least historically it was interesting. Not a great film but there was enough to keep me interested.
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