Shortly before his death in ancient Israel King David has a vision from God telling him that his younger son Solomon should succeed him as king. His other son Adonijah is unhappy and vows ... See full summary »
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John M. Stahl
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Though David has all the wealth, power, wives & children inherent for the King of Israel he does not have what he craves most: the true love of a woman who loves him as a man instead of as King. He is attracted to Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers who is more devoted to army duty than to his wife. David & Bathsheba succumb to their feelings. Their affair, her resulting pregnancy, & David's resolve to have her husband killed so Bathsheba will be free to marry, bring the wrath of God upon the kingdom. David must rediscover his faith in God in order to save Bathsheba from death by stoning, his kingdom from drought & famine, & himself from his many sins. Written by
E.W. DesMarais <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Peck wears the "Star of David" throughout the movie, which doesn't appear until the 3rd century CE and was not commonly used until the middle ages. See more »
[as David tries to kiss her in an open field]
No, David! The boy! He'll see us!
[David looks at the shepherd boy]
No matter. Shepherd boys learn early about life.
Did you, David?
Did I what?
Learn about life early?
Before I was 12, I knew everything there was to know about life. At 12 I'd killed wolves... at 13 a man.
See more »
In the final decades of Hollywood's classic era there was a long-running series of biblical pictures grand, sweeping and extremely pious things, for the most part at least. David and Bathsheba, an early example from Fox Studios, is one of the few to break the trend. It takes its story from scripture without deviating from the story as it is told in the bible, and yet it can be viewed as a veiled attack on the tyranny of the Old Testament God.
The screenplay was by Philip Dunne, a liberal Catholic, strong critic of HUAC, but certainly not an atheist. His work here is ultimately an appeal to the softer side of religious attitude. It's a script with much meditation and discussion, interspersed with bursts of word-for-word biblical dramatizations. In this context the striking dead of a man for touching the arc of the covenant (and who was only trying to stop it falling on the floor anyway) take on an almost ridiculous quality. By contrast the elaborated dialogue between characters is subtly sophisticated. When the titular lovers first meet the two of them seek each other out with double-meaning small talk. Upon hearing that Bathsheba has only spent six days with her husband he calls it "only six days of your love". "Six days of our marriage" she replies, correcting him in the guise of agreement, allowing him to read between the lines that the marriage is loveless. The picture essentially becomes a drama of extra-marital affair.
And it seems the production was cast with that in mind. Susan Hayward is not beautiful in the conventional sense, but she certainly has an alluring presence, and the calm, intelligent demeanour to deliver that dialogue with the necessary implications. Peck was apparently cast because Daryl F. Zanuck thought he had a "biblical face". In actual fact Peck was rather ill at the time (he had a suspected heart attack during filming), and this probably contributed to his hollow-eyed, haunted look from which his performance benefits. And Peck if anything ups the contentiousness of Dunne's screenplay, with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he complains that "we don't have any Joshua to blow the walls down for us". The forces of Old Testament fire and brimstone are represented by Raymond Massey, and you could hardly get a more biblical face than his skull-thin, piercing-eyed visage. An unexpected treat here is James Robertson Justice, a bit of a fixture in biblical epics, often theatrical but disappointingly vague. Here he is the best I have ever seen him, underplaying Abishai as a sober moral conscience with the sense not to fully speak his mind.
And if you wanted a respected, mainstream director who would give an atypical look to an atypical picture you could not do much better than Henry King. As usual King films the set designs (which seem authentically barren compared to the more opulent biblical epics) to create dark, claustrophobic interiors. He often has one wall running down the side of the frame right up to the camera, some object in the foreground creating an area of shadow across the bottom of the screen, or his characters with their backs in a corner. In the scene where Bathsheba has her miscarriage he uses all these techniques at once to produce some particularly stifling images. Spartan as the sets are, King gives them a life of their own with billowing curtains and spare bits of decoration prominently picked out. And then, at some key moment he will arrange thing to draw all focus in upon the protagonists, never allowing them to blend completely into the background.
The only major trouble with David and Bathsheba is that pictures like this are most entertaining when, rather than trying to engage sensibly with their archaic subject matter, they went all out on spectacle and extravagance. That's why Cecil B. DeMille was so good at them. Nevertheless it remains an intriguing and refreshing take upon the genre. It was during a 1964 broadcast of this picture that the controversial yet breathtakingly powerful "Daisy girl" campaign ad was shown for the first and only time (look it up if you haven't seen it). Perhaps this is pure coincidence, or perhaps the slot was chosen because it was thought a lot of people would be watching. But it does seem that the campaign's fervent plea for peace and understanding in the face of arbitrary destructiveness chimes in very well with the message of David and Bathsheba.
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