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Howard Keel says in his posthumously published memoirs that he grabbed the part of Simon Peter in The Big Fisherman to prove his versatility as an actor. Musicals were pretty much done by that time and he was free of his MGM contract.
He got the role after John Wayne turned the part down. That one was an eye opener I have to say. My conception of St. Peter has always been that of a big hale and hearty man used to working in the outdoors. We see an older Peter in Quo Vadis with Finlay Currie and now we have a younger one in Keel.
Still I can't believe that Frank Borzage wanted John Wayne. After coming off that disaster in The Barbarian and the Geisha, the Duke wisely turned this one down.
Keel does give a good performance as Peter. Other than Keel the player best remembered for this film is Ray Stricklyn as the evil young Arab prince.
It's good to remember that this is a fictional story about a biblical figure though some scenes of events described in the Bible are in the film. Nevertheless there are some plot flaws. Peter goes among the Arabs here and this was six centuries before Mohammed came on the scene. If you were to follow the logic of the film, the Arab people would have been converted to Christianity. Now maybe it would have saved us all a lot of bloodshed over the centuries had they, still even in a work of fiction that's a bit much to swallow.
Keel liked making the film and had high hopes for it. Unfortunately it ran up against Ben-Hur another filmed biblically based novel this time with the protagonist being a fictional character. Additionally The Big Fisherman got lost somewhere in the corporate doings of Buena Vista Films and the Walt Disney studio. Back in the Fifties, Buena Vista did distribute films not necessarily with the Walt Disney brand on them. It's been seen on television a few times, I saw it again about 12 years ago. It should be seen in theaters though. Like Ben-Hur something is lost even with a letter box version.
But can you imagine John Wayne as St. Peter? Turn that one over in your minds.
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