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The story of the life of Jesus Christ from his birth in Bethlehem to his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. Filmed on a relatively grand scale, the film includes all of the major events referred to in the New Testament; his baptism by John the Baptist; the miracles - cripples walking, blind men seeing; the fishes and the loaves; and so on. The film actually begins with the Roman invasion by Pompey in 65 B.C., the appointment of King Herod the Great by the Romans and finally the crowning of Herod Antipas after he murders his father. The revolt led by Barrabas is also included and John the Baptist's beheading as Salome's price for dancing for Herod. Written by
The film began life as a very personal project for director John Farrow, who had recently made "John Paul Jones" for producer Samuel Bronston. Farrow, an ardent convert to Roman Catholicism and quite possibly the only Hollywood director ever to be made a Papal Knight, called the project "The Sword And The Cross" and planned to use only the words of the Bible for dialogue. His script was deemed impossible to film and producer Bronston elected to proceed without him. Farrow never directed a film again. See more »
When the big ballista is used in the storming of the fortress, the wire guiding it is visible. See more »
A few years earlier than George Stevens mammoth all star film about the life of Jesus was this film by Nicholas Ray. Taking, it's title from the Cecil B. DeMille silent film, this version of King of Kings is in no way a remake of the DeMille epic. This King of Kings is a moving reverential account of the life of the obscure carpenter from Galilee whose thoughts still move millions today. The voice you hear doing the narration bridging of the various episodes of Jesus's life is the familiar one of Orson Welles.
Nicholas Ray shot this film in Spain with the broad central plain serving as Judea in the early years of AD. Unlike Stevens, Nicholas Ray used second line players for the most part, the biggest name in the cast is that of Robert Ryan as John the Baptist.
Jesus is played by Jeffrey Hunter and if you were to ask today's movie fans what they most remember about Hunter, they will either say his role in the original Star Trek pilot as Captain Christopher Pike, or his two roles in John Ford films, The Searchers and Sergeant Rutledge. Some reviewers have remarked about Hunter's blue eyes, personally I think Nicholas Ray might have cast Hunter with those baby blues to mark Jesus as indeed unique among the populace of Judea. In any event it's a sincere portrayal that Hunter gives. He's most effective in the Sermon on the Mount scene.
King of Kings takes a great deal more liberties with the four Gospels than does the Greatest Story Ever Told. It fleshes out the peripheral characters in the Bible giving them more identity than Scripture does. Barabbas as played by Harry Guardino is a guerrilla leader rather than a bandit and Rip Torn who is Judas is one of his associates who leaves Barabbas after the Sermon on the Mount.
Judas's motives for betrayal are explained as an effort to force Jesus's hand. He wants Jesus to use his power of miracles to aid in the freedom fight against Rome. I think most people view Judas as doing what he did because he totally failed to understand the mission and nature of who he was following, What Ray does here is deepen that context.
There are a few scenes in their besides this part of the storyline that are not biblically found. After Jesus saves Mary Magdalene, Carmen Sevilla as Mary goes searching for him and visits with Mary his mother who is played by Siobhan McKenna. They talk for a bit, McKenna describes some of the miracles attributed to her son.
Jesus himself drops out of biblical dialog in a scene where he asks to visit John the Baptist. The scene is with the Centurion Lucius who was present at the massacre in Bethlehem and later would pronounce His epitaph at the cross. Ron Randell plays Lucius and his Lucius is a world weary professional soldier, sickened by the court of Herod the Great and his successor Herod Antipas. He hates having to serve these people because Rome is backing them as surrogate leaders. Randell has a key role here, he serves as a prototype for the gentiles who Jesus says his disciples must minister to.
Being inveterate star gazer I am, I do like The Greatest Story Ever Told better. But King of Kings is still a fine retelling of that selfsame story.
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