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
'King of Kings' features Jeffrey Hunter's finest performance, as a young, dynamic Jesus of Nazareth, and his interpretation, open and earnest, is the best part of a movie both uneven and flawed.
Produced by many of the people responsible for 'Ben Hur', the film utilizes some of the same sets, actors (Frank Thring appears in major roles in both films), and composer (Miklos Rozsa, whose score for 'King of Kings' was one of his finest). The cast was fleshed out by respected actors (Robert Ryan is too old but charismatic as John the Baptist, Siobhan McKenna is a glowing, if also too old Mary, Brigid Bazlen, a deliciously wicked and oversexed Salome, Harry Guardino, an 'over-the-top' Barabbas, a VERY young Rip Torn scores as Judas). While the cast didn't have the 'star power' of 'Ben Hur', or many other Christian epics, the actors, by and large, perform credibly in their roles, particularly Hurd Hatfield and Viveca Lindfors, as Pilate and his wife, Claudia, and Ron Randell as Tribune Lucius.
The film was a MUCH less expensive project than 'Ben Hur'; the budget restraints show most glaringly in recreating Jesus' ministry (most of Christ's miracles are only referred to, not shown), and extras casting (non-professional Spanish townspeople, overdubbed with some truly RIPE dialog!).
The film works best when focusing on Jesus; unfortunately, it frequently veers off into distracting subplots about Barabbas and the zealots, and the decadence of Herod's court. These stories consume a LOT of screen time, and damage the overall impact of the film.
Yet rising above all this is Jeffrey Hunter's interpretation of the Savior. Easily the most audience-friendly of all the actors who have assailed the role, Hunter took a lot of flack for his 'matinee idol' good looks, and piercing blue eyes, but his kindness, sincerity, and the complete believability with which he delivers Christ's words overcome any qualms about his appearance. The Sermon on the Mount is a film high point, and magnificent; the Crucifixion and Resurrection have the kind of power that can bring a lump to your throat, even after repeated viewings.
While 'King of Kings' lacks the big names and budget of 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', or the emotional core of 'Jesus of Nazareth' or 'The Last Temptation of Christ', in Jeffrey Hunter, the film presents possibly the most compassionate of all screen Messiahs, and makes this film a very moving experience!
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