Lots of aged beefcake and stale cheesecake on display in this Passion Play
There's plenty of aged beefcake and stale cheesecake on display in Hollywood "woman's director" Irving Rapper's peplum-style Passion Play (co-directed by someone named Caligari) which attempts to cash in on a popular run of big budget biblical epics that began with SOLOMON & SHEBA.
Jean Cocteau's muse Jean Marais, no spring chicken, struts about as the titular magistrate and cuts a fine if flabby figure in his red cape, breastplate, sandals, and tiny gladiator skirt (he's topless, too, at one point) but apparently the only acting he can do is with his profile. Another old profile, Basil Rathbone, is also on hand as an ancient rabbi and a still-attractive Jeanne Crain unintentionally nails "patrician indifference" as Pilate's wife. Pilate's a womanizing martinet not without heart and the gang's all here from a ruthless, cut-throat Barabbas to a bony John Drew Barrymore in a dual role as both Jesus & Judas. The latter has a wild-eyed mad scene that would give JD's dad John a coronary and, like most movies of this sort, the Lord's visage is never shown, just his eyes. The money lenders get thrown out of the temple, too. I never knew the saying "I wash my hands of it" came from Pilate (or if I did, I forgot) and it's illustrated nicely here when he washes his hands after condemning Jesus and the basin water turns red with the Nazarine's eyes reflected in it.
There's much ado about an aqueduct and enough political intrigue between the Jews and the Romans in the first half of the film to put any viewer to sleep before the final crucifixion, which was unlike any I'd seen before on film. There's an eclipse and "spectacular cataclysm" as Jesus dies on the cross but unfortunately, for every plus there's a minus here and although it's no doubt unintentional, the movie does suggest the Jews killed Jesus since sending down an earthquake to destroy Jerusalem during the Crucifixion implies punishment, no? The U.S. release version cut out a wrap-around of Pilate's trial before Caligula but it's been restored (albeit with English subs) and although Rapper had an eye for spectacular widescreen tableaux (there really is a cast of thousands), it's pretty much a bore (albeit a strangely compelling one) and the low IMDb rating is about right for once.
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