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Sword-and-Sandal version of the times of Jesus--John Drew Barrymore as Jesus AND Judas!
I finally scored an English language copy of this interesting Italian sword-and-sandal style depiction of the life and times of Jesus, focusing on the career of Pontius Pilate, played by legendary French actor Jean Marais (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). I previously had a Spanish language version, but the dubbing sounded like it was recorded in a radio station last week and there were virtually no sound effects. This original English version is MUCH more enjoyable, with both Basil Rathbone and John Drew Barrymore (as Judas, not as Jesus) doing their own voices in the dubbing. The story is structured with a wrap-around sequence where Pilate is on trial in front of Caesar, and Pilate recounts the events of his life. At the end of the film, we pick back up with this trial and we see what Pilate has learned from his life and from his encounter with Christ. Basil Rathbone, doing his own voice, is quite impressive as the Jewish religious leader Caiaphus--he tries to be a faithful spiritual leader to his people, while he understands the political necessities of the day. The scene where Rathbone challenges Marais to take down the Roman insignias off the Hebrew temple is quite impressive. Of course, the "gimmick" about this film is that John Drew Barrymore plays both Judas and Jesus. Let's start with Judas. This is a role Barrymore was born to play--he was always excellent as a tortured soul or an outcast or a man with a tragic obsession, and in the Judas created by these scriptwriters, the part requires all of these qualities, and Barrymore does a great job. During one of Judas's most intense scenes, we suddenly start getting angular, Orson Welles style shots of Barrymore that are unlike any other shots in the film! Yes, Barrymore also plays Jesus, but we only see Jesus' back and side and closeups of his eyes--frankly, had a man of similar build been under the robe throughout the film and it wasn't John Drew Barrymore, I don't think I would have known. Also, someone else dubs Jesus' voice when He speaks, which isn't very often. Peplum fans will see a number of familiar faces such as Livio Lorenzon and Riccardo Garrone, and the whole film has the look of a sword and sandal film. I feel like I understand more about the political world of Palestine in the days of Jesus after seeing this film, and Barrymore's unique portrayal of Judas is something I won't soon forget. As a fan of sword and sandal films in general, I thought PONTIUS PILATE was quite interesting and overall a success. Perhaps someone could restore the film for DVD? Finally, although my copy of this runs 100 minutes, I have a strange feeling some small sections have been cut. Perhaps the Euro version ran over 100 minutes?
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