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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

G  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  9 April 1965 (UK)
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The life of Jesus Christ.


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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 1 win. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ina Balin ...
Joanna Dunham ...


George Stevens' epic production. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?" It is towards this climactic crossroads that the story of Jesus of Nazareth leads, and to which, at the final moment, it again looks back in triumphant retrospect. It is the anguishing crossroads where the eternal questions of faith and doubt become resolved. Star-studded cast includes Max Von Sydow (as Jesus), Dorothy McGuire (as Mary), Robert Loggia (as Joseph), Charlton Heston (as John the Baptist), Michael Anderson, Jr., Robert Blake, Jamie Farr, David McCallum, Roddy McDowall, Ina Balin, Janet Margolin, Sidney Poitier, Carroll Baker, Pat Boone, Van Heflin, Sal Mineo, Shelley Winters, Ed Wynn, John Wayne, Telly Savalas, Angela Lansbury, Paul Stewart, Harold J. Stone, Martin Landau, Joseph Schildkraut, Victor Buono, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Donald Pleasence, Richard Conte and Cyril Delevanti. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

9 April 1965 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

George Stevens Presents The Greatest Story Ever Told  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$20,000,000 (estimated)


$8,000,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(edited) | (re-issue) | (premiere)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording) (5.0) (L-R)



Aspect Ratio:

2.76 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This film was slightly over 30 days in production using the original 3-panel Cinerama process when orders were given to abandon the Cinerama camera in favor of Ultra-Panavision 70; thus ending forever the cumbersome 3-panel Cinerama process in Hollywood. Numerous scenes had to be reshot in the new single-lens Ultra-Panavision 70 process. See more »


Differences from the Bible accounts, and other historical inaccuracies, are not being counted as goofs, especially when they're reliant on sectarian traditions or Renaissance/Baroque art. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. I am He. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him, was made nothing that has been made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of man. And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not. The greatest story ever told...
See more »


Referenced in Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood (2001) See more »


Hallelujah Chorus
from "The Messiah"
Music by George Frideric Handel
See more »

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User Reviews

Beautiful and Dignified Telling of Christ's Mission
30 July 2005 | by (Manassas, VA) – See all my reviews

There are no real spoilers in this review, for the story is familiar to Christians of all stripe: the birth, life and mission of Jesus Christ. This epic-length film moves at a stately pace; some may find it boring, but I personally like it very much. Stevens does a superb job with this sensitive material. He cast dozens of famous people, some in cameos and bit parts, but all lending their talents to this film. The costumes have an authentic look, and the landscapes are breathtaking---they are far superior to mere background paintings or sets, and convey a sense of being right there in Palestine two thousand years ago. The music is lovely, well-scored and not jarring. Every role is well-cast, from Charlton Heston as John the Baptist to Telly Sevalas as Pontius Pilate. Best of all were Donald Pleasance as the devil and the tall, lanky Max von Sydow as Christ.

The story unfolds like pages turning in a book. Jesus is born, then appears at age thirty to begin his mission. He goes to his cousin John for baptism, then calls men to follow him. Miracles are performed almost in an indirect way: Jesus speaks in Sydow's commanding voice and, instead of focusing on Christ, the camera is fixed on the person receiving the miracle. A notable exception is the raising of Lazarus. Christ pleads in anguish for the revival of his friend, not because the prayer is really necessary, but to cry out his sorrow for losing Lazarus. As God made man, Jesus hurt like we did, and this scene demonstrates this. His teachings are given gently but firmly throughout the movie. Some viewers may be put off by Sydow's almost detached mannerisms, but the quiet dignity actually suits the concept of Christ as teacher on his salvific mission. The gentle mien of Jesus also stands in stark contrast to the times when he does strongly react, whether to the death of Lazarus, to finding moneychangers in the Temple of Jerusalem, or during his passion and crucifixion. The moment when Christ's life ends is stunning; the light goes out in Sydow's clear blue eyes just before he drops his head.

There are other little gems strewn throughout The Greatest Story Ever Told, moments that shine with unexpected clarity. The calling of Matthew, the betrayal and suicide of Judas, the healing of the crippled young man are just a few examples. The Last Supper is very surprising in its similarity to the way a priest consecrates the bread and wine in a modern-day Mass. The famous actors embrace their roles and seem honored to be part of this great project. The dialogue is beautiful for a reason; American poet Carl Sandburg was in charge of rendering the ancient Bible story into modern wording without sacrificing the meaning or power of the original. Dynamics shift like the ebb and flow of tides, floating on the words as well as the events.

Others have done this story, yet this remains my favorite. Unlike the remake of King of Kings(the silent version was way better), it seems authentic in its details---what genius decided to shave Jeffrey Hunter's underarms? And Jesus of Nazareth never quite escapes the shackles of prime-time miniseries/soap opera; its melodramatic and the scene where Mary freaks out is disturbing rather than evoking sympathy from the audience. As for The Passion, it's an awesome attempt to convey just what Jesus endured for our sins, but unsuitable for children or people who are sensitive to excessive violence and gore. So, in conclusion, for Easter viewing, The Greatest Story Ever Told remains my family's favorite version of the life and work of Jesus Christ.

30 of 44 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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