This film survives in an incomplete form. It was originally three reels, which was comparatively long for an American film then (where the standard was still one to two reels), although Passion plays had always tended to be longer, more elaborate prestige productions since the earliest days of cinema. Pathé's "La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ" (1903), the earliest-made available Jesus film that I've seen, is over 40 minutes. Earlier Passion plays, dating as far back as 1897, were some of cinema's first multi-scene subjects. The same year as this Thanhouser production, "The Star of Bethlehem", another US company made the hour-plus "From the Manger to the Cross".
The surviving reel is, reportedly, an abridged version, as opposed to a complete reel separated from the other two, so the basic structure or a semblance of it is here. The narrative is somewhat interesting in that it concentrates on the wise men travelling to Bethlehem—guided by the star. Additionally, it begins with a scene of revelry at the throne of Herod. This abridged version, which abruptly leaves the story of Herod, left me wondering if the complete version continued anymore with his storyline. As it is now, after we see Herod leave his palace, the picture exclusively follows the wise men, ending with their arrival at the nativity. The film was released, appropriately enough, on Christmas Eve.
"The Star of Bethlehem" doesn't have the benefit of Middle East location shooting as does "From the Manger to the Cross" or the early cinema tricks and stencil coloring of Pathé's film, but it does have a superimposed (a.k.a. multiple-exposure photography) star. The first scene of the star is a remarkably beautiful composition, I think. The other scenes, however, show the "star" much too close to the wise men. (Apparently, it's nothing like the physical-world stars, which at that proximity would have killed them and would have never been that small to begin with.) Multiple-exposure photography is also employed in the final nativity tableau, presenting angels in the top part of the frame.
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