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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

An all-star, large scale epic movie that chronicles the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Directors:

George Stevens, David Lean (uncredited) | 1 more credit »

Writers:

Fulton Oursler (book), Henry Denker (source writings) | 2 more credits »
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Popularity
4,929 ( 222)
Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Max von Sydow ... Jesus
Michael Anderson Jr. ... James the Younger
Carroll Baker ... Veronica
Ina Balin ... Martha of Bethany
Pat Boone ... Angel at the Tomb
Victor Buono ... Sorak
Richard Conte ... Barabbas
Joanna Dunham Joanna Dunham ... Mary Magdalene
José Ferrer ... Herod Antipas
Van Heflin ... Bar Amand
Charlton Heston ... John the Baptist
Martin Landau ... Caiaphas
Angela Lansbury ... Claudia
Janet Margolin ... Mary of Bethany
David McCallum ... Judas Iscariot
Learn more

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Storyline

"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. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

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A Richly Rewarding Entertainment Experience for the Entire Family


Certificate:

G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Donald Pleasence appeared in another all-star Jesus Christ biopic, Jesus of Nazareth (1977). See more »

Goofs

After Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead, three men run to a castle on a hill to announce the miracles that Jesus has performed. In the long shot, the first man runs up to the castle entrance into the shade. The shade disappears and reappears between shots. See more »

Quotes

[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...
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Alternate Versions

Original Cinerama version ran 260 minutes, subsequently cut over the years. The shortest version runs 141 minutes. Numerous versions have been shown on television. Network television print has only the main cast credits at the beginning and the technical credits at the end shown page-by-page (not "rolled up" as most prints), including a credit for "Cinerama". The most common version of the film shown today runs 195 minutes with all the credits rolled up at the beginning, and the end titles showing only the words "Released through United Artists". That particular version has been available on home video and cable TV. See more »

Connections

Referenced in You, Me and the Apocalypse: Right in the Nuts (2015) See more »

Soundtracks

Requiem
Music by Giuseppe Verdi (as Giuseppi Verdi)
See more »

User Reviews

Holds up rather well, actually
16 April 2001 | by laurseneSee all my reviews

Saw the cut-down version of this recently on cable, letterboxed (the only way to go!). For all the bad press it evidently got in its day, I found the color cinematography dazzling, the compositions wonderful (as we'd expect from the director of Shane and Giant), and the performances ... not too bad at all, for the most part. Many if not most of celebs who did cameos are no longer household names (or faces), so they're less jarring than they must have been in the 60s (the groaning exception, of course, being John Wayne as the Centurion). Von Sydow is fine if a bit stiff, Heston as the Baptist is a bit too stiff, Jose Ferrer is wonderful (did his son Miguel study dad's performance as Herod Antipas for his role in Traffic?), and so are most of the other key parts.

If Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ comes off as less an art film and more as another corny Hollywood biblical epic, Stevens' film comes off less as the latter and more as the former, given that one's expectations are for corn, not art. (Is that clear?) I've said previously that Scorcese's film was basically a ripoff of Pasolini's wonderful Gospel According St Matthew, and I still think that's the case so far as the basic treatment goes, but I now think that visually, as a wide-screen color film, it rips off Stevens.

Greatest Story is the first Christ movie (and probably the first biblical epic) where the director obviously understood that the physical setting could be a very important part of the story - the sparse, barren landscape that people could disappear into and come back having seen visions, etc. Scorcese seems to have picked up on this too, but his visual sense isn't a jot on Stevens', for sure.

I do agree that the story drags, and the whole thing is probably overlong. I was also disappointed that Stevens does so little with the final temptation and betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. I've always felt this is the dramatic climax of the whole story - the final point of no return for Jesus - and oddly, the recent TV miniseries version, with Jeroen Krabbe as a fun modern-dress Satan, is the only one that's really grasped this, I think. Maybe some of this is among the stuff that didn't survive from the 260-minute version?

Overall, I'd heartily urge George Stevens Jr., who's done such a good job of preserving his father's legacy, to consider restoring this one and letting us see it on the big screen again. It's a feast.


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Details

Official Sites:

MGM

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

9 April 1965 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

George Stevens Presents The Greatest Story Ever Told See more »

Filming Locations:

Glen Canyon, Arizona, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$20,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

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

Sound Mix:

3 Channel Stereo (Westrex Recording System) (5.0) (L-R)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.76 : 1
See full technical specs »

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