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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

An all-star, large scale epic film 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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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
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
Pat Boone ... Angel at the Tomb
Janet Margolin ... Mary of Bethany
David McCallum ... Judas Iscariot
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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

Taglines:

A Richly Rewarding Entertainment Experience for the Entire Family


Certificate:

G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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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)

Gross USA:

$15,473,333
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

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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Did You Know?

Trivia

Jean Simmons was initially announced to portray Mary Magdalene. See more »

Goofs

Throughout the film there are shots of snow on the ground and snow on the mountains of Utah. Israel rarely gets any snow. 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...
See more »

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 DVD-R Hell: Bibleman (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

 
Go Forth To All the Nations
26 August 2006 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

When first released George Stevens's version of the Gospel was dismissed as too long, too reverential, too soon after the sound version of The King of Kings was released, and too many stars in the cast taking one's attention from the story.

Too some degree that is true, but being a stargazer myself I'll never find fault with a film for that. And who knew in 1965 that we would get The Last Temptation of Christ and the Passion of the Christ in our future. George Stevens's film is looking pretty good now.

No doubt about the presence of a whole lot of movie names helped bring in the bucks. But with one glaring exception you do pay attention to the roles, not who's playing them. Some parts are pretty substantial. Charlton Heston as John the Baptist has the longest amount of screen time other than Von Sydow. Also given a large amount of time is Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary and Donald Pleasance as the Prince of Darkness.

The personification of the Devil is something Mel Gibson borrowed for his film. Personally I think Donald Pleasance is quite a bit better than what Gibson did.

Other stars had smaller roles. Sidney Poitier played a silent part as Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus with his cross on the way to Calvary. You could not have gotten away with an all white cast in a film like this by 1965. A whole group of players from previous Stevens films got some bit parts and more like Van Heflin, Shelley Winters, Sal Mineo, and Ed Wynn.

One star Joseph Schildkraut had the rare distinction of playing in both Cecil B. DeMille's silent King of Kings and this film. Schildkraut played Judas for DeMille and is seen as Nicodemus here. This was Schildkraut's last film. An interesting double distinction for a man who came from a prominent Jewish theatrical family.

One big glaring error though. Stevens should never have cast John Wayne as the Roman Centurion who supervising the crucifixion. Wayne is seen in passing through out the journey to Calvary, but with no dialog. At the moment of Jesus's death with the drama unfolding it was just wrong to have that recognizable a voice utter, "truly that man was the son of God." Instead of concentrating on the story the audience gets distracted and in the theaters the whispers went up with 'ooh, that's John Wayne.'

Arizona served as the location for ancient Judea. Unlike DeMille in The Ten Commandments, Stevens concentrated on the beauty of the location as opposed to filling the screen with people. It got filled enough with the story. You might recognize the Grand Canyon as the backdrop for the sermon on the mount scene. Of course Handel's Messiah is almost obligatory for these films and it's done well here.

One scene that you will not forget comes at the end of the first act, the raising of Lazarus who is played by Michael Tolan. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are played by Ina Balin and Janet Margolin. They had shown Jesus and the disciples hospitality earlier. When Lazarus is taken ill, Mary and Margaret, go after Jesus to bring him back. It is too late, Lazarus has died and he's in his tomb. Or so everyone thinks. The sparse dialog, the photography, and the background music are so well done at this point the most hard hearted nonbeliever will pause.

Of course most of the name players in The Greatest Story Ever Told are no longer with us so the cameos don't mean as much today. It is probably better in that an audience of today can concentrate on the story without even the most minimal interference of recognition. And they can concentrate on the story without either alternate realities as in The Last Temptation of Christ or all the gore and violence of Mel Gibson's epic. Definitely worth a look by today's contemporary audience.


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