Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1961. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Philip Yordan. Cinematography by Manuel Berenguer, Milton R. Krasner, Franz Planer. Produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Music by Hugo Riesenfeld. Production Design by Dan Sayre Groesback, Anton Grot, Julian Harrison, Edward C. Jewell. Costume Design by Adrian, Earl Luick, Gwen Wakeling. Film Editing by Anne Bauchens, Harold McLernon. Golden Globe Awards 1961.
Biblical epics were not hard to come by in the post-Robe era, perfect for the Cinemascope generation to be dazzled while fulfilling their good Christian duties at the movies, a number of them focusing on the life of Jesus Christ. Being directed by Nicholas Ray would, you would hope, give it a different level of intelligence and intensity than the usual bloated nonsense that these kinds of films featured (Ben-Hur, for example) but what Ray comes up with is surprisingly not that captivating. Orson Welles‘ narration opens with political and cultural details of events leading up to Jesus’s birth for what is presumably going to be a more studied and intelligent story of his life than earlier films have ever shown. The Messiah’s adult years, played by the brightly blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter, tell the stories known from the Bible, all of it splayed across the wide screen in flashy colours and sharp, perfectly blocked images. There’s no power to any of it, though, and the narration continuing throughout the whole film means that it all feels like an opening sequence, making you spend three hours waiting for it to begin and get to the good stuff. What should be an emotional experience feels more like Jesus For Dummies.