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Directed by Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar) and dramatically narrated by Orson Welles, King of Kings is a reverent telling of the life of Christ while providing a historic context of the Roman occupation of Judea. Almost three hours long this 1961 version is a perennial holiday favorite. While some critics have pointed out or criticized Jeffrey Hunter’s too pretty blue-eyed Nordic Jesus, Hunter’s performance also comes across as more compassionate and sensitive than perhaps some of the other interpretations by various actors on the same theme.
Beautifully shot in Spain, with Robert Ryan as John the Baptist, Siobhan McKenna as the Virgin Mary with a slight Irish brogue, Rip Torn as Judas. There’s a subplot in the film that some may find distracting and that is the juxtaposition between the violence of Barabbas (Harry Guardino) and the peaceful ways of Jesus, which the film seems to interpret as two paths to a common cause of liberating Judea from the Romans. Anyone who ever attended Sunday School or Catechism knows this is taking some liberties and a stretch.
We are also witness to Herod Antipas infatuation with his step-daughter Salome and her infamous pre-MTV dance scene. And what is the price Salome demands for this dance? Something that would greatly please her mother, Herodias: the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Even the wicked Herod is shocked at this young girls’ malice. For those who don’t know or don’t recall John the Baptist had been saying some really nasty things about Herodias …all true though. The National Enquirer and TMZ would not have survived Biblical times!
A bit of film trivia here. The legendary Ray Bradbury wrote the narrative spoken by Welles and the moving and majestic Sermon on the Mount scene had about 7000 extras.
I find the King of Kings works best when focusing on Jesus rather than “what if subplots”. That said it still remains a visually beautiful, inspirational and reverent family favorite with a spellbinding score by Miklos Rozsa.
To order King of Kings on DVD from Amazon click here.
To order from Amazon Canada click here.