King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings (1961)

Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Siobhan McKenna, Hurd Hatfield

An account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

It was good that I saw this after The Greatest Story Ever Told because what a contrast. Whereas The Greatest Story Ever Told's main virtue is the big-name cast, King of Kings has mostly minor actors in the roles (the only exception being Orson Welles as the narrator) but instead is a vastly better made, better written and better acted film. A testament (no pun intended) to its quality is that while The Greatest Story Ever Told is a bland affair, King of Kings was actually able to trigger an emotional response throughout. (Bear in mind that I have the emotional depth and responsiveness of the average pebble you might find in your driveway.) Though not as visceral and graphic as The Passion of the Christ, King of Kings is still rather unflinching in its portrayal of Roman brutality (though its portrayal of the Passion is somewhat circumscribed).

I'd almost name this movie Jesus of Peace, Jesus of War because it pretty well portrays the stories of Christ and Barabbas in parallel. This is an interesting approach, and it's used to create a different interpretation for Judas' betrayal. Unlike most portrayals of Barabbas, here he's more of a heroic figure, though his commitment to a violent solution ultimately consumes him.

Performances are good across the board. Jeffrey Hunter isn't bad as Jesus, but what I found most interesting was Herodian court with Frank Thring as Herod Antipas, Rita Gam as Herodias, Brigid Bazlen as Salome, Hurd Hatfield as Pontius Pilate and Viveca Lindfors as Claudia. Detailing what I found so interesting about them would require a supplemental post, but hopefully my praise of the performance and characterization is enough to intrigue you. Also, there's the character of Lucius who has a whole character arc that spans from the Massacre of the Innocents to Cavalry that's fairly rewarding and that's another key distinction between this and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Any alteration or expansion on the source material is in the interest of making a more compelling film.

I highly recommend this film. As of right now, it's the best film portrayal that spans from Nativity to Resurrection that I've seen. Watch it.

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