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The Greatest Story Ever Told Movie Review

jesus john film time

1965 – George Stevens –

The Greatest Story Ever Told follows the life of Jesus Christ from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection. Based on Fulton Oursler's book, the film was ten years and several casting changes in the making. Some critics have said the end product wasn't worth the effort, and it may well not have been worth ten years' wait. But it is worth a look, especially around Easter, the film's occasional television air time.

The cast does a consistently fine job portraying familiar characters. Probably the most noteworthy performance is given by Charlton Heston as John the Baptist. He is properly zealous, shouting “repent!” at every available opportunity. Watching him, one might wonder if he will baptize people in the Jordan River or part it and lead them across. Max Von Sydow gives a credible rendition of the Messiah, though at times he seems too much like a monk and too little like a man. Overall, the story suffers for this lack of emphasis on the humanity of Christ. When Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted, the film fails to suggest any internal struggle at all.

Consequently, it is the minor matters that linger in the mind, such as some odd-seeming non-biblical changes that were made (Pilate never washing his hands, Judas Iscariot committing suicide by falling into fire rather than by hanging) and cameo performances by well-known celebrities, which were probably impressive at the time of release but that now serve as little more than distractions. The distinctive voices and mannerisms of a few lead the audience to wonder (sometimes aloud): Is that John Wayne? This overly reverent treatment mostly robs the film of the warmth of life, but a few effective moments remain, such as when Jesus looks knowingly into Judas' eyes and tells him to go and do quickly what he must.

Cast: Max von Sydow (Jesus), Charlton Heston (John the Baptist), Sidney Poitier (Simon of Cyrene), Claude Rains (King Herod), Jose Ferrer (Herod Antipas), Telly Savalas (Pontius Pilate), Angela Lansbury (Claudia), Dorothy McGuire (The Virgin Mary), John Wayne (Centurion), Donald Pleasence (The Dark Hermin/Satan), Carroll Baker (Veronica), Van Heflin (Bar Amand), Robert Loggia (Joseph), Shelley Winters (Unnamed Woman), Ed Wynn (Old Aram), Roddy McDowall (Matthew), Pat Boone (Young Man at Tomb), Martin Landau (Caiaphas), Robert Blake (Simon the Zealot), Jamie Farr (Thaddaeus), Joanna Dunham (Mary Magdalene) Screenwriter: James Lee Barrett, George Stevens Cinematographer: Loyal Griggs, William C. Mellor Composer: Alfred Newman Producer: George Stevens for United Artists Running Time: 196 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1965: Nominations: Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Special Visual Effects, Musical Score Budget: $20M Box Office: $7M.

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