King of Kings Film Details
Overview: The temporary physical life of the Biblical Savior, Jesus Christ.
Tagline: Of good and evil, of love and hate, of peace and war.
Review: Time can be kind to epics such as this. Unfairly overlooked (even reviled, in some cases) upon release due to a variety of reasons, it now stacks up as a more than adequate version of the story of Jesus Christ from his birth to his death and his resurrection. An impressive international cast takes on the many key roles of the story. Hunter stars in the virtually unplayable role (especially for 1961 when audiences were mighty particular about how their savior was portrayed on screen!), though he doesn’t appear until about thirty minutes in. The film opens with a prologue (narrated with import by Orson Welles) setting the scene for the politics in place during Jesus’ life. At the time of his emergence as a prophet, Herod Antipas (Thring) is King of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Hatfield) is the Roman-appointed governor and Caiaphas (Rolfe) is the chief priest. All three of these men are concerned by the murmurings of John the Baptist (Ryan) who speaks of a Messiah and speaks out against Thring’s wife Gam. They are also plagued by rebel Jew Barabbas (Guardino) who continuously leads uprisings against the Roman soldiers occupying his homeland. Hunter enters the fray by drawing the attention of the powers-that-be though his public speeches and miraculous interaction with various afflicted people. Judas (Torn) initially (in this adaptation anyway) works alongside Guardino until finally aligning himself with Hunter. Unfortunately, a plan to make Hunter prove his divinity backfires and Hunter is taken prisoner and eventually meets his fate on the cross. In addition to this primary story, depictions of the Nativity, the slaying of newborn sons of Bethlehem, various epic battles, the dance of Salome (Bazlen), the near stoning of Mary Magdalene (Sevilla) and other legendary events are shown. Hunter gives an understated, but assured performance. His introduction in the film is a memorable one, focusing on his (infamously baby blue) eyes. He scarcely gets anything to do besides roam around spouting as much of the New Testament dialogue as can fit into the film’s running time, but he does it as admirably as can be expected. There is no room here for very much additional characterization than Jesus as a peacemaker and prophet. Juicier roles are given to Thring (who had just played Pilate in “Ben-Hur”!), who wears an alternating mask of lust or disgust, depending on the situation and Hatfield, who delights in throwing his weight around. McKenna, as Hunter’s mother Mary, beams with joyous solemnity, in some cases refusing to blink at all as she portrays the inner faith and resilient core of her character. Randell plays a Roman soldier who provides identification for some viewers as he simply does his duty, rarely taking part in the political ramifications of the situation, but eventually understanding the revelation of what Hunter is saying. Guardino can’t mask his evident New York accent, but does a nice job nonetheless. Torn gives a thoughtful, perceptive performance. Ryan is very strong, overcoming a cave man wig to provide some of the most passionate acting in the movie. Some extraordinary (albeit sometimes over the top) costumes are laid upon Lindfors and Gam as the wives of Hatfield and Thring, but they manage to perform admirably out from under them. Lindfors is saddled with some very 1960’s hair (in fact, Carol Lynley wore a similar ‘do to the Hollywood premiere!) and Gam has a combination bird cage/trash can contraption on her head in her key scene. Bazlen (who could pass for Liz Taylor’s younger sister here) is a vixenish tart. Odd that her career went virtually nowhere after this. It’s startling to watch a gorgeously produced film like this and find out that it was nominated for no awards of any kind. It’s reverent while staying interesting, opulent while tending to avoid vulgarity, ambitious without overreaching itself and even suspenseful when everyone knows the outcome! The Spanish scenery is splendid. The art direction is stunning (the floor of Herod’s throne room alone should have warranted an Oscar nod) and, in a now lost tradition, the same man designed the sets and the clothes, ensuring that they be of the same vision (even if some of it is a touch silly.) Blanketing the film is a wondrous Miklos Rozsa score (he was Oscar-nominated this same year for “El Cid” which, at least, explains his omission for this film.) There are surprisingly few missteps. A couple of awkward over-dubs for extras and supporting parts, some corny staging of crowd scenes and a downright awful, cheesy voice-over of Satan in which he sounds like Phil Hartman doing a more quiet Charlton Heston impression! These few nitpicks are far out-weighed by the many positive attributes of the film. The fact that it was shortened by about forty-five minutes prior to release is only evident occasionally and mostly unobtrusively (note the scene in which a broken jug is suddenly visible on Hunter’s head along with the crown of thorns before quickly falling off.) It’s difficult to believe that the fairly literate script was written by the same man who gave the world “Johnny Guitar”! Sadly, the beautiful and exceedingly versatile Hunter would be dead within less than a decade following a series of freak accidents and injuries.
Duration: 168 min
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Also known as: Цар на царете,Rei dos Reis,キング・オブ・キングス（1961）,Koning der Koningen,Царь царей,King of Kings,Konungarnas konung,Rey de reyes,Król królów,Samuel Bronston’s Production King of Kings,König der Könige,O vasilefs ton vasileon,Цap цapeвa,Kuningasten kuningas,Son of Man,Le roi des rois,Kongernes konge,The Sword and the Cross,Man from Nazareth,Királyok Királya,Rei de reis,萬王之王,Il re dei re,Kongenes konge