King of Kings Review

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Having failed to persuade Jesus Christ to join the cause of the anti-imperialist brigand, Barabbas, Judas Iscariot delivers him to the Jewish authorities for Crucifixion.


Forced by the code of Do Nots and Be Carefuls that regulated silent Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille devised the tactic of depicting decadence in all its sinful glory as a pretext to punishing the wicked and rewarding the penitent and good. Consequently, no other life of Christ contains such overt sensuality as his 1927 effort, The King of Kings, which opened with Jacqueline Logan's scantily clad Mary Magdalene making the acquaintance of H.B.Warner's Jesus when she came to lure her lover Judas (Joseph Schildkraut) back to bed. Moreover, there's certainly nothing to compare with the sequence in which the Seven Deadly Sins were slowly purged from her body in a series of superimpositions.

Nicholas Ray's King of Kings is wrongly listed in some sources as a remake of DeMille's morality play. But Warner and Jeffrey Hunter's portrayals of Christ make for a fascinating contrast. The silent saviour was both virile and compassionate and wholly in touch with both his humanity and divinity. Hunter, however, seems as conflicted as Hamlet by his optimum course of action. Stripping the story of all but one miracle (which is a restoration of sight that recalls the 1927 version), Philip Yordan's screenplay moulds Jesus into another of Ray's rebels without a cause, who isn't sure whether his role is to lead his people in the manner that Judas suggests or to guide them to a more lasting form of liberation. Thus, he seems to be testing out his teachings rather than preaching with authority.  

 Made at a cost of $8 million and filmed with a cast of thousands in 70mm Technicolor on 396 sets, the picture has the epic feel of Samuel Bronston's earlier epics, The Fall of the Roman Empire and El Cid. But, despite the piercing eyes that made him something of a pin-up, Hunter cut a resoundingly anti-heroic figure, whose seemingly pointless death enraged Christian watchdogs who denounced the movie for its historical and theological inaccuracies.

Jeffrey Hunter is less Saviour of the Christian faith and more anti-hero with many very human doubts and concerns.