Just in time for Easter the 50th anniversary of the film means the blu-ray treatment for Nicholas Ray’s (Rebel Without a Cause) King of Kings. The story of Jesus from his birth until his death on the cross with everything in between. Roman occupation is the backdrop and filled with strong performances.
The year is 63 B.C. and the Romans under General Pompey (Conrado San Martin) conquer Judea. The Jews in this era lived under a reign of terror and persecution. King Herod (Gregoire Aslan – The Return of the Pink Panther, Cleopatra) is cruel and the Jews hold out hope for Messiah to come to rescue them.
While Augustus is king Jesus is born to Mary (Siobhan McKenna – Doctor Zhivago, Of Human Bondage) and Joseph (Gerard Tichy – Molokai, El Cid) in Jerusalem. Some Jews acknowledge him as the son of God, the infant who will become king of the Jews.
When Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter – from television’s Temple Houston) becomes a man and begins to cure the lame, insane and blind, and rehabilitate Mary Magdelene (Carmen Seville). Many respond positively to Jesus’ message, but there are those who don’t think he is all that great. Those people come up with a plan to end Jesus’ influential ways.
Though the film has as many good parts as it does bad parts what does stand out is the great performance by Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. He brings a youthful dynamism to the role and makes the scenes he is in the best of the film. His interpretation of Jesus is of a man who is kind, honest and sincere. The Sermon on the Mount, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are all very moving scenes. It is his turn as Jesus that gave an entire generation its idea of what Jesus looked like with his blue eyes, handsome face and long hair.
Director Nicholas Ray also does the film a service by not overglamourizing Jesus’ life. Many biblical epics are totally over the top, but that is not the case here. It keeps its dignity and that makes the story all the more moving. The intelligence of the film and its concentration of the central character as an historical figure that was a victim of his time and the politics of the era make the film all the more engaging no matter what your religious background or beliefs are.
The film does suffer at times due to lack of budget like big films like “The Greatest Story Ever Told” or “Ben Hur”. It also strays off to side stories about Barrabas and the decadence in Herod’s court. These side stories take up too much time and allow less of a focus on the story of Jesus. But it is Hunter’s turn as a very compassionate Jesus that saves the film from mediocrity.
-The Camera’s Window of the World