Barabbas (1961)

Barabbas (1961), directed by Richard Fleischer.

A tale of the criminal pardoned instead of Christ just before the Crucifixion.

This is not one of the top-tier Bible epics like Ben Hur (1959) or Roman adventures like Spartacus, but on its level is really rather good. Much better than I remember, although the last time I saw it was as a cut-up version on a small boxy black-and-white TV.

The first act is the best part: glimpses of the Passion, mysteries happening just out of sight. Anthony Quinn is outstanding as the coarse, drunken brute who is haunted by Christ and his own part in the story, until he finally finds redemption on his own cross. The fear and pain in his life-long struggle with the truth makes the movie.

Harry Andrews is excellent as a confident, soft-spoken Peter, talking of nets and fishing for men. We have a strangely eerie sequence with Lazarus, who looks like a revivified dead man. "No one else ever asked me what it was like to be dead," he says.

I think the latter parts in the sulfur mine and with the gladiator story slack off a bit, although sadistic Jack Palance is impressively evil as the head gladiator.

Also with Arthur Kennedy as Pilate, Katy Jurado as a tavern wench, and Ernest Borgnine as a secret Christian in Rome.

Filmed in Italy. For the "darkness at noon" part of the Crucifixion they used a total eclipse of the sun that occurred during filming.

The DVD could use an upgrade. A nice Blu-ray of this title would be very welcome.