David and Bathsheba (1951)

David and Bathsheba (1951), directed by Henry King.

I first saw this as a child and it has remained one of my favorite Bible movies. Old Testament stories used to be a busy film genre; whatever happened to them?

Starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, with Raymond Massey as the smugly pious prophet, irritating, but, in the end, right.

I can understand why the film is not highly rated. Costume epics of that time can be pretty stiff, the action scenes are unconvincing, the story lends itself to soap opera, and we get cliche ingredients like the standard spicy dancing girl moment.

And yet, it has its good points. Gregory Peck is very kingly and seems more natural in the role than the others. David is haunted by his own history, his battles against Saul and Jonathan. Against a pastoral background we have the tale of his many crimes: passion for another man's wife, a sordid cover story for her pregnancy, and the murder of her husband. Because of these sins the land suffers drought and windstorms; as we know from Arthurian legend, the king and the land are one.

But then: honest repentance, acceptance and conciliation. How often do you see that in in a movie? The final half hour is intensely moving, and the scene where he plays the harp and chants his psalm is very fine.

A subplot features the Ark of the Covenant, seen in certain later films as well.

Lush Alfred Newman score. Five Academy Award nominations.

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