King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray.

A novelized life of Jesus, with vastly elaborated parts for the other characters and connections and motivations unsupported by the scriptures (or even early tradition, as far as I know). Barabbas is a rebel leader, Judas a rebel and idealist and Pilate's wife a closet disciple. The whole Herod/Salome plot is lifted directly from Oscar Wilde. As is often done, Mary Magdalene is conflated with "the Woman Taken in Adultery".

We don't get that much of the life or teachings of Christ: a bit of his healings and a section of the Sermon on the Mount. Miracles are described but only two are shown: a blind man healed and Christ's appearance after death. The whole story is rather low-drama until the Passion which inevitably catches us and sweeps us along.

Jeffrey Hunter is the blue-eyed, chestnut-haired Jesus. He has a fierce, rather startling and almost wolf-like appearance. I jumped when he first appeared in the Jordan before John the Baptist (Robert Ryan). Hunter got some silly static at the time for looking too young ("I Was a Teenaged Jesus") but he was in his mid-30s.

He has his moments, but the role needs something more I have never seen on film. Jesus is not just delivering the message, he is originating it. Actors tend to declaim the words, which isn't enough.

This version is overshadowed by Ben Hur (1959), a more moving and better film in every way. MGM provided both. Miklós Rózsa does the score for both, and Frank Thring is Herod here, Pilate there.

Some action-film segments with Barabbas and his rebels are way out of place, like something from stock Hollywood costume fight scenes. Even the music drops into a lower grade.

Filmed in Spain. Rough dubbing for some of the extras. Some landscape animation in the opening segment is poor. Fine color but unexciting composition.

Available on a rather good Blu-ray. Vivid colors and generally fine detail, although some closeups have a bit of soft focus, probably in the original.

Netflix has the DVD but not the Blu-ray. I rented mine from ClassicFlix.