The King of Kings (1927 film)
|The King of Kings|
|Directed by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Produced by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Music by||Hugo Riesenfeld
|Cinematography||J. Peverell Marley
|Editing by||Anne Bauchens
|Distributed by||Pathé Exchange|
|Running time||155 min.|
The King of Kings (1927) is a silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It is a religious movie about the last weeks of Jesus before his crucifixion. H. B. Warner starred as Jesus. One of the last sequences of the movie, the Resurrection, is in Technicolor.
We see Mary Magdalene, here portrayed as a wild courtesan, entertain many men around her. Upon learning that Judas is with a carpenter she rides out on her chariot drawn by zebras to get him back. Peter is introduced as the Giant apostle, and we see the future gospel writer Mark as a child who is healed by Jesus. The Virgin Mary is shown as a beautiful and saintly woman who is a mother to all her son's followers. Our first sight of Jesus is through the eyesight of a little girl, whom He heals. He is surrounded by a halo. Mary Magdelene arrives afterwards and talks to Judas, who reveals that he is only staying with Jesus in hopes of being made a king after Jesus becomes the king of kings. Jesus casts the Seven Deadly Sins out of Mary Magdalene in a multiple exposure sequence.
Jesus is also shown resurrecting Lazarus and healing the little children. Some humor is derived when one girl asks if He can heal broken legs and He says yes, she gives him a legless doll. Jesus smiles and repairs the doll. The crucifixion is foreshadowed when Jesus, having helped a poor family, wanders through the father's carpentry shop and, himself a carpenter's son, briefly helps carve a piece of wood. When a sheet covering the object is removed, it is revealed to be a cross towering over Jesus.
Jesus and His apostles enter Jerusalem, where Judas incites the people and rallies them to proclaim Jesus King of the Jews. Jesus, however, renounces all claims of being an Earthly king. Caiaphas the High Priest is also angry at Judas for having led people to a man whom he sees as a false prophet. Meanwhile Jesus drives away Satan who offers Him an Earthly kingdom, and he protects the woman caught in adultery. The words he draws in the sand are revealed to be the sins the accusers themselves committed.
Judas, desperate to save himself from Caiaphas, agrees to turn over Jesus. Noticeably at the Last Supper, when Jesus distributes the bread and wine saying that they are His body and blood, Judas refuses to eat. He puts the cup to his lips but refuses to drink; he tears off a piece of bread but lets it drop to the ground. Towards the end, Mary confronts her son and tells Him to flee the danger that is coming. Jesus replies that it must be done for the salvation of all peoples. They leave the room but the camera focuses on the table upon which a dove alights for a moment.
Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where He is soon captured by the Roman soldiers and betrayed by Judas. Judas' life is saved, but on seeing that Jesus is going to be killed he is horrified. He takes a rope that the Romans had used to bind Jesus' wrists and runs off. Jesus is beaten and then presented by Pontius Pilate to the crowd. Mary pleads for the life of her son and Mary Magdalene speaks for Him but Caiaphas bribes the crowd to shout against Jesus.
Jesus is taken away to be crucified, though He pauses the Via Dolorosa to heal a group of cripples in an alley, regardless of His weakened condition. He is crucified and His enemies throw insults at Him. (One woman even anachronistically eats popcorn and smiles with glee at Jesus' crucifixion.) When Jesus does die, however, a great earthquake comes up. The tree where Judas had hanged himself with the rope used to bind Jesus's wrists is swallowed up amidst gouts of hellfire. The sky turns black, lightning strikes, the wind blows, the people who had mocked Jesus run in terror, and the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple is torn in two.
The tumult ends when Mary looks up at heaven and asks God to forgive the world for the death of their son. The chaos ends and the sun shines. Jesus is taken down from the cross and is buried. On the third day, He rises from the dead as promised. To emphasize the importance of the resurrection, this scene from an otherwise black and white film is shot in color. Jesus goes to the Apostles and tells them to spread His message to the world. He tells them "I am with you always" as the scene shifts to a modern city to show that Jesus still watches over His followers.
Many of the film's intertitles are quotes (or paraphrases) from Scripture, often with chapter and verse accompanying.
- H.B. Warner as Christ
- Dorothy Cumming as Mary
- Ernest Torrence as Peter
- Joseph Schildkraut as Judas
- Jacqueline Logan as Mary Magdalene
- Leon Holmes as the imbecile boy
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A giant gate built for this film was later famously used in 1933's King Kong, and was among the sets torched for the "burning of Atlanta" in 1939's Gone with the Wind. Other sets and costumes were reused for the 1965 Elvis Presley film, Harum Scarum.
In order to preserve the spiritual nature of the film DeMille made his stars enter contracts that prohibited them from doing anything "unbiblical" for a five-year period. These activities included attending ball games, playing cards, frequenting night clubs, swimming, and riding in convertibles. In spite of this the actor portraying Jesus became involved in an affair with an extra on the set of the film, and actress Dorothy Cumming, who portrayed the Virgin Mary, went through a much-publicized divorce from her first husband, director Frank Elliott Dakin.
In 1928 actress Valeska Surratt and scholar Mirza Ahmad Sohrab sued DeMille for stealing the scenario for The King of Kings from them. The case went to trial in February 1930 but eventually settled without publicity. Surratt who had left films to return to the stage in 1917 appeared to be unofficially blacklisted after the suit.
Portrayal of the Jews
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DeMille's film attempts a sensitive portrayal of the Jews, that has been welcomed by some, and condemned as containing dangerous anti-semitism by others. The film maintains a traditional Christian view of Jesus as a messianic figure that the Jewish leaders of the time rejected, but tries to do so in a way that holds only a select group of Jews as guilty of deicide.
The film opens with a titlecard stating that the Jewish people in the Roman province of Judea were oppressed in the time of Jesus, with even the chief priests faced interference from Roman authorities. The film paints the Jewish high priest Caiaphas as a villain, suggesting the Jewish people would not willingly accept his authority without Roman intervention.
Judas is shown as corrupted by greed and unmoved by the messianic claims of Jesus, instead seeing him as a fraud. During Christ's Passion, Caiaphas is shown bribing Jewish citizens to call for Jesus' death, but one man refuses, asking "How can a Jew betray a fellow Jew?" Aside from reminding the audience that Jesus is ethnically Jewish, the presence of a token good Jew reminds the audience that not all Jews conspired to kill Jesus. DeMille shows Caiaphas as following law in putting Jesus to death for blasphemy after he claimed to be god, rather than out of spite or malice.
The film also shows Caiaphas experiencing remorse at his actions after seeing miracles during the crucifixion, including earthquakes, storms and the curtain covering the holy of holies torn in two. Realizing what he, the Jewish High Priest of all people, has killed his own Messiah, that he is the priest that killed his own god, Caiaphas weeps. Consumed with remorse that, in addition to this sin he has committed, he has turned the Jews against their own Messiah, perhaps forever, he begs an angry God to forgive His chosen people. He then adds that if anyone be punished for the sin of deicide it be him. "For myself," he says, "I ask no pity for I have slain pity!"
The film differs from the biblical account of Caiaphas persecuting Christ's followers. Nevertheless, the film has been praised by some as giving a nuanced portrayal of the Jews for that time. The film's DVD release contains the words of various religious leaders, among them a rabbi who expresses gratitude for the film's sensitivity. On the other hand, several of the Jewish characters, especially in the introductory scene with Mary Magdalene, are grotesquely stereotypical in physical appearance. Two characters have large noses, ugly mustaches, swarthy complexions, and 'Jewish' headgear. However, the actor playing Judas Iscariot is handsome, with no facial hair, and none of these stereotypical features.
- "Chinese Theatres - History". Mann Theatres. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- The Helena Independent (Helena, Montana), 25 Feb 1928
- Religion and film: Part I: history and criticism
- The King of Kings at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The King of Kings at the Internet Movie Database
- The King of Kings at allmovie
- The King of Kings at the TCM Movie Database
- Criterion Collection essay by Peter Matthews