King of Kings (1961 film)
|King of Kings|
DVD cover by Reynold Brown
|Directed by||Nicholas Ray|
|Produced by||Samuel Bronston|
|Written by||Philip Yordan|
Ray Bradbury (uncredited)
|Based on||The Christian Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)|
|Narrated by||Orson Welles (uncredited)|
|Music by||Miklós Rózsa|
Milton R. Krasner
|Edited by||Harold F. Kress|
|Box office||$13.4 million|
King of Kings is a 1961 American Biblical epic film made by Samuel Bronston Productions and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Directed by Nicholas Ray, the film is a dramatization of the story of Jesus of Nazareth from his birth and ministry to his crucifixion and resurrection, with much dramatic license.
In November 1958, the idea for King of Kings began as a proposed film project based on the life of Jesus between Samuel Bronston and John Farrow following their collaboration on John Paul Jones (1959). However, by the next year, Farrow left the project due to creative differences, and Nicholas Ray was shortly after hired as director. Ray then hired screenwriter Philip Yordan to write a new script. Prominent actors were considered to portray multiple roles. Filming commenced in April 1960, and wrapped in October 1960. Financing of the film was initially provided by Pierre S. du Pont III, but Bronston appealed for more funding from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who was interested in the film following their success with Ben-Hur (1959). With MGM involved, mandatory rewrites and additional scenes were added to the film. Reshoots were shot in December 1960 and again in May 1961.
In 63 BC, Pompey conquered Jerusalem and the city was sacked. He entered the Temple to seize the treasure of Solomon and massacred the priests there. He discovered that the treasure is only a collection of scrolls of the Torah. These Pompey held over a fire until an old priest reached for them imploringly. Pompey relented and handed them to the old man and left to carry out massacres of enemy villages and towns.
A carpenter named Joseph and his wife Mary, who is about to give birth, arrive in Bethlehem for the census. Not having found accommodation for the night, they take refuge in a stable, where the child, Jesus, is born. The shepherds, who have followed the Magi from the East, gather to worship him. However, Herod, informed of the birth of a child-king, orders the centurion Lucius to take his men to Bethlehem and kill all the newborn male children.
Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with the child. The Massacre of the Innocents occurs, Herod dies, killed in his death throes by his son Herod Antipas, who then takes power. In Nazareth, Jesus, who is now twelve years old, is working with Joseph when soldiers arrive under the command of Lucius, who realizes that Jesus escaped the massacre of the infants. But Lucius does nothing and only asks that Mary and Joseph register their son's birth before the year's end.
Years pass and Jewish rebels led by Barabbas and Judas Iscariot prepare to attack a caravan carrying the next governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate and his wife Claudia. The ambush fails, partly due to the diligence of Lucius, and Barabbas and Judas flee for their lives.
Pilate and Herod Antipas meet on the banks of the River Jordan, where John the Baptist preaches to the crowds. Jesus arrives here, now 30 years of age. He is baptized by John, who recognizes that he is the Messiah. Jesus goes into the desert, where he is tempted by Satan. After forty days, Jesus travels to Galilee, where he recruits his Apostles.
In Jerusalem, Herod Antipas arrests John the Baptist, who is visited by Jesus in prison. Judas leaves the rebel Barabbas and joins the Apostles. Jesus begins to preach and gather crowds, among which are Claudia, Pilate's wife, and Lucius. Herod reluctantly beheads John on a whim of his stepdaughter, Salome, who despises him.
Herod, Pilate and the High Priest Caiaphas are terrorized by the works and miracles of Jesus. Barabbas plots a revolt in Jerusalem during Passover, during which time Jesus enters the holy city in triumph and goes to the Temple to preach. The rebels storm the Antonia Fortress, but the legions of Pilate, having learned of the plot, ambush and crush the revolt, massacring the rebels. Barabbas ends up arrested.
Jesus meets the disciples on the evening of Thursday, having supper one last time with them and afterwards goes to pray at Gethsemane. In the meantime, Judas wants Jesus to free Judea from the Romans, and, to force his hand, Judas delivers him to the Jewish authorities. Jesus is brought before Caiaphas and then brought before Pilate. Pilate starts the trial, but sensing that the issue is one of Jewish sensibilities, sends him to Herod Antipas, who, in turn, sends him back.
Pilate is infuriated by Antipas' returning of Jesus and commands his soldiers to scourge Jesus. The people demand the release of Barabbas, and Pilate bows to their pressure and sentences Jesus to be crucified. Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns on his head, carries his cross to Golgotha where he is crucified with two thieves, one of them being the penitent thief Dismas.
Desperate because he has betrayed Jesus to his death, Judas hangs himself and his body is found by Barabbas. Jesus dies in front of his mother, the apostle John, a few soldiers, Claudia (Pilate's wife), and Lucius (who utters the fateful words: "He is truly the Christ"). His body is taken down from the cross and is carried to a rock tomb. Two days later, Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, and encounters the Risen Jesus.
The film ends on the shores of Lake Tiberias when Jesus appears to the Apostles for "a final time" according to the narration, and tells them to bring his message to the ends of the world. Only his shadow is visible, forming the shape of a cross where it falls on the stretched-out fishing nets. The apostles then leave, and, as the shadow of Jesus falls across the screen, it could be assumed that he is ascending to Heaven.
- Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus
- Siobhán McKenna as Mary
- Robert Ryan as John the Baptist
- Ron Randell as Lucius
- Hurd Hatfield as Pontius Pilate
- Viveca Lindfors as Claudia Procula
- Rita Gam as Herodias
- Frank Thring as Herod Antipas
- Royal Dano as Peter
- Antonio Mayans as John
- Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot
- Harry Guardino as Barabbas
- Carmen Sevilla as Mary Magdalene
- Brigid Bazlen as Salomé
- Guy Rolfe as Caiaphas
- Grégoire Aslan as Herod the Great
- Gérard Tichy as Joseph
- Conrado San Martín as Pompey
- Luis Prendes as the Dismas, the Penitent thief
- Barry Keegan as Gestas, the Impenitent thief
- Orson Welles (uncredited) as the Narrator
- Ray Milland (uncredited) as Satan (voice)
With the death of Carmen Sevilla on October 11, 2020, Antonio Mayans is the last surviving primary cast member.
In November 1958, it was reported that Samuel Bronston and John Farrow were collaborating on a film project based on the life of Jesus, with Farrow's script being titled Son of Man. In May 1959, it was reported that Sonya Levien was hired to do a script polish. However, by October 1959, Farrow had left the project over creative differences. Farrow later explained that in the context of Jesus's trial, Bronston wanted him to "whitewash the Jewish leaders, and lay blame entirely on the Romans. I refused to make these changes. I quit." Additionally, according to associate producer Alan Brown, he stated that "his script was not really a script, it was the Four Gospels put down, and Sam called me and said, 'I cannot even understand this, it's all Thee and Thou and everything else.'"
In November 1959, Nicholas Ray signed on to direct the project. With set construction nearly complete, Ray then asked screenwriter Philip Yordan whom he previously worked with on Johnny Guitar (1954) to rewrite the script. Ray also explained, "I asked for him and made concessions to have him. They had asked me to write it. I didn't feel up to the responsibility; I am as impatient with the other writer on my own screenplay as with others."
Yordan recalled, "I didn't want to go to Spain, but he asked me to just come over there for the weekend. The picture was called Son of Man. Terrible title, and someone had taken chapters of the Bible and sort of tried to make it play." He then recommended re-titling the script to King of Kings. Yordan wrote a new script in six weeks which Bronston liked so much that he encouraged him to stay in Madrid, in which Yordan later went to co-write the script for El Cid (1961). Throughout the writing process, Yordan felt he did not find writing the movie to be difficult, in which he argued that "Christ was a loner. He's not much different than my usual character. The Western character. It's the same character. The man alone."
Furthermore, Bronston hired several Biblical scholars in order for the script to adhere to the Gospels, which included playwright Diego Fabbri and theologian professor George Kilpatrick who wrote the books The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1946) and The Trial of Jesus (1953). In March 1960, Bronston received approval of the script from Pope John XXIII, who met with the producer at the Vatican.
Several actors were considered to play the role of Jesus. In May 1959, it was reported that Alec Guinness had met with Bronston to discuss playing the role of Jesus. With Nicholas Ray as director, he considered Peter Cushing, Tom Fleming, Christopher Plummer, and Max von Sydow (who would later play the role in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)) for the role of Jesus. Ultimately, on April 21, 1960, Jeffrey Hunter was cast as Jesus. The idea to hire Hunter for the role came from John Ford, who suggested him to Nicholas Ray after directing him on The Searchers (1956). Ray also knew Hunter as he had directed him in The True Story of Jesse James (1957). Bronston agreed to the casting mainly because of the actor's striking eyes explaining that "I really chose him for his eyes. It was important that the man playing Christ have memorable eyes." After he finished filming for Hell to Eternity (1960), Hunter was approached for the role after being given the script to which he agreed.
Other prominent actors were pursued for supporting roles. In April 1960, it was reported that Orson Welles and Richard Burton were cast as Herod the Great and Herod Antipas respectively. Alternately, on April 21, on the same day as Hunter's casting, it was reported that Burton was attached to play a centurion and James Mason was being considered for Pontius Pilate. However, in the following month, Burton left the role when he was refused to be given top billing.
In May 1960, Grace Kelly had turned down the offer to portray Mary, mother of Jesus, in which the role later went to Siobhán McKenna while Hurd Hatfield was cast as Pontius Pilate. That same month, it was announced that Viveca Lindfors, Rita Gam, Frank Thring, and Ron Randell had joined the cast.
Filming and post-production
In 1959, Bronston had established his eponymous production studio in Spain where he observed the rugged countryside resembled Judea. Principal photography began on April 24, 1960 at the Sevilla and Charmartin studios, near Madrid, Spain where 396 sets were constructed for the film. Unfortunately, the Temple of Judea set at the Sevilla studios was blown down during a major windstorm. Bronston surveyed the site and ordered for the set to be rebuilt which was completed in three months.
The film was shot on multiple locations throughout Spain, one of which included the Venta de Frascuelas near the rocky terrains of Chinchón for the Sermon on the Mount scene where 7,000 extras were used. The El Fresno was used to represent the Jordan River, as well as the Rambla de Lanujar in Almería for the wilderness where Jesus was tempted. The Añover de Tajo within the province of Toledo was substituted for the Mount of Olives. The municipalities of Manzanares el Real and Navacerrada were shot for the scenes set in Nazareth and Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified respectively.
The film's shoot faced numerous complications. As with John Paul Jones (1959), Bronston secured the financing backing from business executive Pierre S. du Pont III, but months into the shoot, the production had run out of money. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer became interested in investing as they saw the film as a potential rival to Ben-Hur (1959), which was still in wide release. MGM studio president Joseph Vogel visited the set in Madrid and viewed dailies of the unfinished film. Coming away impressed, he alerted production head Sol C. Siegel of the production in which he also visited the set. Siegel recommended various changes feeling the film was too long, needed more action, and had a weak ending. An original Jewish Zealot character named "David" portrayed by Richard Johnson was written into the film who was function as a bridge between the film's plot threads. Due to the heavy deviations being made to the film's shooting script, Nicholas Ray and Philip Yordan were no longer on speaking terms communicating only through walkie-talkies.
Midway during filming, in July 1960, cinematographer Franz Planer had fallen ill. Manuel Berengeur, who had worked with him since the start of production, replaced him, but MGM sent out contract cinematographer Milton R. Krasner to take over. In September, an automobile accident resulted in the death of Arthur Resse, who had been serving as a horse trainer, while also injuring actor Harry Guardino (who was portraying Barabbas) as the two were en route from a location outside Aranjuez, Spain. Around the same time, Ray, who was overwhelmed with the production woes, was temporarily replaced by Charles Walters. In October 1960, filming wrapped after 122 days.
During the film's post-production, the editing was done at the MGM studios in Culver City, California. At the studio's requests, certain scenes were re-shot and added, and among of the edits made was the deletion of Richard Johnson's scenes. Miklós Rózsa was hired to compose the score, which was recorded using a 74-piece symphony orchestra and a choir of 50 people. Ray Bradbury was brought in to construct a new ending as well as write narration in order to connect the disparate elements together. Bradbury wrote an ending in which the resurrected Jesus commissions the disciples to preach the Gospel. Then, he elevates as he walks towards the horizontal shores of Galilee leaving only his visible footprints to be covered with blowing dust. The disciples would also leave footprints in all four directions to be covered with dust. However, the ending was deemed too expensive to be filmed. Orson Welles was hired to provide the voice-over narration, which was recorded in London. Welles insisted on pronouncing the word 'apostles' with a hard 't', instead of the normally silent 't'.
Following a sneak preview, the studio felt another scene between Siobhán McKenna and Carmen Sevilla was needed, in which the scene was shot on the MGM's Boreham Wood studios in London on May 8, 1961.
King of Kings was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on February 6, 2003 and Blu-ray by Warner Home Video on July 28, 2009 and on March 29, 2011, respectively as a Region 1 widescreen disc. It has since been available for online streaming and download through Amazon, Apple iTunes Store and Vudu. At present, WB/Turner is the rights holder via its pre-1986 MGM holdings.
Time wrote a negative review describing the film as "[i]ncontestably the corniest, phoniest, ickiest and most monstrously vulgar of all the big Bible stories Hollywood has told in the last decade". Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt that the movie had "the nature of an illustrated lecture" and was a "peculiarly impersonal film that constructs a great deal of random action around Jesus and does very little to construct a living personality for Him." Variety, which praised the film as "a major motion picture by any standard" that not only "succeeds as spectacle" but also "succeeds in touching the heart." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It is not great art, nor is it the definitive photoplay about Jesus (will there ever be one?), but it is at least permeated by a soberness of purpose that, allowing for ordinary human fallibility, can be tacitly felt and respected. Technically, of course, it is far glossier than the C. B. DeMille movie of 1927, and very probably at least its equal in effectiveness. Dramatically, I think, it falls somewhere between the theatrical entertainment that was Ben-Hur and the spiritual but spiritless Francis of Assisi."
Harrison's Reports awarded its top grade of "Excellent" and declared that the film "will not only stamp its enduring imprint on the glorious history book of the motion picture industry, but will leave its memorable impact on the minds of all those millions who see it." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post, however, panned the film as "a picture which never should have been made" due to the filmmakers' decision to present Jesus as "a universal, non-controversial figure," explaining that "to excise His dynamic, revolutionary concepts is to make His journey on earth a hollow ritual, a pointless fairy tale, an essay on How to Live Dangerously and Still Win." The Monthly Film Bulletin stated: "As, simply, a version of the infinitely well-known story, it has some curious interpolations (Christ's visit to John the Baptist in his cell) and omissions. The overwhelming failure, though, is in finding any kind of style, in imagery, dialogue or music, which goes beyond the most insipidly conventional kind of Bible illustrations."
Among later reviews, Leonard Maltin's home video guide awarded the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, and Geoff Andrew called it "one of the most interesting screen versions of the Gospels, adding that "some of the performances appear to lack depth, but one can't deny the effectiveness of Miklós Rózsa's fine score, and of Ray's simple but elegant visuals which achieve a stirring dramatic power untainted by pompous bombast." Musicians such as Grammy Award-winning Art Greenhaw have cited the movie as being an influence in their work and even their favorite film of all time. As of July 2019, the film holds a "fresh" 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
King of Kings music score, composed by Miklós Rózsa, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Rózsa's most recent work at the time was the score for MGM's hugely successful religious epic Ben-Hur (1959), for which he won his third Oscar. Rózsa composed the scores for many of MGM's epic films, including Quo Vadis (1951).
According to MGM records, the film earned $8 million in North America and $5.4 million overseas, earning a profit of $1,621,000.
Most films at the time, except for the 1935 French film Golgotha, did not show Jesus' face, preferring to do shots of his hands (as in Ben-Hur) or over-the-shoulder views. King of Kings was the first large-budget, major-studio sound film in English to actually show Christ's face.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
- The King of Kings – 1927 film also about Jesus, but although not related tells the same basic premise.
- The Greatest Story Ever Told – 1965 star-studded Hollywood epic about the life of Jesus Christ
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Pryor, Thomas M. (November 4, 1958). "Film To Be Made on Life of Christ". The New York Times. p. 30. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
- "New York Sound Track". Variety. November 12, 1958. p. 6. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Internet Archive.
- "Of Local Origins". The New York Times. May 15, 1959. p. 24.
- Reid, John Howard (2013). Big Screen Bible Lore. Lulu Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-1304300300.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 361.
- Scheuer, Philip K (December 21, 1960). "Ray Tells Directing of 'King of Kings'". Los Angeles Times. Part III, pg. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 362.
- McGilligan, Patrick (1997). "Philip Yordan". Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. University of California Press. pp. 368–9. ISBN 978-0520209084.
- Mooring, William H. (October 15, 1960). "Hollywood in Focus". The Tablet. p. 19. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 364.
- Wilson, Earl (May 22, 1959). "Sophia Loren, Mate To Test Italian Director". The Arizona Republic. p. 24. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Eisenschitz 1993, pp. 363–4.
- Graham, Sheilah (February 3, 1960). "Christopher Plummer May Do 'King of Kings'". The Evening Sun. p. 35. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Graham, Sheilah (September 4, 1960). "Jeffrey Hunter Leads Life of Seclusion in 'Christ Role'". The Miami News. p. 4. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Martin 2007, p. 53.
- Thomas, Bob (April 28, 1960). "Warner King of Kings Role Recalled". The News-Messenger. p. 11. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Graham, Sheilah (April 4, 1960). "Audrey Hepburn Unable to Attend Awards Show". The Evening Sun. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (April 21, 1960) "Harvey Says Show Business Kids Itself" Los Angeles Times. Part III, pg. 11. – via Newspapers.com
- Jones, Will (May 3, 1960). "Local Record Catches On". Star-Tribune. p. 36. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Johnson, Erskine (May 3, 1960). "Princess Grace Turns Down Offer to Star in Movie". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 30 – via Newspapers.com.
- Kany, A.S. (June 28, 1960). "Let's Go Places". The Journal Herald. p. 20 – via Newspapers.com.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (May 13, 1960). "'King of Kings' Names Growing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Martin 2007, pp. 45–6.
- Martin 2007, pp. 52–3.
- "Arizona Audience Impressed at Sneak of 'King of Kings'". The Spokesman-Review. April 30, 1961. p. 19. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Green, Paul (2014). Jeffrey Hunter: The Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances. McFarland. p. 94. ISBN 978-0786478682.
- Martin 2007, p. 47.
- Martin 2007, p. 48.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 372.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 371.
- "Milton Krasner Off to Spain". The Valley Times. July 7, 1960. p. 8 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Film Worker Killed, Actor Hunt in Spain". (September 18, 1960) Los Angeles Times. Section A, pg. 2 – via Newspapers.com
- ""King of Kings" Filming Ends". The Spokesman-Review. October 30, 1960. Retrieved March 3, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Martin 2007, p. 50.
- Ray Bradbury (December 3, 2007). "Ray Bradbury's lost TV show with ORSON WELLES and his unused ending for KING OF KINGS". Wellesnet.com (Interview). Interviewed by Lawrence French. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
- "Welles to Narrate". The Boston Globe. March 19, 1961. p. 57 – via Newspapers.com.
- Eisenschitz 1993, p. 375.
- "MG Gives 'Kings' 'Hur' Rah Deal". Variety. December 21, 1960. p. 3 – via Internet Archive.
- "Cinema: $ign of the Cross". Time. Vol. 78 no. 17. October 27, 1961. pp. 55–6. Retrieved October 4, 2014.
- Crowther, Bosley (October 12, 1961). "Screen: A Mammoth Biblical Drama". The New York Times. p. 41. Retrieved December 25, 2010.
- "Film Reviews: King of Kings". Variety. October 11, 1961. p. 6.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (October 13, 1961). "Reverence Shines in 'King of Kings'". Los Angeles Times. Part I, p. 29. – via Newspapers.com.
- "'King of Kings'". Harrison's Reports. October 14, 1961. p. 162 – via Internet Archive.
- Coe, Richard L. (November 5, 1961). "Mammon Is King In Film at Warner". The Washington Post. G25.
- "King of Kings". The Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 29 no. 336. January 1962. p. 7.
- Maltin, Leonard, ed. (1995). Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide. Signet. p. 701. ISBN 0-451-18505-6.
- Andrew, Geoff. "King of Kings". Time Out London. Archived from the original on November 8, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
- Mesquite News (Texas) newspaper, 1994 Volume
- "King of Kings". October 30, 1961. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
- Awards for King of Kings. Archived August 2, 2012, at Archive.today Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
- "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
- Martin, Mel (2007). The Magnificent Showman: The Epic Films of Samuel Bronston. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593931292.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Eisenschitz, Bernard (1993). Nicholas Ray: An American Journey. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0571178308.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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