Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… King Of Kings (1961)

Well, it’s Easter now, and what better way to celebrate it than with the classic 1961 biblical epic King Of Kings!

In 63 B.C., the Roman armies, led by General Pompey, conquer Jerusalem. After that, the Jewish people continue to rebel against Roman rule, resulting in Herod the Great being placed on the Judean throne. At that time, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but escapes before Herod sends his soldiers to kill Him. Years later, Pontius Pilate (Hurd Hatfield) arrives to become the governor. With Pilate’s arrival, two different things happen: 1) Pilate is attacked by a group of Jewish fighters, led by Barabbas (Harry Guardino) and Judas Iscariot (Rip Torn), and 2) John the Baptist (Robert Ryan) starts preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, with one of his baptisms including a now-grown Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter). Barabbas’ attack is foiled by the arrival of Herod Antipas (Frank Thring) with his own troops (although Barabbas gets away), and Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days. Upon returning, Jesus recruits His disciples, including Judas. Judas convinces Barabbas to try listening to Jesus, but he disagrees with Jesus’ message of peace. Meanwhile, Herod Antipas has arrested John the Baptist, and has him beheaded at the behest of his stepdaughter Salome (Brigid Bazlen). After preaching throughout Judea, Jesus comes to Jerusalem, which Barabbas uses as an opportunity to try attacking the Romans. However, the Roman troops are prepared for the attack and massacre the people (and capture Barabbas). This forces Judas to betray Jesus in the hopes that He will use His power to defeat the Romans.

Ok, let’s get one quick and very obvious point out of the way. Being a movie about the life of Christ, from His birth to His death and resurrection, obviously this movie qualifies as both a Christmas movie and an Easter one. Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about this movie. Obviously, it’s not completely accurate according to the Bible and history. The movie makes Barabbas out to be a Zealot, fighting for Israel’s freedom from Roman rule, with Judas Iscariot helping him (and making that his motive for turning Jesus in to the priests instead of greed like the Gospel of John indicates). Still, in spite of the differences, it’s an interesting way to look at it, giving us two men, Jesus and Barabbas, as potential messiahs, depending on how the people of the time were interpreting the Scriptures, since I know the Jewish people of the time were looking to get out from under Roman rule and weren’t as likely to prefer Jesus’ message of peace as much.

When it comes down to my actual opinion of this movie, I really like it! I’ll admit, from my own movie-watching experience, I don’t recognize most of the cast, outside of Orson Welles as the narrator and Robert Ryan as John The Baptist (and I didn’t even know who he was the first time I saw this movie either). I think Jeffrey Hunter does a great job as Jesus, and the rest of the cast supports him well, too! The only part of the movie I struggle with is the “trial” before Pilate leading up to the crucifixion. For me, that’s when Jeffrey Hunter’s performance fails a little. Some things I get, like how violence is portrayed, and I certainly respect the decision not to show Jesus being tortured (even though, in some respects, seeing what He went through is supposed to mean a lot in the grand scheme of things). But I do struggle with the idea that, for all He was supposed to have gone through, this Jesus is barely bloodied up when He comes to the cross (and it just seems like He was in better shape than He should have been when He had to walk the last part). Still, minor gripes aside, I do enjoy this movie, especially with the beautiful score by Mikos Rozsa! It just helps this movie so much, and, especially at this time of the year (or Chirstmastime, too), I have no trouble whatsoever recommending this movie!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, and is two hours, fifty-one minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Tall Men (1955) – Robert Ryan

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