This multi-million dollar depiction of the life of Jesus Christ – filmed on location in Spain – attracted considerable controversy when it was released. While many churches believed the movie was worthwhile if it could further the spirit of Christ, there was much criticism about the modern language (there were no thee’s or thou’s) and some of the best-known passages of scripture were presented out of context – thus the Saviour says things in the Sermon on the Mount that the Bible credits with him saying at other times.
The film begins before the birth of Christ with the invasion of Palestine by Pompey. It then includes the Nativity and takes Jesus through his public life and crucifixion.
Parts of King of Kings are not pretty to watch. When the first-born sons are ordered slain, the sight is pitiful to look upon. Similar reactions occur when the Roman legionnaires slaughter the Christians whose bodies are strewn about the desert. But the times were not pretty, we are reminded.
Jesus is played by Jeffrey Hunter, whose piercing blue eyes are the focus of the camera when he performed miracles and delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
The strongest characters, though, are Herod Antipas, played so evilly by Frank Thring; Pontius Pilate (Hurd Hatfield), a tyrant until faced with the big question of sentencing Jesus, and then a confused coward; Viveca Lindfors as the disillusioned wife of Pilate, and Australian Ron Randell, who played Lucius the hard-boiled Centurion who persecuted Jesus until the very persecution converted him to Christianity.
Siobhan McKenna had the almost impossible task of satisfying everybody with her interpretation of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her strong Irish features ruled her out as a Jewish mama and at no time did she reveal any flashes of normal motherhood pique which would have permitted her to spank her son.
The film was the top box office attraction in the US in December 1961 when it was released in time for Christmas.
John The Baptist