- Produced and Directed by George Stevens
- February 16, 1965
The story of Jesus of Nazareth from the Nativity to the Resurrection.
There is a lot of drama to be found in The Bible. And when done with an eye towards reverence you can produce a fantastic film on even the most minimal of budgets. Really not hard. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a lavishly produced Biblical film that has its moments but, in my opinion, comes off as okay. This may be blasphemy to some, but I was not particularly engaged by this film.
I am not calling it terrible, but I found Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, as well as Ben-Hur much more engaging than this. The Greatest Story Ever Told came off as bland despite it all. Significant drama was very much missing here. This movie isn’t bad but it’s just not great. Something about it never grabbed me and held me. It has fantastic production values. Musical score is amazing. And the talent pool they dip into is most of the best of the time.
The dialogue was good and there was fine acting but the script and its presentation was rather weak. It felt as if George Stevens was rushing through things. It’s like he and his script writer were hurrying along trying to get everything in. I admire that but sometimes you need to be judicious and decide what can or cannot be excised from a script no matter the subject. I’m not saying remove something and change the narrative. Rather decide what scenes or elements you think can be removed without hurting the overall film.
Max von Sydow was a fine actor for Jesus. That man could make reading the ingredients in a box of cornflakes be engaging and sound like elegantly written prose. Talent like that though cannot save something merely going through the motions as it checks off boxes.
And the other actors in the roles of The Apostles are great choices as well. The thing is though they don’t feel as if they get much screen time or much development. Obviously they are not the center of the story but they do go through some changes from start to finish of the Biblical narrative but here they are rather static. I would like to have seen more development of the apostles rather than just introduce them and move on.
Then there are the multiple celebrity cameos of varying size throughout the film. There are a bunch of big names from the era here that put their egos aside and took small to completely insignificant parts. I commend them for that. But seeing them takes you a bit out of the narrative. It becomes a game to see who you can spot rather than an engaging story.
Donald Pleasence plays The Dark Hermit who is the personification of Satan though that’s never well communicated. I got it because I’ve read The Bible as well as being familiar with multiple Biblical films where the scene has been featured in one form or another. Here it’s not well communicated. The assumption appears to be that the viewer already knows who this is. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Everything is done with the assumption that you already know rather than you are new to it all. When making a film adaption of anything be it The Bible or anything well-known you need to treat it as if the viewer does not know and they don’t do that here.
Back to Donald Pleasence. As Satan after his introduction he pops up at random points. The implication being that the Devil is behind some of the moments from the narrative which certainly is not the implication of the source material.
The Greatest Story Ever Told is not a terrible film but it’s not my favorite Biblical epic. It’s just missing something to make it special. I will give this a tepid if you want.