King of Kings wisely substitutes characterizations for orgies. Director Nicholas Ray has brooded long and wisely upon the meaning of his meanings, has planted plenty of symbols along the path, yet avoided the banalities of religious calendar art.
The sweep of the story presents a panorama of the conquest of Judea and its persistent rebelliousness, against which the implication of Christ’s preachments assume, to pagan Roman overlords, the reek of sedition. All of this is rich in melodrama, action, battle and clash. But author Philip Yordan astutely uses the bloodthirsty Jewish patriots, unable to think except in terms of violence, as telling counterpoint to the Messiah’s love-one-another creed.
Jeffrey Hunter’s blue orbs and auburn bob (wig, of course) are strikingly pictorial. The handling of the Sermon on the Mount which dominates the climax of the first part before intermission is wonderfully skillful in working masses of people into an alternation of faith and skepticism while cross-cutting personal movement among them of the Saviour and his disciples.
Irish actress Siobhan McKenna as the Virgin Mary infuses a sort of strength-through-passivity, infinitely sad yet never surprised. The 16-year-old Chicago schoolgirl, Brigid Bazlen, portrays Salome as a Biblical juvenile delinquent, who bellydances rather than jitterbugs.
The brutish, muscle-bound Barabbas of Harry Guardino makes a pretty good case that sedition frequently hurts only itself.