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The Greatest Story Ever Told

The prophets should speak with respect of this $20 million Biblical epic. The Greatest Story Ever Told is the word made manifest. Producer-director George Stevens has elected to stick to the straight, literal, orthodox, familiar facts of the four gospels. He has scorned plot gimmicks and scanted on characterization quirks. What Stevens puts on view, overall, is panoramic cinema, cannily created backgrounds, especially the stupendous buttes of Utah.

The prophets should speak with respect of this $20 million Biblical epic. The Greatest Story Ever Told is the word made manifest. Producer-director George Stevens has elected to stick to the straight, literal, orthodox, familiar facts of the four gospels. He has scorned plot gimmicks and scanted on characterization quirks. What Stevens puts on view, overall, is panoramic cinema, cannily created backgrounds, especially the stupendous buttes of Utah.

Stevens is not particularly original in his approach to the galaxy of talent, some 60 roles. Hollywood’s fad for cameo bits by featured players may suffer some discredit in the light of the triviality of footage and impact by such players as Carroll Baker, Pat Boone, Richard Conte, Ina Balin, Frank De Kova, Victor Buono, Marian Seldes, Paul Stewart. John Wayne is ill-at-ease and a waste of name, many may feel, as the captain of the soldiers who escort the Redeemer to the cross. Claude Rains is standout in the opening sequence [directed by David Lean] as the dying ruler of Judea.

Quite properly Stevens has focused on the birth, ministry, execution and resurrection of the Son of God. In the casting of Jesus there is occasion for compliment. The performance of the Swedish actor, Max von Sydow, and his English diction are ideal.

The Baptist (Charlton Heston) is the only out-and-out fanatic in the picture but this takes the form of roaring demands that Herod ‘repent’. Herod, in the remarkably curbed performance of Jose Ferrer, is no worse than a cynical administrative stooge for the Romans.

1965: Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Original Music Score, Visual Effects

The Greatest Story Ever Told

  • Production: United Artists. Director George Stevens, [David Lean, Jean Negulesco]; Producer George Stevens; Screenplay George Stevens, James Lee Barrett; Camera William C. Mellor, Loyal Griggs; Editor Harold F. Kress, Argyle Nelson Jr, Frank O'Neill; Music Alfred Newman; Art Director Richard Day, William Creber
  • Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1965. Running time: 225 MIN.
  • With: Max von Sydow Dorothy McGuire Robert Loggia Claude Rains Jose Ferrer Charlton Heston