17 April 2006 | MOscarbradley
Among the best of all Biblical epics
Richard Fleischer was a good jobbing director but there were occasions when he seemed inspired. "The Vikings" is one of the great genre movies and "The Boston Strangler" is one of the best police procedural films ever made. This is very much in the same class and has much to commend it. It's biggest drawback is that the early scenes never quite shake off the enforced piety that engulfed Hollywood movies that centered on Christ. Is it any wonder that Monty Python lampooned such movies in their "Life of Brian"? On the other hand, coming as it does from a novel by Nobel prize-winning author Par Lagerkvist and scripted as it is by Christopher Fry, the film is more intellectually challenging than we have any right to expect, (for example Barabbas has a discussion with Lazarus on what it was like to have died and then to be raised from the dead), while at the same time not skimping on the spectacle, (the gladiatorial scenes are superb).
It begins with the freeing of Barabbas in the place of Jesus, then follows him on his own journey of redemption as he realizes that it was through Christ's death that he came to live. It's a theme, of course, as old as the Bible itself and as religious movies go it's a bit simplistic but it does work on a primitive, intellectually jarring level and it doesn't thrust it's religiosity down our throats. Barabbas' journey of discovery is long, slow and painfully questioning and is consequently quite moving.
No one in the large, international cast gets to rise above being a Biblical or gladiatorial cliché with the exception of Anthony Quinn in the title role. He is excellent and had yet to give way to the bombast of Zorba the Greek. Still, neither Quinn's performance nor the film have ever been given their due. Perhaps a movie about the man who lived so that Christ might die proved unpalatable. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth rediscovering.