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  • When first released George Stevens's version of the Gospel was dismissed as too long, too reverential, too soon after the sound version of The King of Kings was released, and too many stars in the cast taking one's attention from the story.

    Too some degree that is true, but being a stargazer myself I'll never find fault with a film for that. And who knew in 1965 that we would get The Last Temptation of Christ and the Passion of the Christ in our future. George Stevens's film is looking pretty good now.

    No doubt about the presence of a whole lot of movie names helped bring in the bucks. But with one glaring exception you do pay attention to the roles, not who's playing them. Some parts are pretty substantial. Charlton Heston as John the Baptist has the longest amount of screen time other than Von Sydow. Also given a large amount of time is Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary and Donald Pleasance as the Prince of Darkness.

    The personification of the Devil is something Mel Gibson borrowed for his film. Personally I think Donald Pleasance is quite a bit better than what Gibson did.

    Other stars had smaller roles. Sidney Poitier played a silent part as Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus with his cross on the way to Calvary. You could not have gotten away with an all white cast in a film like this by 1965. A whole group of players from previous Stevens films got some bit parts and more like Van Heflin, Shelley Winters, Sal Mineo, and Ed Wynn.

    One star Joseph Schildkraut had the rare distinction of playing in both Cecil B. DeMille's silent King of Kings and this film. Schildkraut played Judas for DeMille and is seen as Nicodemus here. This was Schildkraut's last film. An interesting double distinction for a man who came from a prominent Jewish theatrical family.

    One big glaring error though. Stevens should never have cast John Wayne as the Roman Centurion who supervising the crucifixion. Wayne is seen in passing through out the journey to Calvary, but with no dialog. At the moment of Jesus's death with the drama unfolding it was just wrong to have that recognizable a voice utter, "truly that man was the son of God." Instead of concentrating on the story the audience gets distracted and in the theaters the whispers went up with 'ooh, that's John Wayne.'

    Arizona served as the location for ancient Judea. Unlike DeMille in The Ten Commandments, Stevens concentrated on the beauty of the location as opposed to filling the screen with people. It got filled enough with the story. You might recognize the Grand Canyon as the backdrop for the sermon on the mount scene. Of course Handel's Messiah is almost obligatory for these films and it's done well here.

    One scene that you will not forget comes at the end of the first act, the raising of Lazarus who is played by Michael Tolan. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are played by Ina Balin and Janet Margolin. They had shown Jesus and the disciples hospitality earlier. When Lazarus is taken ill, Mary and Margaret, go after Jesus to bring him back. It is too late, Lazarus has died and he's in his tomb. Or so everyone thinks. The sparse dialog, the photography, and the background music are so well done at this point the most hard hearted nonbeliever will pause.

    Of course most of the name players in The Greatest Story Ever Told are no longer with us so the cameos don't mean as much today. It is probably better in that an audience of today can concentrate on the story without even the most minimal interference of recognition. And they can concentrate on the story without either alternate realities as in The Last Temptation of Christ or all the gore and violence of Mel Gibson's epic. Definitely worth a look by today's contemporary audience.
  • On 9/18/00 I received a letter from George Stevens, Jr., replying to my earlier letter to him encouraging his support of his father's four-hour, "uncut," version of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" preparing for dvd. I had suggested in my letter that the original version was undoubtedly his father's artistic vision and thus was the one worthy of preservation for dvd.

    Stevens, Jr. responded, in part, " . . . the dvd of 'The Greatest Story Even Told' is underway and MGM-UA has found the original negative of the four-hour version of the film.

    There has been a good deal of confusion about the 'official' version of 'The Greatest Story Ever Told.' In recent years I became satisfied that the 3 hour and 20 minute version was the one that my father considered his picture. That came as a result of conversations with Toni Vellani, who worked with my father and has since passed on, and others.

    My father, according to Toni, rushed the film for its first two premieres and immediately, at his own initiative, started trimming it to the 3:15 version. He was pleased with this cut. . . .

    There was a later shorter version that my father authorized UA to make in an effort to recoup some money -- and that version which ran under 3 hours is of no value at all.

    Frankly, I will be interested to see what the additional 40 minutes represents in the long version because, over the years, I've been familiar with the version that runs approximately 3:15. . . ."

    This generous explanation from Mr. Stevens, Jr. certainly reveals the intracacies of the purely artistic process as balanced with the business aspect. It also makes one aware that the assumption that the "cut" version was not the preference or the adequate representation of the director, may be inaccurate. In any event at this point, the four-hour dvd version of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is most eagerly awaited.
  • Saw the cut-down version of this recently on cable, letterboxed (the only way to go!). For all the bad press it evidently got in its day, I found the color cinematography dazzling, the compositions wonderful (as we'd expect from the director of Shane and Giant), and the performances ... not too bad at all, for the most part. Many if not most of celebs who did cameos are no longer household names (or faces), so they're less jarring than they must have been in the 60s (the groaning exception, of course, being John Wayne as the Centurion). Von Sydow is fine if a bit stiff, Heston as the Baptist is a bit too stiff, Jose Ferrer is wonderful (did his son Miguel study dad's performance as Herod Antipas for his role in Traffic?), and so are most of the other key parts.

    If Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ comes off as less an art film and more as another corny Hollywood biblical epic, Stevens' film comes off less as the latter and more as the former, given that one's expectations are for corn, not art. (Is that clear?) I've said previously that Scorcese's film was basically a ripoff of Pasolini's wonderful Gospel According St Matthew, and I still think that's the case so far as the basic treatment goes, but I now think that visually, as a wide-screen color film, it rips off Stevens.

    Greatest Story is the first Christ movie (and probably the first biblical epic) where the director obviously understood that the physical setting could be a very important part of the story - the sparse, barren landscape that people could disappear into and come back having seen visions, etc. Scorcese seems to have picked up on this too, but his visual sense isn't a jot on Stevens', for sure.

    I do agree that the story drags, and the whole thing is probably overlong. I was also disappointed that Stevens does so little with the final temptation and betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. I've always felt this is the dramatic climax of the whole story - the final point of no return for Jesus - and oddly, the recent TV miniseries version, with Jeroen Krabbe as a fun modern-dress Satan, is the only one that's really grasped this, I think. Maybe some of this is among the stuff that didn't survive from the 260-minute version?

    Overall, I'd heartily urge George Stevens Jr., who's done such a good job of preserving his father's legacy, to consider restoring this one and letting us see it on the big screen again. It's a feast.
  • Without a doubt, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most difficult story to ever put on the screen. More blood and ink have been spilled over this one man than any other human being that ever walked this planet, so there really can't be a definitive film on his life that will satisfy everyone. But during the first half of the 1960s, director George Stevens (A PLACE IN THE SUN; SHANE; GIANT) toiled to at least come close in that regard. The result was THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. At a cost of twenty million dollars, it was one of the most expensive films Hollywood had released in that era. At an original length of four hours and twenty minutes, it was one of the longest movies ever. It was also critically savaged and was only a modest commercial success, though not an expensive flop like CLEOPATRA had been.

    Although it doesn't stick to ALL the facts of the Good Book, GREATEST STORY does an exquisite job at depicting Jesus life and persecution, his miracles, his death, and his eventual resurrection. Utilizing a massive tome of a script that he co-wrote with James Lee Barrett and Carl Sandburg, among others, Stevens filmed much of the film on location in the Glen Canyon region along the Arizona/Utah border, with the Colorado River as a stand-in for the River Jordan (a move for which Stevens was sharply criticized). Aided by veteran cameraman Loyal Griggs (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS), he also shot scenes in this movie that must rank as being among the most brilliantly filmed ever, including Lazarus' resurrection, and Jesus' being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

    One particular aspect about GREATEST STORY that continues to raise eyebrows and much ire to this day is the fact that Stevens cast much of Hollywood's acting elite in what were essentially walk-ons. This tactic had been done extensively before (THE LONGEST DAY; HOW THE WEST WAS WON), and would be done countless more times in the ensuing decades. To me, the flaw in this technique insofar as this movie goes is not the fact that Stevens succumbed to that temptation, but the fact that the roles he placed some of his actors in were ones they probably weren't cut out to play.

    Given the whole weight of the world being placed on him, Max von Sydow did quite an impressive portrayal of Jesus in this film. I would have to rank this as one of the single greatest performances in cinematic history; his credibility (even with the Swedish accent) in the role is, to me, unimpeachable. Stevens also scored by giving Charlton Heston (no stranger to Biblical epics he) the role of John the Baptist, and it still ranks as one of Heston's best. Telly Savalas, years away from "Kojak", makes for a chilling Pontius Pilate. Claude Rains is a supremely nasty King Herod; and Donald Pleasance, with HALLOWEEN still a decade and a half in his future, makes for a deliciously unpleasant Satan.

    In other areas, Stevens' all-star casting ranges from sublime (Dorothy McGuire; Roddy McDowall; Sidney Poitier; David McCallum; Jose Ferrer; Victor Buono) to strange (Russell Johnson; Jamie Farr; Sal Mineo; Shelley Winters). But it is in his casting of John Wayne as a Roman centurion at the Crucifixtion that Stevens went overboard (thus the reason for my giving GREATEST STORY an '8' rather than a '10'). To this day, it's hard not to notice the Duke looking out of place as a Roman, and harder still not to groan at the flat way he utters his line ("Truly, this man was the Son of God").

    Still, despite the slightly questionable casting and the obvious extreme length of the film, Stevens has indeed fashioned as great a film as there has ever been on a story that has fascinated, frustrated, and even torn the world apart for over two thousand years. How others view it is up for themselves to decide. I myself think that, though slightly imperfect, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD still lives up to its title.
  • As someone who had read the Bible and knows what goes where, I am easily critical of too-Liberal Biblical movies, which is usually the case....except for the last 40-some years when hardly any films were made on this subject at all.

    My point is that this film gets toasted a lot, even by Christians, and I think unfairly. Yes, I became a bit annoyed the first few viewings when I would hear Jesus' speeches way out of order, or a few other things that really weren't 100 percent on the mark....or it just simply dragged.

    However, after a long absence and my first look at this on the ultra widescreen (2.75:1) DVD, I was impressed. For instance, the scene with the Last Supper shows everyone at the table, which is impossible to do in a formatted-to-TV mode. There are other similar panoramic shots that are very impressive. gave me a new appreciate of the work director George Stevens did here. Of course, he was one of the best in his profession so it's no surprise this is nicely filmed.

    Upon that recent viewing, I was please that none of Jesus' quotes are inaccurate and I have never had a problem with Max Von Sydow's portrayal of Christ. He had a penetrating eyes and spoke his lines with authority. Why he, too, gets bashed by a few people is unfair. He was just fine.

    It's a sanitized message, nothing that "preachy" to turn off the unchurched, but I do think it was a bit too slow to go three hours and 20 minutes. In this case, lopping off 15-30 minutes might have helped. It's still worth viewing, no matter what your "religious" views.
  • Clearly this film comes off as an epoch. Magnitude, grandeur and dignity drip from every scene. Being personally familiar with the biblical account of the life of Jesus, I was at times quite impressed with the almost-inspired interpretation of many hard-to-picture moments in the gospel narratives brought to the screen. Yet on the other hand, I had painful difficulty agreeing with other scenes.

    For example, Jesus heals a hopelessly bitter cripple in a dark synagogue: of course the biblical story is very brief, leaving a lot of room for the imagination to color in details- however, the scene seems to cheapen christ's awesome power and divinity. As Jesus leaves the synagogue, the camera zooms in on a facial expression so quizzical the viewer is left feeling that perhaps even Jesus himself didn't believe the healing was possible either...

    Although "personifying" the devil was a very workable technique throughout the entire film, dropping available details about tempting a starving savior to eat bread and omitting christ's excellent response left me disappointed.

    Another valiant and worthy attempt, but again the novel was better 8)
  • Perhaps, the most visually beautiful motion picture, ever made. While often ponderous in narrative, "The Greatest Story Ever Told", is a most reverent telling of the Christ tale. The current DVD release suffers from edits to the original running time (Angela Lansbury ends up being an extra, seen in longshot); but clearly represents the amazing visuals, and boasts an impressive stereo soundtrack. Director George Stevens structures each scene as a visual masterpiece. For this reason alone the film, on DVD, is highly recommended.
  • harry-7625 August 2000
    George Stevens managed to craft a remarkable number of fine films in his early and mid-career. It was only natural that, in approaching his late period, he sought to expand his already grand horizons and create a towering work.

    "The Greatest Story Ever Told" was Steven's choice as a personal challenge. What could be more formidable that this subject? Stevens undoubtedly knew that the material was probably impossible to craft into a "perfect" product before he started. That was no reason, though, for one of his talent, training and experience to be discouraged.

    The production occupied many years of Stevens' life, including tremendous production challenges. He also was faced with the task of not only balancing its costly budget, but also turning in an attractive profit for the studio which supported his efforts. (To engage in so expensive an exercise and come out in the red would understandably have been a disappointment for all concerned.)

    Thus, he wisely populated his cast with big-name stars -- those which would bring out the public in substantial numbers and realize adequate box office returns. Major studio movie making is of course, at this level, big business and I, for one, can see very clearly Stevens' approach in terms of wieghing the "ideal" with the "pragmatic."

    When the work was finally completed, Stevens did achieve his vision in a legendary film of 260 minutes in duration. That was the work he intended, and that was the version impressively presented at its premiere and early "road show" performances. Then along came various "decision-makers" implementing their own ideas, which resulted in 63 minutes being cut from the work.

    How is it possible to evaluate Stevens' work by viewing a 197 minute version? Clearly that does not represent the vision of this artist. The one and only way is to view the original in its uncut (and preferably pristine print Cinemascope) version.

    As for the casting approach, the production happily did succeed at the box office, with the public supporting the picture in substantal numbers. Knowing all what was at stake, one can nicely cope with the casting cameos and be appreciative that this supremely challenging subject was graced by the attentions of one of the screen's very fine directors.
  • I know this film is not to everyone's taste but I regard it as a masterpiece. Nevertheless I understand why many critics panned the movie. Some found the cameo appearances of major stars in small roles as disturbing. John Wayne's part as the Centurion at the crucifixion was particularly criticized. The pace was regarded as too slow. The casting of Scandinavian star Max von Sydow as the Semetic Jesus was also criticized, as was the use of spectacular locations from the American West instead of the more drab authentic Middle East. I am more taken by the visual nature of the film. George Stephens was clearly trying to emulate the great tradition of Western Art surrounding the Gospels, and I believe he succeeded. The framing, the color, and lighting were among the most beautiful in movie history. Many scenes left an unmatched impression as if we were walking through a moving fine arts museum. As the film grows older the star cameos will be less disturbing. (They never bothered me). Younger movie goers won't recognize many of the stars of my era anyway. I thought von Sydow was excellent even though he wasn't wasn't the right ethnic type. I found the overall treatment appropriate to the sacred theme. I prefer it Nicholas Ray's more popular King of Kings with equally blue eyed Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. But I realize it's not everyone's cup of tea. So while I loved it I would recommend it particularly to someone prepared to enjoy a slower film of great artistic beauty.
  • There are no real spoilers in this review, for the story is familiar to Christians of all stripe: the birth, life and mission of Jesus Christ. This epic-length film moves at a stately pace; some may find it boring, but I personally like it very much. Stevens does a superb job with this sensitive material. He cast dozens of famous people, some in cameos and bit parts, but all lending their talents to this film. The costumes have an authentic look, and the landscapes are breathtaking---they are far superior to mere background paintings or sets, and convey a sense of being right there in Palestine two thousand years ago. The music is lovely, well-scored and not jarring. Every role is well-cast, from Charlton Heston as John the Baptist to Telly Sevalas as Pontius Pilate. Best of all were Donald Pleasance as the devil and the tall, lanky Max von Sydow as Christ.

    The story unfolds like pages turning in a book. Jesus is born, then appears at age thirty to begin his mission. He goes to his cousin John for baptism, then calls men to follow him. Miracles are performed almost in an indirect way: Jesus speaks in Sydow's commanding voice and, instead of focusing on Christ, the camera is fixed on the person receiving the miracle. A notable exception is the raising of Lazarus. Christ pleads in anguish for the revival of his friend, not because the prayer is really necessary, but to cry out his sorrow for losing Lazarus. As God made man, Jesus hurt like we did, and this scene demonstrates this. His teachings are given gently but firmly throughout the movie. Some viewers may be put off by Sydow's almost detached mannerisms, but the quiet dignity actually suits the concept of Christ as teacher on his salvific mission. The gentle mien of Jesus also stands in stark contrast to the times when he does strongly react, whether to the death of Lazarus, to finding moneychangers in the Temple of Jerusalem, or during his passion and crucifixion. The moment when Christ's life ends is stunning; the light goes out in Sydow's clear blue eyes just before he drops his head.

    There are other little gems strewn throughout The Greatest Story Ever Told, moments that shine with unexpected clarity. The calling of Matthew, the betrayal and suicide of Judas, the healing of the crippled young man are just a few examples. The Last Supper is very surprising in its similarity to the way a priest consecrates the bread and wine in a modern-day Mass. The famous actors embrace their roles and seem honored to be part of this great project. The dialogue is beautiful for a reason; American poet Carl Sandburg was in charge of rendering the ancient Bible story into modern wording without sacrificing the meaning or power of the original. Dynamics shift like the ebb and flow of tides, floating on the words as well as the events.

    Others have done this story, yet this remains my favorite. Unlike the remake of King of Kings(the silent version was way better), it seems authentic in its details---what genius decided to shave Jeffrey Hunter's underarms? And Jesus of Nazareth never quite escapes the shackles of prime-time miniseries/soap opera; its melodramatic and the scene where Mary freaks out is disturbing rather than evoking sympathy from the audience. As for The Passion, it's an awesome attempt to convey just what Jesus endured for our sins, but unsuitable for children or people who are sensitive to excessive violence and gore. So, in conclusion, for Easter viewing, The Greatest Story Ever Told remains my family's favorite version of the life and work of Jesus Christ.
  • I first saw this film when it was first released -- in the cinema and on a large screen with brilliant color and rich deep stereo sound. It was breathtaking! George Stevens Jr. did an absolutely magnificent job in crafting this outstandingly beautiful, sensitive, and powerful motion picture. This was not just a deeply moving re-telling of the story of Jesus (albeit with a touch of a pro-legend approach). More than that, in its visual sweep, insightful acting of the lead characters (especially of Max Von Sydow as Jesus), and resplendent musical track, this film conveyed a true sense of majesty -- a marked rarity in most film these days.

    I must concur with one of the other online reviewers here, on a related point: I too believe that it was a shame, and an error on the part of Stevens, that various key characters were portrayed all-too-noticeably by some major film/entertainment stars who just seemed to be bizarrely out-of-place in their roles -- such as John Wayne as the Roman Centurion who, never before seen in the film until this moment, looks up at Jesus on the Cross and says "Truly, this man was the son of God!" (I almost expected Wayne to tag his line with the word "Pilgrim"); or such as singer Pat Boone, who jarringly appears in the role of a cloaked man who, sitting in Jesus' vacated tomb, says to a searching Roman, "Why seek Ye the living among the dead?" (Here too, I think that I was not the only one who half-expected Boone to leap to his feet and break out into singing one of his big hits such as "Bernardine" or "Love Letters In The Sand").

    But those discontinuities aside, I would still say that "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is an outstanding film that merits very high marks. If you can see it, see it -- especially on a big screen, if possible, and with a good sound-system.

    Steve S. (NYC)
  • The story of Jesus Christ may be the greatest story ever told, but George Stevens movie does not provide the most convincing telling of that story. In spite of beautiful cinematography and music, there is something missing of the power of other tellings. With the exception of a couple of scenes, Max von Sydow does not seem quite up to the role, despite clearly being a good actor. This is not necessarily von Sydow's fault, as it takes more than great acting to convince the audience that you are the character. Imagine Ingrid Bergman as Scarlett O'Hara instead of Vivian Leigh or Gregory Peck as Rhett Butler. Max von Sydow has moments of passion and succeeds in occasionally moving you, but somehow seems too much like the actors who play his apostles to distinguish himself from them, a necessary feat for an actor who hopefully is surrounded by twelve other good actors at all times.

    Max von Sydow's highlights are the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the sequence of his entry into Jerusalem and speech at the temple. In fact, I would say that for those two scenes, he outdoes many of his fellow actors that have donned the robe of Jesus. But two scenes are not enough to carry the movie. In fact, with all my respect to the impressive cast which participated in this movie, Stephens seems to have completely missed the mark when it came to casting a few of the roles: Ed Wynn of "Mary Poppins" fame as the blind man, John Wayne as a Roman centurion, and Shelley Winters as "Woman of no name." On the other hand, few actors can portray the almost fanatic mania of John the Baptist, "a voice crying in the wilderness," like Charlton Heston. Jose Ferrer also puts in a good performance as Herod Antipas, and Roddy McDowall convincing plays both a smart aleck and a reverent follower. His exchange with Jesus over collecting taxes offers one of the few somewhat humorous moments.

    It is not a surprise to learn that George Stevens put so much effort into his movie. Like Mel Gibson with "The Passion of the Christ," "Greatest Story" is like a painting, with each stroke carefully put onto the canvas. However, unlike Gibson, whose characters seem right out of 1st Century Judah, there is modern quality to Stephens film. There are, however, more positive aspects to this film than negative. Besides the cinematography and the wise choice of Hendel's beautiful "Messiah", other positives are showing Mary Madgelene as traveling with the apostles (there is even a wonderful little scene where Mary annoints Jesus with oil which shows a kind of intimacy between them lacking from other versions of the story).

    While some commentators have criticized the screenplay, I think it is one of the best. As much as it pains me to say this, I think casting alone made this movie less powerful. Still I recommend that everyone see it at least once.
  • I love this movie, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for an idiosyncratic, reverent, art film treatment of the life of Christ.

    Is it fast moving? No, it is not. If you want "Robocop," this isn't your movie.

    The slowness of this movie provides thoughtful people ample time to think about the history-shaping words being said, to soak up the beauty of the film itself.

    Does Stevens attempt to recreate the sense one gets from looking at beautiful religious paintings? Yes. If you are one of those people who freeze frames beautiful shots, this is your movie.

    Do big name stars appear in small roles? Yes. If that bothers you, you will have to *get over* your adolescent annoyance really to see what's happening.

    The big name stars make a meta statement. Stevens was moved to make this film by his experience of being among the first to document what happened at Dachau.

    Big name stars, like John Wayne, wanted to appear in even the tiniest of roles, because they sensed that Stevens was doing something special. If you can appreciate the big name cameos for what they are -- a community coming together to tell a story that matters to them -- they will enhance the movie for you, rather than lessen it.

    Max von Sydow gives the best performance of Jesus ever committed to film. If he never did anything else, he could die proud because of the truth he embodied in this part.

    Just the look on von Sydow's face in his first scene -- when he is being baptized by John -- a look that is caring, human, loving, confused, pained, as he begins to realize what his life holds in store for him -- is in itself marvelous, jewel-like in its purity, and unlike anything else I've ever seen an actor be able to do.

    David McCallum is a complex, agonized Judas. He makes you feel for him. His death, as a sacrifice, is brilliant.

    Charlton Heston captured the "take no prisoners" approach of the Biblical John the Baptist.

    Donald Pleasance is the best Satan ever put on film. He's just an average, sort of nice guy who wants you to eat some food when you are hungry ... that's all. Harmless, really.

    There are many scenes I would never want to have missed: the "lilies of the field" scene, John baptizing Jesus, Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus calling Matthew.

    There are many effects that work perfectly for me: the handling of sound when Jesus is carrying his cross on the via dolorosa, for example.

    So, no, *don't* see this movie if you require the speed of an MTV video in your movies.

    Do see this movie if you want to see how one man, moved by Dachau, put years of his life into the service of a story he thought worth telling in a risky, idiosyncratic way.
  • mm-3915 October 2002
    The new testament has so much about Jesus what does one include, and exclude? How long can you make such a film? My wife was taking her Catechism, and I rented a few film's about the Lord in order for her too understand the Bible better. She likes this film, but not as much as the 77 version. This film is inspiring for any Christian, and gives a message of hope for all of mankind. I love the casting, especially John Wayne as the centurion. Charalton Heston plays his best role, as John the Bapatist. Repent! He plays the crazy with passion John better than anyone else. Worth renting around Christmas to remember what the season truly is about. 7/10
  • patrick.hunter12 October 2000
    The reasons for the sacrificial well in the city's temple have to do with the archaeological research of the time the movie was made. Not much, then or now, is really known about the Temple, except that Herod the Great (played by Claude Rains) built it to largely to appease the Roman conquerors. The Temple had Grecian (not Hebraic) architecture and supposedly had a well for animal sacrifices. The Hebrews were a very sophisticated ancient people who mostly, by that time, considered themselves above animal sacrifices--however much had been written about such practices in their earlier times, like the days of Genesis, Exodus, etc. While it may have appeased Romans, it probably did not please Herod's own subjects.

    This is a carefully made motion picture. If one finds it too subdued, at least it doesn't suffer from the highflown melodramatics that other Christ movies have. Speaking as someone who is not a Christian, I find it deeply moving.
  • An often under-rated attempt at the life of Christ, George Stevens' modestly titled epic was long, beautifully photographed and more than a little deferential to our saviour but it managed to keep my interest. Most of the film's critics believe the incessant cameos ruin it - though I think the brash, mainly American contingent make quite an accurate portrayal of humanity opposite serene Swede Max von Sydow. And it is to Him the film belongs. His first english-language film & one he admits isn't a masterpiece is notable for a performance from a man who played Jesus as a man and not as a God. Whatever, he was so good he almost converted this hardened atheist.
  • Shotsy8 April 1999
    One of the most beautifully photographed films ever made! It is a bit disarming to see "guest stars" pop up though. It was not needed at all. The cast here is most capable. Newman wrote a magnificent music score. A worthy film in many ways. Perhaps too harshly criticized by some. Should be seen at least once.
  • Of all the adaptations of the story of Jesus, I've always felt that The Greatest Story Ever Told is one of the best and one of the most truest to the story itself. I would like to moderate that statement that I also believe the same of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ, though naturally for vastly different reasons.

    Max Von Sydow brings something to the role of Jesus that no other actor ever has...a sort of undefinable picture of majesty and humility at the same time. I think it must be his eyes. Charlton Heston's John the Baptist is one of the best performances of his career, and Jose Ferrer is wonderfully subdued as King Herod. David McCallum is good as Judas, but his performance is a tad wooden at times.

    The big selling point of this film, outside of the Story, is the all-star cast that accompanies it. Actually, if you can manage to forget about the many "cameos", you will enjoy this movie much more. The miscasting is not quite as bad as The Story of Mankind, but John Wayne as a Roman Soldier just doesn't sit well.

    This and The Ten Commandments should be required viewing for everyone, and not just Christians. This is a wonderful movie and really does relate one of the greatest stories ever told.
  • Some of the most powerful and overwhelming scenes ever filmed are in this George Stevens' production. I saw this film in its original roadshow engagement at the Music Hall Cinerama in Detroit Michigan in 1965. It was a truly memorable experience for me, as well as my friends who attended with me. The Lazarus sequence, prior to the Intermission, stills pacts a powerful punch. Several years later I 'witnessed' the 'shortened' version of this epic - and am still stunned as to why this was allowed to happen. The flow of the film was destroyed - e.g. the Wisemen appeared 'quickly' and then disappeared for some unexplained reason (even though we know why). How shameful for United Artists to do this. GSET is a magnificent telling of the story of Christ. Stevens created a true masterpiece. Having seen it numerous times over the ensuing years, it stills holds a special place in my heart - and helped to launch my 'love of the movies' as a teenager. Bravo George Stevens!
  • rsiler-19 October 2002
    I've not seen the rest of his films, but I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't Max Von Sydow's greatest acting achievement.

    You believe he is Jesus. It's amazing.

    It's of epic length, which I enjoy.

    All those stars!!!!!!!!! See if you can pick them all out.
  • ozthegreatat4233022 February 2007
    While there were a few worthwhile performances in this film, it simply does not come close to living up to the title. The musical score was draggy or unoriginal, and the loading down of the film with every Hollywood star they could cram into the film just detracted greatly from the film. Von Sydow's Jesus was wooden and one dimensional. In the earlier released "King of Kings" Jeff Hunter gave you a Christ that was filled with the emotions and compassion of the son of God, while in this version it just wasn't there. Charlton Heston's John the Baptist was one of the few good things about the film, while, as much as I respect John Wayne as a star, his one line cameo was laughable and so unbelievable as to make one cringe. Claude Rains did shine out as Herod the great, while Telly Savalis might as well have been reading lines from Kojack.

    It is not the worst film of all time. But the attempt to recapture the grandeur of the Bible Epic days was way lost here.
  • One of films real special. For cast, off course, but, more important, for a fist of performances. Charlton Heston,Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas are the good examples. Sure, the provocation is the option for Max von Sydow for the role of The Savior. It is not easy to say if the choice was a happy one, but his work is so special than you see it as reasonable choice. The scenes of the death and resurrection of Lazarus are, for me, the axis to remind this film. Like the cinematography andthe opportunity to see Grand Canyon in different perspective.A generous film and good alternative, today, to Zeffirelli and Gibson films about Christ. Because it remains a sort of exploration , honest, wise and precise of the great story root of our civilisation.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I understand the diversity of reviews of this film, because every believer has their own vision of who Jesus Christ was, how he looked and acted, and the impact of the world around him at the time of transition of the Roman calendar. For me, the casting of Max Von Sydow as Jesus works because he underplays it rather than over emotes, and that makes him much more commanding. You couldn't have a biblical epic of this magnitude without Charlton Heston, and his performance of John the Baptist is indeed what you'd expect from him: intense and somewhat demanding. It's an interesting contrast between him and Von Sydow, and an irony considering that he played Michalangelo the very same year in "The Agony and the Ecstasy".

    Bravo to Claude Rains and Jose Ferrer as the two King Herod's, overlapping in one scene, and each presented as ruthless but conflicted. Ferrer is quite different than the other King Herod's at the time of Jesus's death, and the John the Baptist imprisoned subplot sequence is quite different from the 1953 camp epic "Salome" with stage veteran Marian Seldes quite a different version of Herodias and an unbilled young lady playing Princess Salone, maybe more age appropriate but not as magnetic as Rita Hayworth.

    The overload of cameos by major stars in small roles is overwhelming to say the least and is often distracting. Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate is easily recognizable but nothing spectacular. Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary profound but really given nothing to do. Sal Mineo, Shelley Winters, Sidney Poitier, Angela Lansbury, Ed Wynn, to name just a few, cast in blink and miss them parts, some made-up to where you can't even tell it is them. A lot of commentary has been made on the presence of John Wayne, and it adds a bit of a chuckle just like his casting of Genghis Khan a decade before.

    Where this film has its strength is in the technical aspects, the direction and the sincerity. At times, the reverence of the presence of Christ is indeed overwhelming, and when the "Hallelujah chorus" appears at the end of act one, you may indeed feel chills. You really can't do a film in three and a half hours about the full life of Jesus, and it becomes obvious as to why it was remade as a miniseries a decade later that covered more detail. Still, this is a very impressive film that I can watch every few years and find something new to admire. There are many other films about the time that Christ roamed the earth and the first Easter, but this is the one that people will always remember when they think about films of the greatest man who ever roamed the Earth.
  • George Stevens, a true film Master, produced and directed this moving film.

    Max Von Sydow as cast as Jesus. Vn Sydow a great actor lacks the charisma to play Jesus. Jeffrey Hunter in King of King's was better.

    George Stevens filmed the exterior scenes in the American west with interiors done at Desilu Culver-formerly the Selznick Studio. David Lean came in to help George Stevens shot most of his scenes at Desilu in Culver City, California (Funny story one day Lucille Ball as CEO of Desilushowed up to pay respects to George Stevens. Stevens was filming a large scene and instead of saying "Hail Caeser" the assembled players shouted "Hail Lucy"

    The casting is ok, but wish Jennifer Jones played Mary Magdalene. Jennifer and her husband David Selznick for years tried to get a film titled "Mary Magdalene" filmed but couldn't get the financing. At one time 20th Century Fox was going to finance and distribute the film. Jennifer was known for her intense preparation for a role. Jennifer was raised Catholic but married 3 times outside her faith: Robert Walker was Mormon and David Selznick and Norton Simon were Jewish.

    The film slows down at times and a better editing would have helped. George Stevens liked to use the same stars over and over but failed to entice Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne (both practicing Catholic's) as well as Jean Arthur. Catholic stars such as Loretta Young and Jane Wyman and Susan Hayward also would have been great to cast. John Wayne felt he owed George Stevens for Stevens giving moral; support for Duke's film The Alamo. Duke Wayne has one line. Rosalind Russell another practicing Catholic would have wonderful in this movie.

    A good film but could have ben better.
  • I have seen and cherished many movies that portray all of Jesus's life, as Christian movies make up my favorite movie spot. Such films include, but are not limited to: The Jesus Film, The King of Kings, The Visual Bible: Matthew, Jesus of Nazareth, etc. When ranking them, this is 2nd to The King of Kings from 1927.

    This movie starts literally when Jesus was born and ends with His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. It doesn't cover the events in an exact order or give all the details the Gospels do, and some events are just mentioned instead of shown. (Ex.: A Roman reports Jesus's miracles to the council, which puts him in unbelief.) However, that makes The Greatest Story Ever Told stand out against other aforementioned Jesus biopics.

    Another stand out is the cast. Some people think the celebrities are distracting, but I think pointing them out is the best part! For example, despite being an atheist, Max Von Sydow plays Jesus Himself(it was his 1st American role).

    Then we also have: Charlton Heston as John The Baptist, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Angela Lansbury as Claudia(Pilate's wife), Sidney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene(The cross-bearer for Jesus), and many more-including a single-line cameo by John Wayne as the Centurion who says "Truly, this man was the son of God."

    Finally, Telly Savalas's notorious baldness is thanks to his role as Pilate. He shaved his head for the role and never looked back! That's just a handful of the cameos this movie contains!

    As a Biblical epic-it's story, cast, and camera work, among the other aspects, are all perfection. Some say it's pacing is slow(the movie runs for 3 hours and 19 minutes), but I personally think it's fine and I love every minute of it. (There's also an intermission that's skippable as well after Lazarus is brought back to life.)

    Speaking of the camera work, the look of the movie(EG: cinematography, costumes, etc.) gained The Greatest Story Ever Told 5 Academy Award nominations(but sadly no wins) for 1965.

    This was also critically panned-in fact, only 41% of film critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review. Some of the negative reviews are the harshest I have ever heard towards a movie of any genre.

    In a TCM airing that I saw a couple of years ago, Ben Mankiewicz said that Time Magazine reviewed the movie when it came out and the article called it "3 hours and 41 minutes of impeccable BOREDOM." I heard that and I honestly thought: "YOU'RE 3 hours and 41 minutes* of impeccable boredom!" (Obviously joking with that statement). I can understand the seriousness being tedious for some, but I can't picture someone, whether religious or not, finding it to be a BORE!

    One of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews contains this quote: "If this is the greatest story ever told I can imagine how horrid is the worst story ever told." Oh, really? So what IS the worst story ever told to compare that to? And if Jesus dying for us to save us from Satan and to express His love for all of mankind is not the greatest of all stories, please tell me what tops it!

    I could say more about this wonderful Bible movie, but this should suffice to show that it's definitely worth your time, even though it's quite a dedication of it! No matter your religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I believe that this movie will beautifully demonstrate why the life of Christ truly is The Greatest Story Ever Told!

    4/14/20 edit: I saw the movie again on Easter Sunday(TCM usually airs it then), and it actually raised it's spot in my top 10 favorite Bible movies. In fact, this, for reference, is my favorite Biblical movie with Charlton Heston. Due to such changes, this review has been slightly edited from it's original publication.

    *I'd imagine that was a certain cut that was shown at the time, but I can't say for certain.
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