It’s difficult to recommend a biblical film.
I’m not neccessarily a fan of them. I find them often to be overlong and overblown.
But ‘King of Kings’ has occasional brilliance that elevates it above some more of the dry biblical adaptions that you may stumble across on a Sunday afternoon, or at school in religious education class.
Ray was synonomous with ‘Johnny Guitar’ from 1954, and James Dean’s now iconic performance in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955).
If you can track down ‘Bigger Than Life’ (1956) you will be pleasantly surprised by that film and the performance by James Mason.
And there are moments within King of Kings that are quite beautiful and striking , deliberately intended to stand out from the norm. Ray often frames his characters with extreme close up – and some of the film’s most memorable images are simply the eyes and the faces.
The strength of this film comes from the casting. Often criticised for his selection, Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus Christ is perfectly cast. The dreamy, youthful appearance was a powerful and mesmerising performance that is iconic. Hunter had already appeared in a Star Trek pilot, and opposite John Wayne in The Searchers – but King of Kings is his most well known, and ultimately his last major film role of note before his death in 1969.
The supporting cast conduct themselves in a way that isn’t overacting (not like in ‘The Ten Commandments’), and that has a geuine humanity to their delivery.
Frank Thring (earlier he had dropped the handkerchief to start the chariot race in Ben-Hur), Hurd Hadfield (‘Dorian Gray’ himself in the film from the same name) and Ron Randell (Australian actor who later appeared in title role of ‘Smithy’) all perform above and beyond what one expects in a biblical film.
Add to that a fine performance by Rip Torn, and a subdued Orson Welles as the narrator (uncredited) – and ‘King of Kings’ is worth the time and investment by a movie-goer.
Rating: 3 stars