King of Kings (1961) was directed by Nicholas Ray and stars a 33-year old Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus Christ. It's details like that, choosing an actor who was currently living in his Jesus Year (Jesus was 33 when he was crucified), that make this film simply astounding. It could have been a cheesy, over-the-top epic production. The 1960s were full of badly dubbed versions of those. However, Nicholas Ray and company made a respectful and timeless epic about the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. There are no special effects in this film. You do not watch Jesus walk on water, turn water into wine, feed hundreds with 7 loaves and fishes and you do not watch him ascend into heaven after his resurrection. There are no angels, no devil, no representation of god. You hear the devil speak to Jesus in the desert and you see the sun shine down upon Jesus when he's on the cross but that's it. They could have gone there but they didn't. Instead what you see in King of Kings is what people who lived during Jesus Christ' time probably saw. A holy man who walked among the meek and was there to uplift them and comfort them during a time of taxation and oppression.
Jeffrey Hunter was amazing as Jesus. He had piercing blue eyes that seem to cut right into your soul and a steadiness to his countenance that I imagine Jesus would have had.
Siobhan McKenna as Mary had the same: piercing eyes and a steady countenance.
The choice of Robert Ryan as John the Baptist was genius. His scenes were by far my favorite.
Brigid Bazlen as Salome was also exceptional. Watch for the erotic dance she performs for King Herodious in exchange for John the Baptist's head. Oh, yes and we don't see the severed head. I liked that too. That would have gone into the realm of cheesy but instead they kept it classy. We know what happens but we don't have to see it. Glorification of gore is not necessary in order to understand pain or death.
Now I'm by no means religious. However, I did grow up Christian and the story of Christ is one that has always interested me. I've always found comfort in the Sermon on the Mount and have always been deeply pained by the passion. This Christmas, King of Kings (1961) was what I needed. I didn't need a Christmas film from the good ole days when people were nice to each other and everything turned out well. I wanted to see a film about oppression and hope.
Before you comment on this post, just note this is not a forum to start religious debate.