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on October 21, 2014
I watched this a few times as a kid (around xmas, I believe). As an adult, many years later, it isn't as good as I remember. It *is* a fine study in period filmmaking, but for a modern audience, the special effects are laughable, the makeup is primitive and the cinematography is unsophisticated.

I was hoping the filmmakers would've been more adventurous with trying to work around all of the inconsistencies (e.g., what was in the tomb - one man [Mark], two men [Luke], two angels [John], or nothing [Matthew]?), but they took the easy way out and seemed to go for the simple version in each case.
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on April 12, 2010
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) Directed by George Stevens, Jean Negulesco and David Lean. Script by George Stevens and Carl Sandburg. Cinematography by Loyal Griggs and William Mellor. Score by Alfred Newman. Produced by George Stevens.

Starring Max Von Sydow (as The Christ Jesus of Nazareth), Donald Pleasence (as Satan) David McCallum (as Judas Iscariot) Claude Rains (as King Herod the Great) Roddy McDowall(as Matthew), Jose Ferrer (as King Herod Antipas) Dorothy McGuire (as The Virgin Mary) Martin Landau (as Caiaphas), Telly Savalas (as Pontius Pilate), Richard Conte (as Barabbas), Michael Anderson, Carroll Baker, Victor Buono, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Janet Margolin, Sal Mineo, Nehemiah Persoff, Sidney Poitier, Gary Raymond, Joseph Schildkraut, Paul Stewart, Shelley Winters, Ed Wynn, John Abbott, Michael Ansara, Robert Blake, John Considine, John Crawford, Jamie Farr, David Hedison, Mark Lenard, Robert Loggia, Frank DeKova, Russell Johnson, Frank Silvera, Abraham Sofaer, Harold Stone, Richard Bakalyan, Jay C. Flippen, Gil Perkins, Gene Roth, John Wayne and Charlton Heston as John the Baptist.

There are two ways to dramatize the life of the Christ. 1) As a sort of horror/fantasy film with the stress of the supernatural aspects of Jesus of Nazareth. 2) A historical epic with the stress on the historical mileau in which Jesus lived. There are three truly great and definitive versions of this epic story. The silent De Mille film THE KING OF KINGS which is an example of the first creative choice. JESUS OF NAZARETH which is the best example of the later. And this version which, while opting for the supernatural, does so less as a full blooded cross between JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and THE EXORCIST which is a good way to describe the De Mille version and more as a sort of Val Lewton horror and Carl Dreyer's VAMPYR in its extreme subtlness and restraint.

The film has been criticized as being slow and, as per David Lean's involvement, it does sometimes resemble of JESUS OF ARABIA but that is a deliberate creative choice. Stevens is presenting a world whose soul is dead and its people lifeless and without hope. Very few people in the picture speak above whisper. And it is Jesus, who, by his presense and sacrifice who brings salvation and joy to the world once again. Another thing that people either do not or do not want to understand that this is a very Catholic telling of the Christ. The film is very much a dramatization of the Mass. It begins in a Church and ends in a Church. The script is extremely literate and assumes that the viewer is both intelligent and capable of understanding concepts without having them spelled out for them.

The film has been criticized for its massive cast of frequently mere cameos of major stars and that may have been an issue then but is certainly not one now. Who, besides myself, remembers who Pat Boone or Sal Mineo was? The film has been mocked for having John Wayne as a Roman centurian but those criticisms are patently dishonest generated by those who loathe the actor for his politics. Stevens carefully establishes the Romans as being short stocky American types ala Harold Stone and Telly Savalas. Wayne is perfectly consistent with that and I might had that Wayne alters his voice giving it a harsh gravelly tone that jars. The only truly disruptive cameo is actually by Shelley Winters who staggers into frame sqawking in that gang moll floozy voice of hers and is completely out of place. The cast of powerhouse talent give consistently great performances. Sydow as The Christ is truly impressive with a powerful speaking voice. He truly makes the teachings of Christ both intelligible and charasmatic. Rains(whose last picture this was), Ferrer and Pleasance as the villains of the piece are incredibly impressive. Heston,McDowall, Savalas, Buono and Landau are also memorable.

The only qualm is McCallum's Judas not so much of the actor but becomes the film leaves the arch traitor's motivation completely open to interpretation. Useless trivia. Joseph Schildkraut who plays Nicodemus played Judas in the De Mille film.

A brilliant classic film.

Post script. Stevens chose to film this picture in extreme far shots almost completely throughout. Therefore the film is best viewed in the pan and scan version. Unless one has a TV screen the size of the semi truck, one literally cannot make out the performers or even who is speaking. Letter boxheads go on about how, with pan and scan one loses the full picture but in letter box, one loses, with this film at least, the entire cast. It would be nice if this could always be viewed in a movie theater but since that is not the case then it is vital that the VHS version be the one that is watched. You may not see that rock off to the left but you WILL see Max Von Sydow, Claude Rains, Donald Pleasance, Jose Ferrer..............................
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on March 22, 2015
A nice version of the story of Jesus.
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on April 2, 2015
Hey... the review is in the title..
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on September 2, 2014
I just recently rewatched this, and I still think it is a very realistic re-enactment of the major highlights of Christ's ministry and the reaction to it by political and religious leaders and common people. Who knows what Christ's personality was really like; that said I like Von Sydows portrayal, a combination of teacher, wise sage, with hints of an accessable playful way with people and yet at times clearly cognizant of his transcendant mission. Beautiful backgrounds, cinematography that to my eye still holds up in the high def age. Highly recommend for those interested in seeing a thoughtful approach to the life and ministry of Christ.
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on March 29, 2016
I had to shut it off after 30 minutes. It was an awful version of the "Greatest Story Ever told". The acting was horrible and the story was "choppy", it didn't flow nicely. Stick with Jesus of Nazareth. That is a beautiful film.
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on January 11, 2015
It was realistic but kind of dry.
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on April 19, 2001
This movie was good, no doubt about it. Very well produced and directed. GREAT cinematography. I appreciated the actors portrayal of Christ. It was a very divine portrayal. The movie is VERY reflective of Scripture and so I am surprised by some of the liberties taken by the producer. The form of Judas' suicide is certainly the most obvious liberty because it is indeed a contradiction of Canonical Gospels. The 4 Gospels are very short books - hardly screenplays - and yet the movie leaves out so many important details that are given in these books. Of the liberties taken to make this movie, I am very APPRECIATIVE that nearly all of the violence against Christ was left out of this movie. As a result of this fine production decision, I can watch this movie with my children. This is a very good movie, but it is definately not "The Greatest".
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on May 10, 2012
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on December 6, 2002
the greatest story ever told is certainly one of the greatest movies ever made. it is certainly my favourite film(along withking of kings, the 1961 version). but its a shame hollywood isn't really a Catholic cultural city, or this would've won best picture, best actor in a lead role(max von sydow) and best actor in a support role(charlton heston). max von sydow as Christ is brilliant. his sensitivity at Lazarus' death is a real great moment in movie making history. Also, Heston gives the most powerful and best performance of john the baptist ever. not only were the performances spectacular, but also the music. the Via Dolorosa scene, is definitely a great moment in moviemaking history, but also, the scene showing bar armand(van heflin)the cripple made well(sal mineo) and old aram(ed wynn) proclaiming the news that Jesus resurrected Lazarus is an all time classic and is the best moment of the film. the song "alleluia" i beleive should've atleast been nominated for best song.
this is one of the true classics, which is true to the Bible, and is highly recommended.
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