King of Kings


2h 48m 1961
King of Kings

Brief Synopsis

Epic retelling of Christ's life and the effects of his teachings on those around him.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
Biography
Religion
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Oct 1961
Production Company
Samuel Bronston Productions
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 48m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints), Mono (35 mm prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1, 2.35 : 1

Synopsis

The life of Jesus Christ is depicted. Highlighted are the following events: his birth in a Bethlehem stable; the prophecies of John the Baptist and his murder; Jesus' 40-day ordeal in the desert; the selection of the Apostles; the Sermon on the Mount; Judas' betrayal of Jesus; the Passion; the Crucifixion; the Resurrection; and the Ascension.

Photo Collections

King of Kings - Jeffrey Hunter Publicity Stills
Here are some publicity stills from King of Kings (1961), featuring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus Christ. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
Biography
Religion
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Oct 1961
Production Company
Samuel Bronston Productions
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 48m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints), Mono (35 mm prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1, 2.35 : 1

Articles

King of Kings (1961)


For a brief span between the mid-'50s and the mid-'60s, the genre of the Biblical epic had a foothold in Hollywood unlike any other time before or since. Primarily attributable to the industry's desire to pull out all the stops in its battle with the new medium of television for the American public's leisure time, producers sought to render the world's most fundamentally known and revered stories on the grandest possible scale. Samuel Bronston, who had some of the most lavishly mounted film productions of the era to his credit, made his contribution to the cycle with King of Kings (1961), an impressive and thoughtful retelling of the life of Christ.

The Rumanian-born Bronston first tied his career to the film industry in the early '40s, when he went to work at MGM's French unit after his graduation from the Sorbonne. While he had set himself up as an independent producer by the mid-'40s, his achievements had been relatively undistinguished until the late '50s. At that point, he became a pioneer in the industry practice of locating epic-scale productions in Spain, and thereby ameliorating the massive costs involved. With MGM's involvement for distribution, Bronston set his sights on an $8 million remake of Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 silent that had set the standard for depicting the story of Christ on film. While he would ultimately overextend his company, and be effectively out of business by the mid-'60s, Bronston had some of the most imposing cinema spectacles of the period to his credit, including El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963) and Circus World (1964).

In choosing a screenwriter, Bronston turned to his familiar collaborator Philip Yordan, whose resume included Broken Lance (1954), Johnny Guitar (1954) and The Harder They Fall (1956), as well as the aforementioned Bronston-produced sagas. Bronston then made the somewhat surprising decision to hire Nicholas Ray to direct. Ray, who teamed with Bronston here and on 55 Days at Peking, did so in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to establish independence from the major studios. While the director is more typically associated with intimate tales of isolated men (Rebel Without a Cause (1955), In a Lonely Place (1950)), his facility with the widescreen camera and his understanding of its narrative possibilities ultimately proved to serve King of Kings well.

The last major hurdle was the casting of the protagonist, and Bronston turned to Jeffrey Hunter, the former juvenile lead whose all-American good looks were used to good effect by John Ford in The Searchers (1956) and The Last Hurrah (1958). A genuinely global talent hunt garnered the remaining players who took on personas from the New Testament; Robert Ryan as John the Baptist; Rip Torn as Judas; Hurd Hatfield as Pilate; Harry Guardino as Barabbas; Siobhan McKenna as Mary; and Frank Thring as Herod.

Probably the most ambitious scene in the entire film is the Sermon on the Mount sequence. It was shot in five days in Venta de Frascuelas (southeast of Madrid) using five cameras and 5,400 extras. In Nicholas Ray: An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz, the director recalled, "we constructed what, according to my crew, was the longest track ever built, from the top of a hill to the bottom, with a track counterbalancing it on the opposite slope, the cables wound round a pair of olive trees, and we followed Jesus as he moved through the crowd, answering the questions he was asked." Unfortunately, Ray's creativity was often compromised by behind-the-scenes power struggles. According to Gavin Lambert in Eisenschitz's biography, "The atmosphere was really evil: it was like two courts...Nick and Phil Yordan, who had been old friends, were not speaking. Yordan was executively above Nick, so he was there not only as a writer, but to see that Nick shot his script. And it was like an arena, these battlements, this enormous open air set. There was the court of Nick at one end, and the court of Yordan way over at the other, and they communicated only by walkie-talkie radio, they never spoke a word directly. "I wonder what they're up to down there," Nick would say, "I wonder what they're plotting...But I'm going to sneak in a few things..."

When King of Kings elects to stick to the scriptures, it does so in a tasteful and intelligent manner, as best evidenced by the treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, which utilized untold numbers of extras to striking effect. The filmmakers' attempts to impose a more conventional dramatic structure upon the narrative only wound up inflaming elements within the American clergy. The story opts not to open upon the Nativity, but the Roman conquest of Judea some 60 years prior, and chronicles Rome's oppression during that interim. The choice to limn the character of Barabbas as history's first radical Zionist, rallying his supporters to achieve by force the ends that Jesus sought through peaceful means, sat poorly with various theological circles.

Mixed sentiments were forthcoming from film critics as well, and the film's grosses on its first release topped out at $6.5 million, a respectable take but much less than hoped. Viewed as a whole, however, such harsh responses to King of Kings seem unwarranted. The end product is a compelling and visually striking entertainment that benefits from many outstanding creative contributions, notably the lovely score from Miklos Rozsa and the vivid cinematography of Franz Planer. The production is also complemented by its narration, delivered by Orson Welles and scripted by an uncredited Ray Bradbury.

While industry wags sneered at Hunter's casting by dubbing the project I Was a Teenage Jesus, the actor ultimately acquitted himself ably, vesting the role with vitality, compassion and serenity. His comfort in performing for Ray, as he had previously in The True Story of Jesse James (1957), was evident in an interview the actor granted to Films and Filming in 1962. "Ray is a man who, like Ford, has a great ability to communicate ideas concisely," the actor stated. "He's a quiet man; he's not bombastic on the set and if he has something that he wants to tell you he tells you alone." For all the ballyhoo that surrounded King of Kings, the project did not give Hunter's career the boost he had hoped for. For the remainder of his life, he toiled in increasingly forgettable projects at home and abroad (a notable exception being the original pilot episode of Star Trek). In 1969, after a rooftop fall, he died in surgery; he was only 43.

Producer: Samuel Bronston, Alan Brown, Jaime Prades
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Philip Yordan
Cinematography: Manuel Berenguer, Milton R. Krasner, Franz Planer
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress, Renee Lichtig
Art Direction: Enrique Alarcon
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Jeffrey Hunter (Jesus Christ), Siobhan McKenna (Mary), Hurd Hatfield (Pontius Pilot), Ron Randell (Lucius), Viveca Lindfors (Claudia), Rita Gam (Herodias), Carmen Sevilla (Mary Magdalene).
C-161m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg
King Of Kings (1961)

King of Kings (1961)

For a brief span between the mid-'50s and the mid-'60s, the genre of the Biblical epic had a foothold in Hollywood unlike any other time before or since. Primarily attributable to the industry's desire to pull out all the stops in its battle with the new medium of television for the American public's leisure time, producers sought to render the world's most fundamentally known and revered stories on the grandest possible scale. Samuel Bronston, who had some of the most lavishly mounted film productions of the era to his credit, made his contribution to the cycle with King of Kings (1961), an impressive and thoughtful retelling of the life of Christ. The Rumanian-born Bronston first tied his career to the film industry in the early '40s, when he went to work at MGM's French unit after his graduation from the Sorbonne. While he had set himself up as an independent producer by the mid-'40s, his achievements had been relatively undistinguished until the late '50s. At that point, he became a pioneer in the industry practice of locating epic-scale productions in Spain, and thereby ameliorating the massive costs involved. With MGM's involvement for distribution, Bronston set his sights on an $8 million remake of Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 silent that had set the standard for depicting the story of Christ on film. While he would ultimately overextend his company, and be effectively out of business by the mid-'60s, Bronston had some of the most imposing cinema spectacles of the period to his credit, including El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963) and Circus World (1964). In choosing a screenwriter, Bronston turned to his familiar collaborator Philip Yordan, whose resume included Broken Lance (1954), Johnny Guitar (1954) and The Harder They Fall (1956), as well as the aforementioned Bronston-produced sagas. Bronston then made the somewhat surprising decision to hire Nicholas Ray to direct. Ray, who teamed with Bronston here and on 55 Days at Peking, did so in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to establish independence from the major studios. While the director is more typically associated with intimate tales of isolated men (Rebel Without a Cause (1955), In a Lonely Place (1950)), his facility with the widescreen camera and his understanding of its narrative possibilities ultimately proved to serve King of Kings well. The last major hurdle was the casting of the protagonist, and Bronston turned to Jeffrey Hunter, the former juvenile lead whose all-American good looks were used to good effect by John Ford in The Searchers (1956) and The Last Hurrah (1958). A genuinely global talent hunt garnered the remaining players who took on personas from the New Testament; Robert Ryan as John the Baptist; Rip Torn as Judas; Hurd Hatfield as Pilate; Harry Guardino as Barabbas; Siobhan McKenna as Mary; and Frank Thring as Herod. Probably the most ambitious scene in the entire film is the Sermon on the Mount sequence. It was shot in five days in Venta de Frascuelas (southeast of Madrid) using five cameras and 5,400 extras. In Nicholas Ray: An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz, the director recalled, "we constructed what, according to my crew, was the longest track ever built, from the top of a hill to the bottom, with a track counterbalancing it on the opposite slope, the cables wound round a pair of olive trees, and we followed Jesus as he moved through the crowd, answering the questions he was asked." Unfortunately, Ray's creativity was often compromised by behind-the-scenes power struggles. According to Gavin Lambert in Eisenschitz's biography, "The atmosphere was really evil: it was like two courts...Nick and Phil Yordan, who had been old friends, were not speaking. Yordan was executively above Nick, so he was there not only as a writer, but to see that Nick shot his script. And it was like an arena, these battlements, this enormous open air set. There was the court of Nick at one end, and the court of Yordan way over at the other, and they communicated only by walkie-talkie radio, they never spoke a word directly. "I wonder what they're up to down there," Nick would say, "I wonder what they're plotting...But I'm going to sneak in a few things..." When King of Kings elects to stick to the scriptures, it does so in a tasteful and intelligent manner, as best evidenced by the treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, which utilized untold numbers of extras to striking effect. The filmmakers' attempts to impose a more conventional dramatic structure upon the narrative only wound up inflaming elements within the American clergy. The story opts not to open upon the Nativity, but the Roman conquest of Judea some 60 years prior, and chronicles Rome's oppression during that interim. The choice to limn the character of Barabbas as history's first radical Zionist, rallying his supporters to achieve by force the ends that Jesus sought through peaceful means, sat poorly with various theological circles. Mixed sentiments were forthcoming from film critics as well, and the film's grosses on its first release topped out at $6.5 million, a respectable take but much less than hoped. Viewed as a whole, however, such harsh responses to King of Kings seem unwarranted. The end product is a compelling and visually striking entertainment that benefits from many outstanding creative contributions, notably the lovely score from Miklos Rozsa and the vivid cinematography of Franz Planer. The production is also complemented by its narration, delivered by Orson Welles and scripted by an uncredited Ray Bradbury. While industry wags sneered at Hunter's casting by dubbing the project I Was a Teenage Jesus, the actor ultimately acquitted himself ably, vesting the role with vitality, compassion and serenity. His comfort in performing for Ray, as he had previously in The True Story of Jesse James (1957), was evident in an interview the actor granted to Films and Filming in 1962. "Ray is a man who, like Ford, has a great ability to communicate ideas concisely," the actor stated. "He's a quiet man; he's not bombastic on the set and if he has something that he wants to tell you he tells you alone." For all the ballyhoo that surrounded King of Kings, the project did not give Hunter's career the boost he had hoped for. For the remainder of his life, he toiled in increasingly forgettable projects at home and abroad (a notable exception being the original pilot episode of Star Trek). In 1969, after a rooftop fall, he died in surgery; he was only 43. Producer: Samuel Bronston, Alan Brown, Jaime Prades Director: Nicholas Ray Screenplay: Philip Yordan Cinematography: Manuel Berenguer, Milton R. Krasner, Franz Planer Film Editing: Harold F. Kress, Renee Lichtig Art Direction: Enrique Alarcon Music: Miklos Rozsa Cast: Jeffrey Hunter (Jesus Christ), Siobhan McKenna (Mary), Hurd Hatfield (Pontius Pilot), Ron Randell (Lucius), Viveca Lindfors (Claudia), Rita Gam (Herodias), Carmen Sevilla (Mary Magdalene). C-161m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jay S. Steinberg

Soundtracks - King of Kings


Now Back in Print - Miklos Rozsa's Score for KING OF KINGS

For serious collectors of movie soundtracks, Rhino Records has come to the rescue again. They have just re-issued the film soundtrack to King of Kings, the 1961 biblical epic about the life of Jesus Christ. It was directed by Nicolas Ray, starred Jeffrey Hunter in the title role (most critics were unkind about his performance, prompting one reviewer to remark that the film should have been called "I Was a Teenage Jesus"), and featured a magnificent score by Miklos Rozsa.

M-G-M's 1959 epic remake of Ben-Hur was a tough act to follow, not only for the studio, but also for Oscar-winning composer Miklos Rozsa. But the studio and composer once again rose to the occasion in 1961 with King of Kings. The movie has since become a holiday TV staple and a best-selling home video release.

George Feltenstein, who produced the Rhino release of King of Kings states in the accompanying CD booklet, that "the M-G-M score album went out of print in the late 1960s, and the recording became a highly prized item among collectors. In the early 1990s a CD containing music from the actual film soundtrack performances was released. That version featured more music than had originally been released on the 1961 M-G-M LP, but still represented only about half of the film's music. This long-awaited Turner Classic Movies/Rhino Movie Music album represents the premiere release of Rozsa's entire King of Kings score, exactly as it was recorded for the film on M-G-M's Scoring Stage in Culver City, California. In addition to all the music cues found in the final release prints of the film, this new album contains many extended versions of cues, longer than those used in the film. This release has been mastered directly from the original 6-track magnetic stereo session masters."

For more information, visit visit Rhino Records.

. THE MUSIC OF BUGS AND DAFFY - THAT'S ALL FOLKS!

One of the most interesting developments of the past several years has been a new interest in cartoon soundtracks, specifically the work of Warner Brothers musical director Carl Stalling. It's easy to understand why this is the music we grew up with while watching Saturday morning cartoons. The scores also happen to be inventive, tightly focused compositions frequently studded with fragments of other songs in a way that's familiar to our collage-and-sample minds today.

There have been two superb CDs of The Carl Stalling Project but now we get the wonderful overview That's All Folks: Cartoon Songs from Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes (Warner Brothers/Kid Rhino). Produced by historian and musicologist Daniel Goldmark, the two-disc set is quite entertaining for both big and small kids but thanks to a small book with detailed background it's an ear-opener as well. That's All Folks includes the complete soundtrack to the immortal What's Opera, Doc? (remember Elmer's Wagnerian "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"?) plus Book Revue, Back Alley Oproar, Katnip Kollege and Three Little Bops featuring music from West Coast jazz genius Shorty Rogers. Some assorted songs and medleys like "Bugs Bunny's Greatest Hits" round out the package. The only real flaws are that the book generally avoids giving dates and fails to identify the pops concert favorite "Light Cavalry Overture" as a Von Suppe composition.

With book in hand you can appreciate the sweep of, say, Book Revue. Among a few Stalling compositions you can hear the folk song "La Cucaracha," Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," turn-of-the-century classic "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," a bit of Donizetti's opera Lucia, several Gus Kahn pop songs and more. Accompanying the frenetic cartoon such a mix didn't seem bizarre and it's a testament to Stalling's arrangement that the music still strikes an appropriate balance with the visuals. You can easily hear why avant-gardists like John Zorn are big Stalling fans and wonder how much influence this might have had on the similar approach of hip-hop artists.

That's All Folks is one of those nice packages that's not only a lot of fun but of real historical interest as well. For more information, visit visit Rhino Records

By Lang Thompson

Soundtracks - King of Kings

Now Back in Print - Miklos Rozsa's Score for KING OF KINGS For serious collectors of movie soundtracks, Rhino Records has come to the rescue again. They have just re-issued the film soundtrack to King of Kings, the 1961 biblical epic about the life of Jesus Christ. It was directed by Nicolas Ray, starred Jeffrey Hunter in the title role (most critics were unkind about his performance, prompting one reviewer to remark that the film should have been called "I Was a Teenage Jesus"), and featured a magnificent score by Miklos Rozsa. M-G-M's 1959 epic remake of Ben-Hur was a tough act to follow, not only for the studio, but also for Oscar-winning composer Miklos Rozsa. But the studio and composer once again rose to the occasion in 1961 with King of Kings. The movie has since become a holiday TV staple and a best-selling home video release. George Feltenstein, who produced the Rhino release of King of Kings states in the accompanying CD booklet, that "the M-G-M score album went out of print in the late 1960s, and the recording became a highly prized item among collectors. In the early 1990s a CD containing music from the actual film soundtrack performances was released. That version featured more music than had originally been released on the 1961 M-G-M LP, but still represented only about half of the film's music. This long-awaited Turner Classic Movies/Rhino Movie Music album represents the premiere release of Rozsa's entire King of Kings score, exactly as it was recorded for the film on M-G-M's Scoring Stage in Culver City, California. In addition to all the music cues found in the final release prints of the film, this new album contains many extended versions of cues, longer than those used in the film. This release has been mastered directly from the original 6-track magnetic stereo session masters." For more information, visit visit Rhino Records.. THE MUSIC OF BUGS AND DAFFY - THAT'S ALL FOLKS! One of the most interesting developments of the past several years has been a new interest in cartoon soundtracks, specifically the work of Warner Brothers musical director Carl Stalling. It's easy to understand why this is the music we grew up with while watching Saturday morning cartoons. The scores also happen to be inventive, tightly focused compositions frequently studded with fragments of other songs in a way that's familiar to our collage-and-sample minds today. There have been two superb CDs of The Carl Stalling Project but now we get the wonderful overview That's All Folks: Cartoon Songs from Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes (Warner Brothers/Kid Rhino). Produced by historian and musicologist Daniel Goldmark, the two-disc set is quite entertaining for both big and small kids but thanks to a small book with detailed background it's an ear-opener as well. That's All Folks includes the complete soundtrack to the immortal What's Opera, Doc? (remember Elmer's Wagnerian "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"?) plus Book Revue, Back Alley Oproar, Katnip Kollege and Three Little Bops featuring music from West Coast jazz genius Shorty Rogers. Some assorted songs and medleys like "Bugs Bunny's Greatest Hits" round out the package. The only real flaws are that the book generally avoids giving dates and fails to identify the pops concert favorite "Light Cavalry Overture" as a Von Suppe composition. With book in hand you can appreciate the sweep of, say, Book Revue. Among a few Stalling compositions you can hear the folk song "La Cucaracha," Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," turn-of-the-century classic "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," a bit of Donizetti's opera Lucia, several Gus Kahn pop songs and more. Accompanying the frenetic cartoon such a mix didn't seem bizarre and it's a testament to Stalling's arrangement that the music still strikes an appropriate balance with the visuals. You can easily hear why avant-gardists like John Zorn are big Stalling fans and wonder how much influence this might have had on the similar approach of hip-hop artists. That's All Folks is one of those nice packages that's not only a lot of fun but of real historical interest as well. For more information, visit visit Rhino Records By Lang Thompson

Quotes

Woman, is not your cup of abominations full enough?
- John the Baptist
His heart should be ripped from his body!
- Salome
You frighten me, you angry man!
- Salome
The chair will have to wait until I return.
- Jesus
The chair will never be mended. I am going with you.
- Virgin Mary
For some reason, I favored Your mother once before. I will give You a moment with the prisoner John. But remember this... break Caesar's law, and you shall find in me the most merciless of men.
- Lucius

Trivia

Ray Bradbury wrote the narration, but was uncredited.

Agnes Moorehead served as 'Hunter, Jeffrey' 's dialogue coach in post-dubbing.

the narrator.

Carmen Sevilla's voice was dubbed by an uncredited actress (her real voice can be heard in Spanish Affair (1958)).

Gerard Tichy's voice was dubbed by an uncredited actor.

Notes

Filmed in Spain. Only one source credits Bradbury as author of the narration.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1961

Released in United States on Video March 14, 1989

It has been mentioned that Ray Bradbury wrote the narration for Orson Welles uncredited.

Super Technirama 70

Released in United States on Video March 14, 1989

Released in United States Fall November 1961