The Greatest Story Ever Told


3h 45m 1965
The Greatest Story Ever Told

Brief Synopsis

All-star epic retelling of Christ's life.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Feb 1965
Production Company
George Stevens Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Glen Canyon, Utah, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the book The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler and Henry Denker (New York, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 45m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System), Mono (35 mm prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.75 : 1

Synopsis

The life of Jesus Christ is depicted; highlights include: His birth in Bethlehem, Herod's decree ordering the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem; the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist, the selection of the Twelve Apostles, the execution of John the Baptist, the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, the expulsion of the moneylenders from the temple in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and subsequent betrayal by Judas, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

Cast

Max Von Sydow

Jesus

Dorothy Mcguire

Mary

Robert Loggia

Joseph

Charlton Heston

John the Baptist

Michael Anderson Jr.

James the Younger

Robert Blake

Simon the Zealot

Burt Brinckerhoff

Andrew

John Considine

John

Jamie Farr

Thaddaeus

David Hedison

Philip

Peter Mann

Nathanael

David Mccallum

Judas Iscariot

Roddy Mcdowall

Matthew

Gary Raymond

Peter

Tom Reese

Thomas

David Sheiner

James the Elder

Ina Balin

Martha of Bethany

Janet Margolin

Mary of Bethany

Michael Tolan

Lazarus

Sidney Poitier

Simon of Cyrene

Joanna Dunham

Mary Magdalene

Carroll Baker

Veronica

Pat Boone

Young man at the tomb

Van Heflin

Bar Amand

Sal Mineo

Uriah

Shelley Winters

Woman of no name [see note]

Ed Wynn

Old Aram

John Wayne

Centurion

Telly Savalas

Pontius Pilate

Angela Lansbury

Claudia

Johnny Seven

Pilate's aide

Paul Stewart

Questor

Harold J. Stone

General Varus

Martin Landau

Caiaphas

Nehemiah Persoff

Shemiah

Joseph Schildkraut

Nicodemus

Victor Buono

Sorak

Robert Busch

Emissary

John Crawford

Alexander

Russell Johnson

Scribe

John Lupton

Speaker of Capernaum

Abraham Sofaer

Joseph of Arimathaea

Chet Stratton

Theophilus

Ron Whelan

Annas

Jose Ferrer

Herod Antipas

Claude Rains

Herod the Great

John Abbott

Aben

Rodolfo Acosta

Captain of lancers

Michael Ansara

Herod's commander

Philip Coolidge

Chuza

Dal Jenkins

Philip

Joseph Perry

Archelaus

Marian Seldes

Herodias

Donald Pleasence

The Devil

Richard Conte

Barabbas

Frank De Kova

Tormentor

Joseph Sirola

Dumah

Cyril Delevanti

Melchior

Mark Lenard

Balthazar

Frank Silvera

Caspar

The Inbal Dance Theatre Of Israel

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1965
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Feb 1965
Production Company
George Stevens Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Glen Canyon, Utah, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the book The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler and Henry Denker (New York, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 45m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System), Mono (35 mm prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.75 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1965

Best Cinematography

1965

Best Costume Design

1965
Vittorio Nino Novarese

Best Score

1965

Best Special Effects

1966

Articles

The Greatest Story Ever Told


The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) was an epic religious spectacle shot in Ultra Panavision 70 that attempted to lure audiences away from their living room television sets through a massive publicity campaign, an all-star cast, and a story that had broad, universal appeal - the Life of Christ. Adapted from the title of the same name by Fulton Oursler and a series of radio scripts based on Bible stories by Henry Denker, The Greatest Story Ever Told covered all the major events in Jesus' life from Herod's slaughter of the male children of Jerusalem to Lazarus' resurrection to the Last Supper. Unfortunately, the film was also typical of many mid-1960s big budget spectacles, like Cleopatra (1963) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). Costing more than a staggering $20 million and including a cast of some of the biggest stars in world cinema - Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, etc. - the film was unmercifully ripped to pieces by most critics and ignored by moviegoers.

Shot on location in Utah and Arizona, locations that could effectively double as Palestine at the time of Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told was a monumental shoot that matched its story's epic nature. Thousands of extras, countless crewmembers, and at least 25 high profile actors and actresses dotted the landscape behind the camera (Poet Carl Sandburg even gets listed in the credits as a Creative Consultant!). Director George Stevens' penchant for endless retakes did not help the often combative situations that arose during the production. In fact, the overtime pay for crewmembers was often larger than the regular salaries of many of the people involved. At one point, snow blanketed the landscape of what was supposed to be a desert, so an armada of snowplows had to be engaged, along with wheelbarrows, shovels, and butane flame-throwers to remove the snow. The production eventually headed back to Hollywood where a huge replica of Jerusalem was built, thus skyrocketing the budget even higher. With all the post-production editing, the film's final length clocked out at 260 minutes. It was then cut down for general release to a length of 225 minutes. Still, further cuts were made and there is reportedly a version in distribution that is only 127 minutes. Regardless of the length, audiences stayed away in droves, making The Greatest Story Ever Told the greatest financial flop ever made until the release of Heaven's Gate in 1980.

However, the Hollywood film community felt differently toward The Greatest Story Ever Told and nominated it for five Academy Awards including nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects. Although the film scored zero statuettes at the April 18, 1966 ceremony, it went on to become a popular rental film at churches, schools, and film societies in the non-theatrical market. Of course, this was no consolation to United Artists who fully expected The Greatest Story Ever Told to sweep the Oscars but religious epics were passe by the mid-sixties and the studio should have sensed that.

Seen today, however, The Greatest Story Ever Told is a fascinating time capsule. Director George Stevens made it between his Oscar winning drama, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and The Only Game in Town (1970), two modestly budgeted films with small casts. There is also a certain perverse fascination in watching famous actors in cameo roles such as Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, Claude Rains as Herod, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Donald Pleasence as the Devil, and Shelley Winters yelling "I'm cursed" as the woman with no name. They even cast Pat Boone, Sal Mineo, and David McCallum (Ilya on TV's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series) in hopes of attracting a younger audience. Luckily, the central role of Jesus is convincingly played by Max von Sydow, an internationally renown Swedish actor best known for his work in the films of Ingmar Bergman.

There is a great story behind The Greatest Story Ever Told that involves director George Stevens and superstar John Wayne in the role of a Roman centurion. His one line in the picture was: "Truly, this man was the Son of God." After a couple of attempts at the seemingly simple line, Stevens gently told him, "Duke, what we need in this line is something more. Look up at the man and give us some awe." Wayne nodded affirmatively, Stevens signaled the cameras to roll, and Wayne said, "Awww, truly this man was the Son of God." This anecdote probably never happened, but when John Wayne heard the story he even admitted to friends and associates that it made a great tale.

Producer: Frank I. Davis (executive), George Stevens Jr. (associate), George Stevens, Antonio Vellani (associate)
Director: George Stevens, David Lean (uncredited), Jean Negulesco (uncredited)
Screenplay: James Lee Barrett, Henry Denker (source writings), Fulton Oursler (book), George Stevens
Production Design: William J. Creber, Richard Day, David S. Hall, Fred M. MacLean, Ray Moyer, Norman Rockett
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs, William C. Mellor
Costume Design: Marjorie Best, Vittorio Nino Novarese
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress, Art J. Nelson, Frank O'Neil
Original Music: Hugo Friedhofer, Alfred Newman, Fred Steiner
Principal Cast: Max von Sydow (Jesus), Michael Anderson Jr. (James the Younger), Carroll Baker (Veronica), Ina Balin (Martha of Bethany), Pat Boone (Young Man at the Tomb), Victor Buono (Sorak), Richard Conte (Barabbas), Van Heflin (Bar Amand), Angela Lansbury (Claudia), Martin Landau (Caiaphas), Janet Margolin (Mary of Bethany), Roddy McDowall (Matthew), Sidney Poitier (Simon of Cyrene), Claude Rains (King Herod), John Wayne (The Centurion), Robert Blake (Simon the Zealot), Telly Savalas (Pontius Pilate), Donald Pleasence (The Dark Hermit), Charlton Heston (John the Baptist), Shelley Winters (Woman of No Name), Jose Ferrer (Herod Antipas), Robert Loggia (Joseph).
C-200m. Letterboxed.

by Scott McGee
The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) was an epic religious spectacle shot in Ultra Panavision 70 that attempted to lure audiences away from their living room television sets through a massive publicity campaign, an all-star cast, and a story that had broad, universal appeal - the Life of Christ. Adapted from the title of the same name by Fulton Oursler and a series of radio scripts based on Bible stories by Henry Denker, The Greatest Story Ever Told covered all the major events in Jesus' life from Herod's slaughter of the male children of Jerusalem to Lazarus' resurrection to the Last Supper. Unfortunately, the film was also typical of many mid-1960s big budget spectacles, like Cleopatra (1963) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). Costing more than a staggering $20 million and including a cast of some of the biggest stars in world cinema - Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, etc. - the film was unmercifully ripped to pieces by most critics and ignored by moviegoers. Shot on location in Utah and Arizona, locations that could effectively double as Palestine at the time of Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told was a monumental shoot that matched its story's epic nature. Thousands of extras, countless crewmembers, and at least 25 high profile actors and actresses dotted the landscape behind the camera (Poet Carl Sandburg even gets listed in the credits as a Creative Consultant!). Director George Stevens' penchant for endless retakes did not help the often combative situations that arose during the production. In fact, the overtime pay for crewmembers was often larger than the regular salaries of many of the people involved. At one point, snow blanketed the landscape of what was supposed to be a desert, so an armada of snowplows had to be engaged, along with wheelbarrows, shovels, and butane flame-throwers to remove the snow. The production eventually headed back to Hollywood where a huge replica of Jerusalem was built, thus skyrocketing the budget even higher. With all the post-production editing, the film's final length clocked out at 260 minutes. It was then cut down for general release to a length of 225 minutes. Still, further cuts were made and there is reportedly a version in distribution that is only 127 minutes. Regardless of the length, audiences stayed away in droves, making The Greatest Story Ever Told the greatest financial flop ever made until the release of Heaven's Gate in 1980. However, the Hollywood film community felt differently toward The Greatest Story Ever Told and nominated it for five Academy Awards including nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects. Although the film scored zero statuettes at the April 18, 1966 ceremony, it went on to become a popular rental film at churches, schools, and film societies in the non-theatrical market. Of course, this was no consolation to United Artists who fully expected The Greatest Story Ever Told to sweep the Oscars but religious epics were passe by the mid-sixties and the studio should have sensed that. Seen today, however, The Greatest Story Ever Told is a fascinating time capsule. Director George Stevens made it between his Oscar winning drama, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and The Only Game in Town (1970), two modestly budgeted films with small casts. There is also a certain perverse fascination in watching famous actors in cameo roles such as Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, Claude Rains as Herod, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Donald Pleasence as the Devil, and Shelley Winters yelling "I'm cursed" as the woman with no name. They even cast Pat Boone, Sal Mineo, and David McCallum (Ilya on TV's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series) in hopes of attracting a younger audience. Luckily, the central role of Jesus is convincingly played by Max von Sydow, an internationally renown Swedish actor best known for his work in the films of Ingmar Bergman. There is a great story behind The Greatest Story Ever Told that involves director George Stevens and superstar John Wayne in the role of a Roman centurion. His one line in the picture was: "Truly, this man was the Son of God." After a couple of attempts at the seemingly simple line, Stevens gently told him, "Duke, what we need in this line is something more. Look up at the man and give us some awe." Wayne nodded affirmatively, Stevens signaled the cameras to roll, and Wayne said, "Awww, truly this man was the Son of God." This anecdote probably never happened, but when John Wayne heard the story he even admitted to friends and associates that it made a great tale. Producer: Frank I. Davis (executive), George Stevens Jr. (associate), George Stevens, Antonio Vellani (associate) Director: George Stevens, David Lean (uncredited), Jean Negulesco (uncredited) Screenplay: James Lee Barrett, Henry Denker (source writings), Fulton Oursler (book), George Stevens Production Design: William J. Creber, Richard Day, David S. Hall, Fred M. MacLean, Ray Moyer, Norman Rockett Cinematography: Loyal Griggs, William C. Mellor Costume Design: Marjorie Best, Vittorio Nino Novarese Film Editing: Harold F. Kress, Art J. Nelson, Frank O'Neil Original Music: Hugo Friedhofer, Alfred Newman, Fred Steiner Principal Cast: Max von Sydow (Jesus), Michael Anderson Jr. (James the Younger), Carroll Baker (Veronica), Ina Balin (Martha of Bethany), Pat Boone (Young Man at the Tomb), Victor Buono (Sorak), Richard Conte (Barabbas), Van Heflin (Bar Amand), Angela Lansbury (Claudia), Martin Landau (Caiaphas), Janet Margolin (Mary of Bethany), Roddy McDowall (Matthew), Sidney Poitier (Simon of Cyrene), Claude Rains (King Herod), John Wayne (The Centurion), Robert Blake (Simon the Zealot), Telly Savalas (Pontius Pilate), Donald Pleasence (The Dark Hermit), Charlton Heston (John the Baptist), Shelley Winters (Woman of No Name), Jose Ferrer (Herod Antipas), Robert Loggia (Joseph). C-200m. Letterboxed. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Trivia

Cinematographer William C. Mellor suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died on the set.

Telly Savalas shaved his head bald for his role as Pontius Pilate. He kept his head shaved for the rest of his life.

During filming the first snowstorm to strike Arizona in decades buried the whole set. Several hundred cast and crew members, including director George Stevens, went out with snow shovels, wheelbarrows, bulldozers, and butane flame throwers to clear the snow from the set. Just as they were done, it snowed again, even harder than before -- forcing the production to close and move to Desilu Studios in Hollywood.

Joanna Dunham, who played Mary Magdalene, became pregnant during filming. The director worked around this by shooting her from the chest up as much as possible, making her later scenes markedly unlike the earlier ones.

Director George Stevens originally hired 550 Navajos from a local reservation to be Roman legionnaires, but they couldn't stay on the set for very long and eventually went back home to participate in a tribal election. Stevens replaced them with ROTC cadets.

'David Lean' directed some scenes for 'George Stevens' who was bogged down with the production. He was between Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and _Dr. Zhivago (1965)_ and was not credited

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Glen Canyon, Utah. Presented in Cinerama for roadshow engagements. For the final release version the roles of Shelley Winters and John Wayne, among others, were reduced or eliminated.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1965

Released in United States on Video March 6, 2001

Released in United States April 1981

aspect ratio 2.75:1

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1965

Released in United States on Video March 6, 2001

Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Easter Special) April 2-23, 1981.)

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1965 National Board of Review.