Cast & Crew
In a small village between Jerusalem and Jericho, Joel, the leader of the Zealots, urges his men not to seek retribution against the Romans, who have imposed a new tax. Joel's brother Zadok disagrees with Joel's plan. Later, Jemuel, a carpet merchant and father to Tamar, comes to bargain a dowry with Joel's father Lamech, the village scribe, as part of her betrothal to Zadok. Joel is in love with Tamar and leaves to tell her the good news unaware that she has not been promised to him. In the village square, Joel hears Nathan, the innkeeper, relate his meeting with John, who is a follower of Jesus. Soon after, Roman soldiers led by Longinus arrive, escorting prisoners, and inform the villagers that they must pay a tax immediately or face imprisonment and hard labor. A group of men are taken prisoner for attempting to escape, and even though Longinus knocks Joel down when he comes to their defense, Joel refuses to order the Zealots to fight. That evening, after Joel finds out that Tamar has been promised to Zadok, he and Tamar express their love for each other. Meanwhile, Zadok and the rest of the Zealots free the prisoners, and Longinus prepares to seek his revenge in a fortnight. The Zealots realize that the Romans will seek retribution, but Joel silences them with his plan: he will travel to Galilee to seek Jesus as the leader in the war. Along his journey, Joel plans to spread news of the revolt so that the Romans will be overpowered. Angered when he overhears Joel speaking to Zadok of his love for Tamar and his support of the Zealots Lamech he banishes him from his home. As Joel leaves the village, Tamar tries to accompany him, but Joel refuses to allow her. As he travels, Joel gains support. Jesus is put off by Joel's violent solution, but Judas, one of Jesus' followers, plans to convince Jesus that Joel's solution is the only one available to them. Meanwhile, Longinus and his men have come to the inn owned by Nathan, and Longinus tries to force him to reveal the name of the owner of the dagger that Longinus found during the prisoners' escape. Joel, who has returned, quietly calls the Zealots together and tells them of Jesus' refusal to join arms. They plan to seize Jesus, hold him prisoner and pronounce him King of Israel, believing that this will cause Jesus to take action and lead his people in the revolt. The next morning, Nathan arrives with news that Longinus killed Zadok afer he learned that the dagger was his. Joel runs to the inn, and as he contemplates killing Longinus, who was badly injured in his fight against Zadok, he hears Jesus' words, "All they that take up the sword shall perish with the sword," and gives the man water. Upon seeing Joel helping Longinus, the villagers assume that he is with the Romans. Longinus, sensing the crowd's anger, has Joel arrested and brought to Jerusalem. In Joel's cell several days later, Longinus comes to tell him that he was arrested in order to save his life, and asks Joel why he saved him. Joel responds that it was because of the teachings of Jesus, an answer that astounds Longinus, who explains that Jesus was crucified that very day and that he thrust his spear into Jesus' side. After Joel is released and on the street outside, he is met by Tamar, who tells him they must not return home because the people believe him to be a traitor. Joel replies that Jesus' teachings must live on through those who know the truth even if it means their own death. As Tamar and Joel start toward the village, Longinus gives his sword to a soldier and joins them as voices sing hallelujah.
Charles P. Boyle
John T. Coyle
John T. Coyle
Rev. James K. Friedrich
Edward C. Jewell
Hans J. Salter
Hans J. Salter
The working title of this film was The Good Samaritan. Although onscreen credits offer the following spelling for the actors names: Marc Lobell and Perry Ivins, the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library and the Variety review spell their names Marc Loebell and Perry Evans. The picture was not released nationally until 1941, but had its previews in Joplin, MO, and at the Ambassador Theater in Los Angeles, CA, on 2 October 1939.
According to the Film Daily review, the Reverend James K. Friedrich, an Episcopal minister, produced this picture in order to portray a "correct" version of the crucifixion. Memos contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library note that after Joseph I. Breen voiced concerns about the onscreen representation of Jesus, producer John Coyle decided to eliminate Jesus as an onscreen character and to use the camera's point of view to represent him instead. News items in Hollywood Reporter note that Cathedral Films borrowed Albert Dekker from Paramount to appear in this film. The film was shot on location at Lone Pine and Sherwood Lake, CA. An article in Time adds that the picture cost $130,00 to produce.
The Great Commandment was made without a pre-arranged distribution deal, and Cathedral Films planned to roadshow the film with the backing of religious groups. A 1948 article in Variety notes that in 1939, Fox bought the film for $170,000 with the intention of remaking it into a spectacle co-starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. After spending $340,000 preparing for the new production, Fox decided to release the original version. A news item in Los Angeles Examiner adds that Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck was so impressed with Irving Pichel's direction of the film that he hired him to direct for Fox. The 1948 Variety article notes that after the end of World War II, Fox shelved the picture and Cathedral re-purchased it for screening in churches.