266 The King of Kings

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266 The King of Kings

#1 Post by Martha » Sat Feb 12, 2005 4:30 pm

The King of Kings


The King of Kings is the Greatest Story Ever Told as only Cecil B. DeMille could tell it. In 1927, working with one of the biggest budgets in Hollywood history, DeMille spun the life and Passion of Christ into a silent-era blockbuster. Featuring text drawn directly from the Bible, a cast of thousands, and the great showman's singular cinematic bag of tricks, The King of Kings is at once spectacular and deeply reverent—part Gospel, part Technicolor epic. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this beloved film in a two-disc edition featuring both the 112-minute general-release version and the rarely seen 155-minute cut that premiered at the grand opening of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Special Features


- New, restored digital transfers of both versions of The King of Kings: DeMille's 155-minute roadshow version and his subsequent 112-minute general release
- New Dolby Digital 5.1 scores by composers Donald Sosin (1927 version) and Timothy J. Tikker (1931 version), plus the original score for the 1931 release by Hugo Riesenfeld
- Behind-the-scenes footage from the making of The King of Kings
- Cast portraits by photographer W.M. Mortensen
- Production and costume sketches by renowned artist Dan Sayre Groesbeck
- Stills gallery of rare production and publicity photos
- Original illustrated program and press book featuring photographs from the film's gala premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and studio correspondence from DeMille
- Original theatrical trailers
- Plus: a booklet featuring a 1927 essay by DeMille, an excerpt from Robert S. Birchard's new book Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood, production notes, and a new essay by film critic Peter Matthews

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#2 Post by Hrossa » Sun Feb 13, 2005 8:01 pm

I'm mildly surprised no one has bothered to post on this release yet. I assume very few people bothered to purchase it beyond the ranks of the completists out there and the few curious. It's a deadly combination for Criterion, a religious film with little maintstream religious appeal directed by DeMille, the man who, according to some, pokes one of the largest holes in auteur theory that can be poked.

I was one of the curious. (More than curious, actually, I was genuinely excited to get this title.) Maybe it's a fondness I have for the haphazard grandiosity of DeMille's movies. (I recently watched The Greatest Show On Earth was surprised to find myself laughing rather than groaning.) I had a book of stills from his films out of the library for a while in December and fell in love with some of the production shots from Madame Satan (especially) and Cleopatra.

The King of Kings, on the other hand, didn't really have outrageous costumes and most of the stills dealt with H.B. Warner's Christ in midshots and close-ups. I'm not sure what drove me to ask for the DVD for Christmas with so many other things out there to ask for (Fanny and Alexander, for instance). But, something intrigued me about this silent Jesus film.

So, what's my reaction to it? To be honest, I've only as of yet watched the roadshow version of the film, read the booklet, and skimmed over some of the extras. The film itself is full of moments of pure camp. Joseph Schildkraut's Judas seemed to me to be like a character from a modern day movie who wandered onto the set. Not only does he not look like one of the disciples, he just can't quite get the whole messiah thing that Jesus has going on. The conversion of Mary Magdalene, a scene with Peter catching a fish with a coin in its mouth and then being imitated by Roman soldiers, and several other scenes stick out to me as terribly campy.

But, the surprising thing is that the film seems to alternate between tones of high camp and moments of very real and heartfelt emotion and reverence. An especially good scene involves Jesus beginning to work a piece of wood in a carpenter's shop and then realize that it is the main beam for one of the crosses the carpenter is constructing for the Romans. The notes included that touch on the production of the film give a little insight into the screenplay, which was by and large the work of a very devoted female screenwriter in DeMille's studio. Also included, is a wonderful article from 1927 written by a reporter visiting the set of the film or the "Holy Land".

Finally, we are left with the most mind-boggling and expectedly the finest element of the film, which are the scenes involving crowds and earthquakes that DeMille is famous for actually having handled exceptionally well. He's definitely at the top of his form here in several scenes. The crucifixion is, of course, the centerpiece, but the earthquake that follows the death of Christ is ridiculous in scale. The scene where the veil of the temple is torn is magnificent. The sets are gigantic and lush, the crowds are a teeming, writhing single organism.

So, yes, I liked it a great deal and hope to watch the general release version too, to compare. The final three-strip Technicolor scene is amazing as well, with a huge flock of doves fluttering around Mary, Mary Magdelene and Jesus, landing on them and flying in and out of the tomb. I don't know that I have ever watched a movie that was as camp as this yet was constantly engaging my emotions.

I just thought I should write my impression of the film. I think it's a superb release by Criterion, which shouldn't get overlooked just because it came out in time to capitalize on the popularity of The Passion. I'd be thrilled to have someone else out there offer their thoughts on the release, pro or con.

I know I'm a little bit favorable toward DeMille, which is potentially pretty dangerous. Apparently Cecil kept his old films in the fridge, so this looks really good for 1927.

I think the problem with auteur theory as I understand it is that there are directors with an outstanding body of work which has been the product of a strong creative drive, bearing the fingerprints of the artist throughout, but who have been the target of critical disdain throughout their careers. DeMille was never fashionable with critics, but he's an auteur all the same. So is Ron Howard.

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#3 Post by zedz » Sat Jun 25, 2005 10:03 pm

Hrossa wrote:I think the problem with auteur theory as I understand it is that there are directors with an outstanding body of work which has been the product of a strong creative drive, bearing the fingerprints of the artist throughout, but who have been the target of critical disdain throughout their careers. DeMille was never fashionable with critics, but he's an auteur all the same. So is Ron Howard.
I think the problem with the auteur theory is that it's only the first step towards critical evaluation, and it's too often assumed to be the last. Just because a given director (or screenwriter, or producer, or cinematographer - there's another problem, right there) has a distinctive signature that can been traced throughout their body of work doesn't mean that they're a great artist. Claiming that De Mille is an auteur is barely more meaningful than claiming that King of Kings is a movie. OK, but is it a good movie? And why?

All of which reminds me that I've had this disc for about 6 months and haven't watched it yet. Tsk.

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#4 Post by Wes Moynihan » Mon Jun 27, 2005 6:26 am

I could be wrong here but doesn't SCORPIO RISING include a few scenes from this movie ?

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#5 Post by alandau » Mon Jun 27, 2005 7:54 am

Yes, Scorpio Rising does include a brief scene of H.B Warner aas the Christ.

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Re: 266 The King of Kings

#6 Post by knives » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:16 pm

At least the one comment about the film itself is quite excellent.

Overall this was fun and about as subversive as Ray's telling though sustained more throughout if never as loud. Even after her about face Mary still looks like she walked off a porn set. Her emphasis is also pretty fascinating and further suggests to me the absolute importance of Jeannie Macpherson to DeMille's cinema. Comparing this to some of the later epics without her suggests that a lot of the characterization and willingness to play around with things comes from her (also just after Manslaughter the matching of plot points really threw me). Though I could imagine that a lot of it came down with the code as even this relatively family friendly film has a lot of stuff that simply would not have passed a decade later. On the more critical end (I think this is fluffy enough that any overserious critique is pointless and I certainly would prioritize a lot of other DeMille's over this whatever its virtues may be) I do think the fusing of all the stories together makes this narratively incoherent a lot of the time in a way that is really annoying.

It's also a really pretty film to look at playing with lighting and intertitle usage in some snazzy ways. It's always amazing to watch some of these older films that really knew how to play up a sense of scale and DeMille naturally doesn't disappoint there even though the plot doesn't give him very many opportunities to show off on that level (I guess that's the problem with adapting the story of a poor guy). I guess that's why DeMille needed that gorgeous opening scene, shot in color and doused in that intense sense of the epic. The scene in its use of color perversely reminds me of Ivan the Terrible which I guess is as good as any a comparison point for a Jesus film.

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Re: 266 The King of Kings

#7 Post by FrauBlucher » Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:23 am

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