THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD was unmercifully ripped to shreds by the critics, as usually is the case with big-budget, highly publicized projects that don't quite measure up. It cost more than $20 million and included a cast of some of filmdom's biggest (though not necessarily best)
stars, and while it's not quite as bad as the critics claimed upon its release, it's not particularly good either. The story goes over familiar turf, with scenes including Christ's birth, the decree by Herod to slaughter all male children in Jerusalem, the flight into Egypt, John the Baptist
immersing Jesus, the gathering of the Apostles, John's death, Lazarus' resurrection, the money-lenders being chased from the temple, the Passover dinner that was to be Jesus' last supper, his crucifixion, and the ultimate resurrection. Von Sydow is as convincing as he can be under Stevens'
slogging direction. United Artists fully expected it to sweep the Oscars and hoped that would take it out of its financial doldrums. However all it garnered was nominations (Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects, as that was the year of
THE SOUND OF MUSIC, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, CAT BALLOU, DARLING, SHIP OF FOOLS, and THE GREAT RACE, some heavy competition. With so many well-known faces in the picture as insurance, it worked against the believability of the film as people just sat there and pointed to their favorites in tiny parts and
lost the thread of the narrative. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about John Wayne's appearance as the Roman centurion. His one line in the picture was: "Truly, this man was the Son of God." After a couple of attempts by Wayne, Stevens gently told him: "Duke, what we need in this line is
something more. Look up at the man and give us some ...some awe." Wayne nodded, Stevens signaled the cameras to begin rolling, and Wayne said: "Awww, truly this man was the Son of God." Shot on location in Utah and Arizona when they discovered that those places looked like what they thought
Palestine must have looked like at that time, it was a monumental shoot with thousands of extras, countless crew members and many arguments due to Stevens' penchant for re-takes. The overtime pay was larger than the regular salaries of many of the people involved. At one point, shooting went into
cold weather and snow marred the landscape of what was supposed to be a desert, and several snowplows had to be brought in, along with wheelbarrows, shovels, and butane flame throwers, to clear away the white stuff. Eventually, they had to move back to Hollywood and construct a huge replica of
Jerusalem, thereby sending the price even higher. With all the recutting, the movie eventually came down to just over two hours, but even that didn't bring the customers in. Until HEAVEN'S GATE, this had been the biggest bomb ever. Fox had originally paid $100,000 for Oursler's novel and he and
Denker had been using the Bible to make a fine living since 1947, when they began a radio show that depicted the stories in sort of a soap opera fashion. For the next 10 years, with more than 500 episodes, they let us in on Christ's life. That 10 years was substantially more time than Jesus
himself preached. The novel was issued in 1949, sold more than 3 million and Fox, which had great success with THE ROBE, thought they could do the same with this. Phillip Dunne, who had written the scripts for THE ROBE, DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, as well as DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, was approached
to write the adaptation for this, but declined and Stevens was brought in, at a fee of $1 million, to handle the producing and directing assignment.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD was unmercifully ripped to shreds by the critics, as usually is the case with big-budget, highly publicized projects that don't quite measure up. It cost more than $20 million and included a cast of some of filmdom's biggest (t… (more)