Easter Movies on TCM: The Resurrection and more
The great annual celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord will be marked by Turner Classic Movies with excellent — and otherwise — biblical epics.
—11 p.m.: Ben Hur (1959). The sturdy “tale of the Christ” written by General Lew Wallace became a showcase for one of Charlton Heston’s iconic roles as Judah ben Hur, the Jewish prince reduced to slavery through the machinations of his friend, Messala. The superb series of paintings of 19th century French portraitist J. J. Tissot are the basis for the final part of the film dealing with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The art direction, Miklos Rosza’s beautiful score and Heston’s lead actor performance accounted for three of the film’s 11 Oscars.
—11 a.m.: Quo Vadis (1951). Roman tribune Marcus Vinicius, drawn to the beauty and tenderness of Lygia, a Christian maiden, challenges the might of the Emperor Nero in this sincere, well-made version of the novel by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz. Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov as Nero star with Finley Currie bringing a Scottish burr to his characterization of Simon Peter.
—2:45 a.m.: The Silver Chalice (1954). Based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain, the film was made notorious when Paul Newman took out a full-page ad in Variety begging people not to watch when it debuted on TV in 1959. The story traces the life of Basil, adopted son of a rich Roman merchant sold into slavery, who becomes a famous silversmith. Freed by Joseph of Arimathea, Basil is given the task of preserving the likenesses of Jesus and the 12 Apostles for a large silver chalice created as a reliquary for the Holy Grail. Jack Palance has a field day hamming it up as the evil Simon Magus, intent on showing up Peter the Apostle (Lorne Green) by destroying the Grail. There is lots of unintentional humor, but enjoy Alexander Scourby’s amiable portrayal of St. Luke.
—5 a.m.: Barabbas (1962). Based on the 1950 novel by Swedish novelist Pär Lagerkvist, this thoughtful film recounts the later life of the man who was pardoned in place of Jesus, as he attempts to understand why he was spared. Anthony Quinn stars with Sylvana Magano, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy as Pilate and British actor Harry Andrews as Simon Peter. An actual total solar eclipse formed the background for the Crucifixion scenes.
—7:30 a.m.: The Big Fisherman (1959). Simon Peter gets his own story, based on the first half of Lloyd C. Douglas’ novel, a sequel to “The Robe.” Howard Keel is perfectly cast as Peter but the film gets lost in the subplot of Fara (Susan Kohner), daughter of the Herod Antipas’ first wife, attempting to avenge her mother by killing Antpas, played by the always enjoyable Herbert Lom. Some good moments but it could have been so much more.
—10:30 a.m.: King of Kings (1961). Director Nicholas Ray’s attempt to tell the life of Christ is basically sound but there are a few script problems (writer Philip Yordan came to the production after it had begun, finding the screenplay consisting of nothing more than pages typed out from the Gospels). The film is helped immensely by Miklos Rosza’s fine score, less so by the Virgin Mary’s (Siobhán McKenna) Irish brogue.
—1:30 p.m.: The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Despite cameos by major Hollywood actors, director George Stevens’ version of the life of Christ (Max von Sydow) remains static, especially after the death of John the Baptist (Charlton Heston, who brought much energy to his part). Dorothy McGuire plays the Virgin Mary; Joseph Schildkraut, who’d played Judas in De Mille’s silent “The King of Kings,” is Nicodemus; and Claude Rains exudes evil as Herod the Great in his last film role. One thing to notice: Calvary is accurately shown as a smooth, rocky, gray rise just outside Jerusalem’s city gates, explaining why the Gospels call it “the skull place.”
Sean M. Wright presents workshops and enrichment courses in Catholic topics at parishes throughout the archdiocese. He replies to comments sent him at Locksley69@aol.com.