The Sound Era Arrives

DeMille's film was the last major Hollywood movie about the life of Jesus until the 1960s. Some of the biblical epics of the 1950s may have been set during Christ's lifetime, but they generally avoided showing him directly; in The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959), he is seen only from behind or from afar, and in Quo Vadis? (1951), he is seen in a brief, static flashback that is also a near-exact replica of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. By keeping the face of Jesus safely out of sight, or by adhering extremely closely to existing religious art in their depiction of him, these films were careful not to compromise his divinity.

The first major film to dramatize the life of Jesus in the sound era was King of Kings (1961), but director Nicholas Ray handled this material very hesitantly. Jesus himself appears in less than half of the film, which largely concerns itself with scenes of Roman authorities, Jewish rebels, and various supporting characters, such as the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. When Jesus himself does enter the story, he is often shot from behind: on some occasions, especially when he asserts his divine power and authority, only his shadow is depicted. As in DeMille's film, we are not supposed to sympathize with this objectified Jesus so much as let his gaze scrutinize us and convict us of our sinful imperfection. In a few scenes, such as when Jesus leans over the table to speak to Judas at the Last Supper or when he flicks his eyes up at Herod Antipas after the latter calls him a "faker," the camera does come in close on the faces of certain characters as Jesus looks at them, but the angle is generally too great to be considered a true point-of-view shot; however, the other characters ...

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