For decades this alliance has produced some of the most vivid and captivating movie epics in cinema history. During the silent film era, Cecil B. DeMille stunned the movie business and the world with The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927). DeMille remade his 1923 epic into the 1956 masterpiece starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. For some, DeMille’s rendition of Moses and the Exodus remains the standard by which to judge all subsequent pictures based on the Bible. For others, William Wyler’s remake of Ben-Hur in 1959 is the gold standard for all epics regardless of the story’s origin. The original version of the Ben Hur story had been released in 1926 after several uncredited directors and a troubled production; however, it unseated DeMille’s silent version of The Ten Commandments as the costliest movie of the silent era.
There are other biblical epics to boot, which my readers and followers may have seen in the theater or on television. Some of these lack the staying power of DeMille’s The Ten Commandments from 1956 or Wyler’s Ben-Hur from 1959; however, they deserve a mention since these exist because of the artists’ fascination with the biblical stories. Victor Mature starred in Samson and Delilah (1949), which made plenty of money while resembling the bible’s storyline only in the name. Richard Burton headlined the The Robe from 1953, wherein he played a Roman soldier haunted by participating in Christ’s crucifixion and the spiritual power contained in Christ’s robe. This picture never really convinces despite an intriguing premise. The best of this no-name bunch is Nicholas Ray’s vastly underrated depiction of the Christ story called King of Kings (1961). Ray’s version has eclipsed DeMille’s silent epic from 1927, and in my humble opinion, it remains Hollywood’s best effort at chronicling Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.
What is it about the bible that has inspired Hollywood’s best and brightest to keep going to it again and again and again? Anyone can supply any number of answers to that question. From my perspective, the bible contains darn, good stories. Some Hollywood artists have no affiliation for the God of the bible; however, they recognize a good story when they read one. The first five books of the Old Testament contain larger than life characters and events, which transcend any and all eras. How does a screenwriter, producer, director, or executive choose between Noah, Joseph, or Moses? Darren Aronofsky’s recent adaptation of Noah demonstrated how frightening the deluge may have been in those days. DeMille wowed audiences with the parting of the Red Sea and the writing of the Ten Commandments. The wonder and awe of those images more than likely fueled their passion in bringing Noah and Moses to life. It is virtually impossible not to have the mind blown away by such awesome displays of grandeur.
Personally, I would love to see a story made about Joseph. It might not be as epic as either Noah or Moses, but the drama is no less compelling, if not more so…Ten older brothers sell their second youngest sibling into slavery in the hopes that they would be rid of him and his dreams. In Egypt, Joseph rises to the second highest position in this Old World Empire. His once traitorous brothers travel to Egypt during a severe famine seeking food for their families, but they fail to recognize Joseph. How does the betrayed respond to his betrayers? Joseph recognizes them, but will he help them and by extension, his father, whom he has not seen in nearly two decades? Merely recounting this narrative from the book of Genesis stirs my heart and mind. I want to see a movie about Joseph. When will it be made? I know that a television miniseries had been made over a decade ago; however, I want to see this “small” story on the big screen. Come on Hollywood, get your act together, and allow your hearts to be pulled and stretched by the life of Joseph.