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Saturday, January 29, 2011

KING OF KINGS (1927)

Cecil B. DeMille’s habitually stiff technique, with a bare handful of tracking shots and stately editing rhythms, passes quite effectively for devotional moviemaking in this version of the Christ story. The absence of dialogue helps DeMille concentrate on capturing a picture book quality that is often magical and impressive. So, even if a few Disciples overact and DeMille gifts Mary Magdalene with a leopard, most of the settings & portrayals are persuasive on their own terms. That is, on DeMille’s terms. H. B. Warner was already 51 when he played Jesus, as a few bad angles reveal, but he largely gets away with the impossible role while Joseph Schildkraut all but steals the film as Judas. (That’s his pop, Rudolph, as the High Priest Caiaphus, looking & acting more than a bit like Edward G. Robinson did when he played a similar role for DeMille 30 years later in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.) Criterion’s fine 2-disc DVD offers the 18 reel RoadShow edition (with an excellent new score from Donald Sosin) in addition to the 14 reel General Release print from 1928. The full cut is the one to go for, but at least sample the shorter version to hear some of Hugo Riesenfeld's original recorded score.

NOTE: While the general release print only uses 2-strip TechniColor for the Resurrection, the RoadShow version has an extra color sequence right at the opening. The shared TechniColor sequence looks entirely different in each print with a somber tint in the general release and a more vibrant, if more deteriorated, surviving copy from the RoadShow. Flaws and all, the RoadShow print comes much closer to showing what the process originally looked like

READ ALL ABOUT IT: The new DeMille bio, EMPIRE OF DREAMS, by Scott Eyman, is a heady achievement about a master filmmaker who many find tough to take seriously. But master he was, especially during his first decade, and Eyman bends over backwards to put the best face on much of his output & contradictions.

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