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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING . . . (1966)

John Huston’s longshot epic, a sort of Cook’s Tour of the Book of Genesis, has long suffered from a dicey rep. But the years have been unusually kind to it, making what’s good look very, very good and the bad never less than an interesting response to myth. Christopher Fry’s script doesn’t worry over indigestible elements in his holy source material and tries not to skew Old Testament ideas thru a New Testament lens. His slightly studied King James’ inflections can sound self-conscious, but at least don’t jar. Huston approaches the stories as a series of shorts (producer Dino De Laurentiis originally envisioned different directors for each ‘chapter’) which means every missteps really counts. So while he easily manages all the censorship issues in The Garden of Eden, and most of the artistic ones, an inability to get anything going between his amateur Eve & Michael Parks’ vocal-dubbed Adam nearly stops the show before Cain & Abel come along in a handsome, near-balletic treatment. There’s even more improvement once Huston shows up as a pitch-perfect Noah, natural gift with animals to the fore. (He also narrates and does the voice of God throughout the film.) The second half opens with a very cool looking ziggurat Tower of Babel, but plays out as unintentional parody with the splintering languages calling to mind the poor post-synchronized soundworld of Italian films of the period. But then George C. Scott & Ava Gardner take over the main dramatic arc of Abraham & Sarah for the rest of the film and all goes well. (Well, all but the destruction of Sodom via mushroom cloud; a little too on the nose.) Huston got lucky with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno; less so with composer Toshirô Mayuzumi, great in dissonant mode, not so much at religious uplift. But generally, Huston was pleased with the film, rightfully so.

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