Last Sunday I was discussing with a friend some of the movies that had been made about the life of Jesus. This was touched off by a remark about Mel Gibson’s The Passion.
We remembered Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings, made in 1961. Some years earlier, in 1956, Hunter had played the role of Martin Pawley in the classic The Searchers. When he made King of Kings he still had youthful good looks, a fact not lost on the producers who included a lot of close-ups featuring Hunter’s blue eyes. This led some Hollywood wags to refer to the movie as I Was a Teenage Jesus.
Then there was Max Von Sydow, who played Jesus as an intense, morose man who only displays warmth and happiness when he is with children. That movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told, has remained in my mind from first viewing for two reasons: firstly, the number of big name stars in it, and secondly, that one of those stars was John Wayne. "How does John Wayne feature in a movie about the Christ?" I hear you ask. Suffice to say that he did not meet Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and say to him “Where are ya headed, pilgrim?” But more of that later.
The movie was made in 1965 and includes in the cast Charlton Heston, Jose Ferrer, Carroll Baker, Claude Rains, Richard Conte, Van Heflin, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowell, Sal Mineo, Sydney Poitier, Telly Savalas, Jamie Farr, and so on and so on…
When I first saw it, I waited for John Wayne to appear, wondering who he played (this was in the days before the internet or reading the back of a DVD box). The movie is 3 hours and 19 minutes in length. At about the 3 hour mark, everyone has forgotten about John Wayne. Instead, they are caught up in the climax of the film: the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Jesus suffers, asks why his God has forsaken him and finally commends his spirit to his Father. Even Nature reels at His death - there is darkness, thunder, lightning flshing...
I will not tell you what role was played by The Duke or when and how he appears; instead I will show you.
Click on the following link:
If you don't feel like watching the whole of a 10 minute clip, and fast forward to about the 8 minute mark and watch from there.
Don’t read further until you have viewed the above clip.
Being a perfectionist, the director of the movie, George Stevens did many takes of John Wayne’s single line, "Truly, this man was the son of God." A rumour has long persisted that at one stage Stevens pleaded with Wayne to show more emotion, an overwhelming sense of awe. During the next take, Wayne changed the line to, "Aw, truly this man was the son of God."
As a further point of interest, he was paid $250,000 for the role.