“For I say unto you, love your enemies; bless them who curse you; and pray for those who despise and persecute you! For if you love only those who love you, what reward shall you have?”
Ray and Yordan are at their best when humanizing iconic biblical events, such as the justly praised Sermon on the Mount sequence, and their intimate recreation of the Last Supper; less interesting are the massive battle scenes, which perhaps are expected fare in an epic drama but distract from the very real human story being told. Some have argued that too much time is spent showing the Romans’ reactions to Jesus’s growing popularity, but the actors in the key Roman roles — including Viveca Lindfors, Frank Thring, and Hurd Hatfield — are all enjoyable to watch, and their decadent lifestyle ultimately provides a nice contrast with that of the hard-working Jews. My favorite “Roman scene” shows the infamous Salome (played by Brigid Bazlen as a sexy teenage hussy) tempting her stepfather, King Harrod (Thring), into decapitating John the Baptist (a shaggy-headed Robert Ryan) and bringing her his head on a platter; while this vignette may not be substantiated by biblical scholars, it plays well on the screen! Ultimately, King of Kings will be of most interest either to Christians (who likely will be pleasantly surprised by how events are depicted) or fans of mid-century historical epics; for all-purpose film fanatics, it’s worth a look simply for its historical notoriety.
P.S. In 1980, Hunter was (perhaps unfairly) nominated by the Medved brothers as one of the worst actors to play Jesus Christ in a film — though he lost out on winning the Golden Turkey Award in this category to Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: