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Samuel Bronston’s epics, including El Cid, 55 Days at Peking and The Fall of the Roman Empire, have one irrefutable virtue—great dance floors. In his King of Kings, perhaps the pièce de résistance is the mosaic of red, black and yellow used for Herod’s palace, a real scene-stealer created by set designer Georges Wakhévitch, one of Sam’s fellow Russian comrades. This floor is kitsch on its way to objet d’ artsy fartsiness. The other attributes in this movie are the Last Supper wood tables forming a Y shape, and Ron Randell and his hair—simply the sexiest Roman and Roman cut ever to grace a togafest. As for the rest of it, there’s blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter going passive gooey as Jesus, in typically safe white image, but if you’re acting against Frank Thring as Herod Antipas in a beard of gray curls, you need whatever it takes as antidote. Which is an unusual dilemma because aficionados of epics have in Thring their favorite sissy: in his American début in 1958’s The Vikings he feigns a quarter millimeter of desire to procreate with top-heavy Janet Leigh; in Ben-Hur he’s Pontius Pilate given footage to flaunt his characteristics in the arena; and in El Cid he’s the shifty-eyed Al Kadir with earrings and turban. He only has to open his slush-on-tongue mouth for the fem to slip out; insider funny, his muliebrity and ever-calculating sinister voice are used against big screen machos as droll escape. He doesn’t get the same caliber of chuckles as Herod, if he gets any at all for his slurping and panting the fake hots for Salomé; director Nicholas Ray might have requested Thring to hold down his “particular talents.” Siobhán McKenna is a few decades passed playing a pregnant Mary. There’s a load of overly familiar contemporaries—Robert Ryan, Hurd Hatfield, Harry Guardino, Royal Dano and Rip Torn, all of whom look like they’re doing penance. Viveca Linfors and Rita Gam are in too many conehead hairdos and headsets and Spanish diva Carmen Sevilla dubbed to irrelevance. Gregoire Aslan’s Herod is somewhat like John Barrymore coming back from the future as Tom Baker’s Rasputin from Nicholas and Alexandra. Music by Miklós Rozsa; murals by Maciek Piotrowski; Ray Milland voices Satan; the narration written by Ray Bradbury and recited by Orson Welles, whose voice you begin to miss when not heard. No Oscar nominations but the big winner at the 1961 Harvard Lampoon honors: Worst movie (tied with Troy Donahue’s Parrish); Worst Supporting Actor (Ryan); Worst All-Around Performance By a Cast in Toto; and The Greatest Setback to Christianity Since The Robe. In SUPER TECHNIRAMA 70. (Opening 10/18/1961 at the Michael Todd, running 18 weeks.)


Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.