For many infidels, the Jesus movie of choice remains Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 The King of Kings. This silent blockbuster was recently screened at the American Museum of the Moving Image in a stunning Eastman House archival print and is scheduled for cablecast May 25 on Turner Classic Movies. It’s also available on a Kino VHS. More daring than Life of Brian, it features a flapper Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) as the nearly bare-breasted vamp of the Nazarenes (and, it is naughtily suggested, Judas’s lady). The madcap vo-dee-oh-doh ambience subsides around the time that Jesus (H.B. Warner) restores a blind tyke’s sight. Not surprisingly, given DeMille’s own showmanship, The King of Kings is heavy on miracles. It’s also thoroughly American—sentimental yet tolerant. DeMille imagined Jews would be pleasantly surprised to learn that Jesus was one of them and was then unpleasantly surprised by organized protests demanding he redress the issue of Jewish culpability. Thus, after Jesus’s death occasions a full-scale earthquake, Caiaphas (sometime Yiddish actor Rudolph Schildkraut) runs into the temple and falls on his knees: “Lord God Jehovah, visit not Thy wrath on Thy people Israel—I alone am guilty!” Unlike many of the other interti-tles, this one is not sourced; it’s the gospel according to CBD. Mel ought to read it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2004