The Greatest Story Ever Told

1965

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

38%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 21

64%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 9,652
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Movie Info

Filmmaker George Stevens chose Monument Valley, Utah for his exterior sequences in The Greatest Story Ever Told, this ($20 million) adaptation of Fulton Oursler's best-selling book. The "Greatest Story" is, of course, the life of Jesus Christ, played herein by Max Von Sydow. The large supporting cast includes Dorothy McGuire as Mary, Claude Rains as Herod the Great, Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Donald Pleasence as Satan (identified only as "The Dark Hermit"), David McCallum as Judas Iscariot, Sidney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate and Martin Landau as Caiaphas. Even Robert Blake as Simon the Zealot, Jamie Farr as Thaddaeus, and motorcyle-flick veteran Richard Bakalyan as Dismas, the repentant thief, are well-suited to their roles. Originally roadshown at 260 minutes, Greatest Story Ever Told was later available in a 195-minute version.

Cast

Telly Savalas
as Pontius Pilate
José Ferrer
as Herod Antipas
John Wayne
as Roman Centurion
Robert Blake
as Simon the Zealot
Claude Rains
as Herod the Great
Marian Seldes
as Herodias
Rodolfo Acosta
as Captain of Lancers
Michael Ansara
as Herod's commander
Joseph V. Perry
as Archelaus
Charlton Heston
as John the Baptist
Donald Pleasence
as The Dark Hermit
Michael Anderson Jr.
as James the Younger
David Sheiner
as James the Elder
Jamie Farr
as Thaddaeus
Peter Mann
as Nathaniel
Tom Reese
as Thomas
Johnny Seven
as Pilate's aide
Paul Stewart
as Questor
Harold J. Stone
as Gen. Varus
Mark Lenard
as Balthazar
Joanna Dunham
as Mary Magdalene
Janet Margolin
as Mary of Bethany
Ina Balin
as Martha of Bethany
Carroll Baker
as Veronica
Pat Boone
as Man at Tomb
Sal Mineo
as Uriah
Van Heflin
as Bar Armand
Ed Wynn
as Old Aram
Shelley Winters
as Woman of No Name
Chet Stratton
as Theophilius
John Lupton
as Speaker of Capernaum
Abraham Sofaer
as Joseph of Arimathaea
Martin Landau
as Caiaphas
Robert Busch
as Emissary
John Crawford
as Alexander
Sidney Poitier
as Simon of Cyrene
Richard Conte
as Barabbas
Frank de Kova
as Tormentor
John Pickard
as Peter's 2nd Accuser
Celia Lovsky
as Woman behind railings
Mickey Simpson
as Rabble rouser
Richard Bakalyan
as Good Thief on Cross
Marc Cavell
as Bad Thief on Cross
Renata Vanni
as Weeping woman
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Critic Reviews for The Greatest Story Ever Told

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (8) | Rotten (13)

  • The prophets should speak with respect of this $20 million Biblical epic.

    Nov 13, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • By reputation, the results are so dull and so consistently undercut by a succession of star cameos that no one seems to mind the various shorter versions released since them, one of them less than half as long.

    Nov 13, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Interminable and intolerably reverential.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Mr. Stevens has done it in a generous and often stunning style. And the quality of his reverence should captivate the piously devout.

    May 9, 2005 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…
  • Mr. Stevens says he tried to avoid "the clichés and the usual trappings connected with Biblical productions" and to "think the story out anew and present it as living literature." His effort was unsuccessful, one might say spectacularly so.

    Aug 13, 2019 | Full Review…
  • The massive ensemble of stars and the attention to biblical detail makes this quite an undertaking... for the makers and the viewers. Long, strong and Jesusy.

    Jun 20, 2019 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Greatest Story Ever Told

  • Nov 04, 2012
    A very fast and incomplete story of the life of Jesus, many facts left out but still worth 4 stars/
    Bruce B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 31, 2012
    No wonder Max von Sydow's dies so much onscreen; he recreated the deaths to end all deaths, or sins, rather, and after that, you can expect that to show up on your resume. Yeah, I know that it looks as though he's the only Jesus that's dying all the time, but really, Willem Dafoe has had some other pretty iconic deaths, Jeffrey Hunter really did die, and as for Robert Powell, well he might be dead too, because we haven't seen him in forever. I think the only reason why Jim Caviezel is in the clear is because he's not in enough stuff to get killed, and the reason why Christian Bale is way in the clear is because he played Jesus in a movie no one saw, and plus, come on, you don't kill Christian Bale. In "Mary, Mother of Jesus", they probably cut out the scene where, three days later, Jesus wasn't so much resurrected as much as he just woke up from a nap; and thus the sunday nap was born. Yeah, maybe that did sound kind of discomforting, but hey, it's no more awkward then the time Dennis Schwartz criticised this film by saying, "If this is the greatest story ever told I can imagine how horrid is the worst story ever told." Jeez dude, calm down, this is Jesus we're talking about, so show a little respect... even though that was undeniably kind of clever. Well, I certainly don't think that this film is bad (Although, he might not either, because he still gave the film just a D), yet there's no denying that there are definately plenty of missteps that really help in keeping this film from coming close to living up to that pretty bold proclamation in the title. This film isn't quite like today's meditative films, where they focus so much on style that the substance is rendered dry, boring and all but emptied of total compellingness (And yet, they're still, more often than not, pretty good), but make no mistake, this is with a meditative tone. It should go without even considering saying that this story is a worthy one, but the problem is that George Stevens isn't going to let you forget that, meditating upon his portrayal of this tale too carefully to where the substance, while not even mildly as diluted as those of today's meditative films, is still diluted just enough for the storytelling to feel very matter-of-fact. It really does feel as though director George Stevens is telling "the greatest story ever told", giving every fact a kind of atmospheric glow that doesn't look to earn your investment in the story as a film, but to give you some kind of history lesson, and with that history lesson running a whopping 199 minutes, you can expect things to get a touch repetitive, though I wouldn't consider this film a touch repetitive; I would consider it "quite" repetitive, and not in story structure, but in tone. The film keeps a constant tone that rarely shifts, even with a mammoth runtime, and to make matters worse, it is very much that matter-of-fact, overly meditative tone that stands as most prominent. The film sqanders steam, little by little, as it progresses, and while it will catch second wind enough throughout the film to keep its stamina, there's no getting around disappointment in a long story, and worthy one at that. Of course, that disappointment is not to be found with this film, which isn't to say that the film doesn't stand to be better. It is a certainly improvable film, but a rewarding one at the end of the day, from, if nothing else, an aesthetic standpoint, because although it may have more substance than some of your newer meditative films, that doesn't mean that the style that all but defines today's meditative film didn't get a lot of focus back in the '60s. Loyal Griggs' and William C. Mellor' cinematography on the film is pretty top-notch, being well-lit and carefully staged to pump the atmosphere with an epic, sweeping scope that compliments the fabulous and dyanmic production designs. Jesus and his disciples crossed the wealthy and the poor in this long lost world and time that is recreated subtley, yet noticably in this film, which pulls you into the world and sets a sense of adventure and sweep, even if that tone stands to be very much intensified. George Stevens does not provide enough tradition story substance into this project to make it truly sweeping and impacting, yet he's workmanlike enough for you to still take notice of the truly impressive and effective aspects, of which there are many. The film has been deemed boring for its lack of oomph in the substance, and while I do agree that there's plenty to be desired when it comes to the substance, I find the film to, in fact, be consistently entertaining, with one of the key aspects that particularly power the product being, believe it or not, Alfred Newman's score, which is nothing if not magnificent. The slow-crawl opening credits run close to, if not over 5 minutes, yet you're enthralled the whole way through by Newman's stellar composition, which then proceeds to stand prominent all throughout the film and help in making it so very engaging and enjoyable, which isn't to say that the performances aren't right there up with the score in that engagement-earning department. I would first like to mention the late Charlton Heston, not just because it's kind of cool seeing Ben-Hur actually hang out with Jesus instead of just get water from him, but because, even with my respect and appreciation for Heston, I feel as though he hit the occasional low note (Like "Planet of the Overact-I mean "Apes"), but with all the talks of him hamming it up a John the Baptist, I feel that his performance, while nothing to write home about, is still pretty sharp and charismatic, something that can be said about most everyone in the cast, though none much more so than leading man Max von Sydow. Even with that broad jaw that Jesus apparently had (Seriously, why do they keep getting broad-jawed people to play Jesus?), von Sydow's casting feels like an improvable one, appearance-wise, yet he transcends that by nailing that kind of powerful, yet subtle charisma and presence of brilliant, spiritual nobility and leadership that defined the definitive religious leader with grace and transformativeness that quietly draws you in and earns your investment, making him a satisfying portrayer of such a near-impossible-to-embody icon, as well as a compelling lead in this awesome testament to his acting abilities. In the end of the beginning, this worthy project goes tainted by George Stevens' repetitive, meditative and matter-of-fact storytelling that leaves the substance diluted to the point of often feeling like a history lesson, but the film is not at all the bore people claim it to be, being powered by intrigue forged from the sweeping production and cinematography, as well as Alfred Newman's stellar score and a colorful ensemble cast, with Max von Sydow giving a subtle, graceful and satisfyingly transformative lead performances that helps in making "The Greatest Story Ever Told" a consistently entertaining and fascinating study on the rise of the King of Kings. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Apr 13, 2009
    An overly long version of Christ's story. Von Sydow is great as Jesus, but hearing the Duke's voice as the Centurion pissed me off for some reason.
    Red L Super Reviewer
  • Apr 23, 2008
    The Easter story - for real - with every acting gun Hollywood could get in it, in it. This Biblical retelling, heavy with Catholic iconography, borrows from the New Testament liberally and treats the source material with reverence - perhaps the best screen version of this story going. Von Sydow's interpretation is solid and non-invasive, and every shot looks as if it were taken from a museum quality painting.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer

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