GOD, HOW TRIVIAL! from Rubber Spears to the Ban on Jesus in the Canteen ... 30 Gospel Truths about Easter Films

Daily Mail (London), April 22, 2011 | Go to article overview

GOD, HOW TRIVIAL! from Rubber Spears to the Ban on Jesus in the Canteen ... 30 Gospel Truths about Easter Films


Byline: DAVE KENNY

IT is Easter weekend and we'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to TV, with a host of Jesus-related movies over the next few days. When it comes to film-making, religion is big business. So, for those of you who don't know your Jesus Of Nazareth from your Greatest Story Ever Told, here are 30 things, courtesy of DAVE KENNY, that you never knew about religious movies.

Our Lord first appeared on celluloid in The Life And Passion Of Jesus Christ (1902). It was made by the Pathe company and concludes with a (very wobbly) ascension to Heaven.

With the exception of Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty, God has generally been cast as a white man. The Green Pastures (1936) bucked this trend when it featured an all-black cast, with Rex Ingram playing the Lord. The film began with a 'disclaimer' to make it palatable to white audiences: 'Thousands of Negroes visualise God and Heaven in terms of people and things they know in their everyday life...'

1912's From The Manger To The Cross was the first religious epic to be shot on location in the Holy Land. Its success landed it profits of [euro]65million.

In Cecil B DeMille's 1927 version of The King Of Kings, the actor playing Jesus is more than 20 years older than the actress playing his mother.

In 1953's The Robe, the Messiah is played by the film's (anonymous) second unit director. This meant the unfortunate man had to perform his normal duties in full costume. Worse still, he wasn't allowed to eat in the canteen. Studio chiefs felt it was inappropriate for 'Jesus' to be seen consuming a sandwich in public.

Comedy legend George Burns gave us one of the most likeable portrayals of a cigar-chomping deity in Oh God. He's not the only Hollywood legend to have puffed on a heavenly cheroot. Robert Mitchum also played God as a cigar-smoker in 1992 Benelux comedy Les Sept Peches Capitaux.

The Ten Commandments was the highest-grossing religious film of all time ([euro]340million) until The Passion of The Christ passed it by in 2004. Mel Gibson's film earned [euro]420,225, 890 worldwide - making it the topgrossing indie movie ever.

TV cartoon series God, The Devil And Bob - starring James Garner and Alan Cumming - portrayed the Almighty as a beerswilling, ex-hippie, not unlike Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The uproar from fundamentalist Christian groups in the States caused the plug to be pulled after just three episodes.

Given this country's devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the role of Jesus's mother had to go to an Irishwoman at some stage. Belfast-born Siobhan McKenna landed the part in 1961's King Of Kings. The film has a few noticeable gaffes. In one scene, as the Romans enter Jerusalem, the tops of their spears flap about because they were made of rubber.

Despite being Jewish, Jesus is often played by actors with blue eyes. The most striking examples are Robert Powell (Jesus Of Nazareth), pictured, Jeffrey Hunter (King Of Kings) and Scandinavian Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told).

The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) is still critically acclaimed as a groundbreaking portrayal of Jesus's life. It was directed by the homosexual, atheist, Marxist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Given his unorthodox credentials, the movie's dedication is surprising. It's to the man who inspired the film: Pope John XXIII. Pasolini was murdered in mysterious circumstances in 1975.

Zombie Jesus! (2007) is one of the sickest comedy twists on the Jesus story. It has Christ returning from the dead to feast on human brains. Tagline: 'Prepare to be converted.' This should have been converted, to the cutting-room floor.

The Life Of Brian, from the Monty Python team, caused a furore when it was released in 1979. Some 39 local authorities in Britain either imposed an outright ban or an X certificate on the film, which was banned here until 1987. This is the only 'religious' film ever to feature a stoning scene with men dressed as women dressed as men.

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