With Easter and Passover here I thought it would be nice to put together a list of some famous ( and rarer ) classic religious films. I have such fond memories of watching these movies, especially David and Bathsheba and Ben-Hur.
When I was a youngster, my family would often go to Our Lady of Lourdes prior to Easter. This is a religious site located outside of Cleveland that houses a shrine, chapel and refractory as well as walking paths with stations of the cross along the way. There is a spring of water in a grotto that passes over a stone, and many make pilgrimages here to get this holy water, for this stone was where the Virgin Mary stood upon when she made her appearance to Bernadette in Lourdes, France. Many miracles have occurred here. It was then that I would watch these great films, many times during homeschool. Such happy memories!
The Ten Commandments ( 1956 ) - I always look forward to ABC's yearly airing of this film. Knowing every line that the actors are going to say does not lessen the enjoyment of the movie. Charlton Heston is wonderful as Moses. He certainly made it difficult for future actors to portray this character with as much passion. And one of my favorite actresses, Martha Scott, plays his Hebrew mother. Three years later Charlton and her would team up again as mother and son in Ben-Hur. Cecil B. DeMille probably knew he had a great film in the making but I doubt he knew it would become this legendary ..... or maybe he did.
Samson and Delilah ( 1949 ) - It is a shame that Hedy Lamarr's acting ability was downplayed by critics, for this film ( as well as H.M Pulham Esq ) give evidence to how well she can indeed act. Victor Mature stars as the famous long-haired Samson, with other roles going to Angela Lansbury ( a different part for her ), George Sanders, and a young Russ Tamblyn.
The Story of Ruth ( 1960 ) - How can they make a movie over two hours in length on one of the shortest books of the Bible? By elaborating on the story, of course....which they did very well here. Rather than have Naomi's husband and children killed from disease, the film has these characters die in the hands of Moabite soldiers who are against them for trying to preach their Judian God to their high priestess Ruth ( Elena Eden ), who worships a stone idol. I doubt this was taken from historical records, but the film was enjoyable nonetheless and it visually conveyed the theme of kinsmanship so predominant in that book.
David and Bathsheba ( 1951 ) - A wonderful screen telling of one of the most famous Biblical figures, King David. The film has a focus on his adulteress relationship with the beautiful Bathsheba ( alas, adultery is great for the box-office ), but it covers his childhood in flashback as well. Gregory Peck is always good to see, and Susan Hayward reached her beauteous peak at this time. James Robertson Justice plays his right-hand man Abishai, and Jayne Meadows plays David's wife, Michal.
Solomon and Sheba ( 1959 ) - Yul Brynner stars as David's son, the mighty Solomon who becomes king in place of his brother, the hot-headed Adonijah ( George Sanders ). Gina Lollobrigida plays a voluptuous the Queen of Sheba. Not only is the film about a king, but it was filmed by one too...King Vidor.
Esther and the King ( 1960 ) - If you can imagine Joan Collins playing Esther, then you'll like this movie...otherwise it's a far stretch from the beautiful Bible story. Richard Egan costars as the King who chooses her among all the others in his harem to be his wife.
Other Old testament films: A Story of David ( 1961 ) starring Jeff Chandler, and The Story of Joseph and his Brethren ( 1961 ).
The Prodigal ( 1955 )- Based on the parable of the prodigal son, this film stars Lana Turner, Louis Calhern, and Edmund Purdom as the titular wayward one. Edmund Purdom played in several biblical films as well as in The Egyptian which told the story of an architect of Pharaoh's tomb. In 1997 he hosted a religious documentary called The Seven Signs of Christ's Return. The Prodigal was engrossing, but Lana Turner was miscast as she fits better in more contemporary settings.
Barabbas ( 1962 ) - There's something about this movie I really liked, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. Anthony Quinn plays the pardoned criminal Barabbas whom the crowds chose over Jesus Christ. The film fantasizes on his conversion to Christianity and his turn as a gladiator. Very entertaining.
The Big Fisherman ( 1959 ) - This was an independent production starring Howard Keel as the disciple Simon Peter, also with Susan Kohner, Martha Hyer and Herbert Lom. Oddly enough, the movie was distributed through Disney's own Buena Vista company, but it certainly did not have a Disney flair to it. In spite of its wonderful cast, the film fails to make an impression.
The King of Kings ( 1961 ) - Jeffrey Hunter stars in this film retelling of the life of Christ. Hunter always gives his all in any performance and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, it's so true-to-life that the brutality of the events are difficult to watch. Filmed in Super-Technirama and costarring Robert Ryan, Siobhan McKenna and Hurd Hatfield.
Some other major productions :
Ben-Hur ( 1959 ) - The life of one Judah Ben-Hur, a prince in Jerusalum, who gets sent to work as a galley slave aboard a Roman flagship, and his conversion to Christianity. The most famous scene is undoubtedly the chariot race between Judah and Messala, but my favorite part is at the end, where Judah's mother and sister come forth from the leprosy cave and are cured by the rain. The music is particularly poignant at this scene. This movie deserved all the Oscars it got, it is such a masterpiece.
The Robe ( 1953 ) - A cinema classic about one of Christ's executioners who later repents and dies for being a Christian. The very first film made in Cinemascope, the movie has a beautiful score by Alfred Newman, gorgeous Technicolor, excellent actors, and is based on the famous Lloyd C. Douglas bestseller. Can't get much better than that!
Demetrius and the Gladiators ( 1954 ) - This sequel to The Robe has the former slave Demetrius spiraling into a web of sin after he believes God permitted his lover ( Debra Paget ) to die needlessly. Victor Mature reprises his former role, Susan Hayward plays a woman who has her eye on Demetrius, and Richard Egan costars.
Quo Vadis ( 1951 ) - A splendid epic about a Roman soldier who dies along with the Christian girl he loves. Peter Ustinov gives a wonderful performance as the mad Nero, thoroughly enjoying the feast for the lions. The movie is very similar to The Sign of the Cross but this was much more entertaining.
IT'S A MIRACLE!
The Song of Bernadette ( 1943 ) - The story of the French girl ( Jennifer Jones ) who saw the apparition of " a beautiful lady" the Virgin Mary in a city dump in 1858. Charles Bickford costars.
Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ( 1952 ) - This film tells the true story of three Portuguese children who saw the Virgin Mary in a field. The acting is simple but all concerned paint a compelling picture.
The Miracle ( 1959 ) - Carroll Baker plays a nun who breaks her vows to follow a soldier, none other than Roger Moore ( at least she had the decency to pick a Saint ).
Francis of Assisi ( 1961 ) - A lovely film depicting the life of the famous saint who renounced the world to begin a life of austerity. Dolores Hart co-stars. Hart would later renounce the glamour of Hollywood to become a nun herself.
PREACHERS AND TEACHERS
A Man Called Peter ( 1955 ) - The life of Washington D.C's chaplain Peter Marshall as portrayed by Richard Todd. A beautiful Alfred Newman score highlights this film.
I'd Climb the Highest Mountain ( 1951 ) - The trails and tribulations of a Methodist minister ( William Lundigan ) and his wife ( Susan Hayward ). It's very similar to One Foot in Heaven ( 1941 ) starring Fredric March.
One Man's Way ( 1964 ) - The story of a crime reporter who becomes a priest. Sound familiar? It's the life of Norman Vincent Peale ( played by Don Murray )
Martin Luther ( 1953 ) - The life of Martin Luther, the first Protestant. This film was actually made by Lutheran Church Productions...a rare one, indeed.
AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS
Come to the Stable ( 1949 ) - A touching and equally amusing tale of two French nuns ( Loretta Young and Celeste Holm ) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and their quest to raise funds to build a hospital. Fine performances from a great cast make this a memorable classic.
Black Narcissus ( 1947 ) - Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's masterpiece about nuns in a remote Tibetan convent has Kathleen Byron struggling with sexual passion, Deborah Kerr facing morale difficulties, and Jean Simmons playing a young native girl.
A Nun's Story ( 1959 )- Audrey Hepburn plays a newly entered nun, who gets sent to the Congo, where she begins to realize this probably wasn't her calling. African heat has the most unexpected effects on a person.
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison ( 1957 ) - Deborah Kerr once again dons the habit, this time as a nun stranded on a secluded Pacific Island with Robert Mitchum during WWII.
Conspiracy of Hearts ( 1960 ) - A sweet, but nail-biting, film about a group of nuns who risk their life to rescue Jewish children from Nazi soldiers. Lilli Palmer gives a wonderful performance, as does the rest of the cast.
The Trouble with Angels ( 1966 )- Hayley Mills and June Harding play two girls making trouble at a private Catholic school. Fun and touching at the same time...and, believe it or not, Rosalind Russell does a very convincing portrayal of a Mother Superior.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness ( 1958 ) - The biography of Gladys Aylward , a missionary in China, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman. It is a long film but entertaining nonetheless. This also marked the last performance of the great English actor Robert Donat.
Hawaii ( 1966 ) - A ( rather boring ) epic about a missionary in Hawaii during the early 1800s. Max Von Sydow and Julie Andrews star.
Keys of the Kingdom ( 1944 ) - A young Gregory Peck stars in this film about a Scottish priest in China and the dilemmas he faces. The large supporting cast and great cinematography support this classic.
A Few extra titles to explore...
The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Bible, Going My Way, The Bells of St.Marys, God is my Co-Pilot, Miracle of the Bells, and The Left Hand of God.
Do you have any particular Easter favorites? Share them with us!
Have a blessed Easter!