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HISTORY

King of Kings began as a collaboration between producer Samuel Bronston and writer-director John Farrow, the two of whom had recently worked together on John Paul Jones (1959, see entry). Farrow’s script, based on the life of Jesus Christ, was originally titled Son of Man and, later, The Sword and the Cross, as noted in DV on 14 Sep 1959. One month later, the 14 Oct 1959 Var and 23 Oct 1959 DV announced that Farrow had left the project over creative differences, but stated that his co-writer, Sonya Levien, was still discussing the script with Bronston. Around the same time, set construction had nearly been completed at Chamartin (a.k.a. Samuel Bronston Studios) and Sevilla Studios in Madrid, Spain. Bronston initially sought King Vidor to replace Farrow, but the 19 Nov 1959 DV announced Nicholas Ray as director. Soon after, another title change to Man from Nazareth was reported in the 11 Dec 1959 DV, which also stated that Philip Yordan and Diego Fabri were hurrying to finish a “complete rewrite” of the script in time for a Feb 1960 start of production. A final title change to King of Kings was noted in a 12 Feb 1960 DV news brief.
       The budget, cited as $6 million in the 20 Apr 1960 LAT, was financed independently. Corporations providing funding included DuPont and a Venezuelan oil company, as stated in the 16 Mar 1960 DV. Pierre DuPont’s contribution amounted to $1.375 million, according to a 12 Oct 1960 Var item; ... More Less

King of Kings began as a collaboration between producer Samuel Bronston and writer-director John Farrow, the two of whom had recently worked together on John Paul Jones (1959, see entry). Farrow’s script, based on the life of Jesus Christ, was originally titled Son of Man and, later, The Sword and the Cross, as noted in DV on 14 Sep 1959. One month later, the 14 Oct 1959 Var and 23 Oct 1959 DV announced that Farrow had left the project over creative differences, but stated that his co-writer, Sonya Levien, was still discussing the script with Bronston. Around the same time, set construction had nearly been completed at Chamartin (a.k.a. Samuel Bronston Studios) and Sevilla Studios in Madrid, Spain. Bronston initially sought King Vidor to replace Farrow, but the 19 Nov 1959 DV announced Nicholas Ray as director. Soon after, another title change to Man from Nazareth was reported in the 11 Dec 1959 DV, which also stated that Philip Yordan and Diego Fabri were hurrying to finish a “complete rewrite” of the script in time for a Feb 1960 start of production. A final title change to King of Kings was noted in a 12 Feb 1960 DV news brief.
       The budget, cited as $6 million in the 20 Apr 1960 LAT, was financed independently. Corporations providing funding included DuPont and a Venezuelan oil company, as stated in the 16 Mar 1960 DV. Pierre DuPont’s contribution amounted to $1.375 million, according to a 12 Oct 1960 Var item; in exchange, DuPont was set to receive “92% of the partnership profits” up to $1.5 million, followed by eighty-five percent of said profits in excess of that amount. The 5 Oct 1960 Var later reported that the budget had climbed to $8.5 million, although an item in the 21 Dec 1960 LAT claimed the film was “brought in for $7.5 million.”
       Bronston received approval from Pope John XXIII, who met with the producer at the Vatican in early Mar 1960, as reported in the 9 Mar 1960 Var. New Testament authorities were said to have approved the screenplay before the Pope “blessed the production and urged Catholic support.”
       Maximilian Schell, Grace Kelly, and Nehemiah Persoff were sought for roles, according to the 12 Feb 1960, 15 Apr 1960, and 19 Apr 1960 DV. Richard Burton’s casting as “Lucius, The Centurion” was announced in the 10 Mar 1960 DV, but Burton did not remain with the project long. On 28 Apr 1960, DV reported the actor had left over billing disputes, after Bronston refused him “100% billing with the title.” The 21 Apr 1960 LAT listed James Mason as a top contender for the role of “Pontius Pilate,” ultimately portrayed by Hurd Hatfield. Jocelyn Brando was cast in the role of “Martha,” according to a 30 Aug 1960 DV brief, but the actress did not remain with the project. Also listed as cast members in the 13 Apr 1960 Var, 22 Jul 1960 and 27 Jul 1960 LAT were Walter Maslow, Abraham Sofaer, Fernando Rey, Barry Roomans (set to play the apostle “James”), Simon Mizrahi (“James, the Younger”), Jean Moraes (“Nathaniel”), David Moss (“Phillip”), Milo Quesada (“Simon”), and Bud Straight (“Thaddeus”).
       Assistant director Louis Brandt reportedly left his position on Studs Lonigan (1960, see entry) to work on King of Kings, and the 19 Apr 1960 DV stated that Harry J. McWilliams would serve as publicity coordinator.
       The majority of shooting was expected to take place in Spain, with some exteriors to be filmed in Italy and Israel, according to the 9 Mar 1960 Var. Pre-production shooting of crowd and battle sequences began in Madrid on 18 Apr 1960, according to a 27 Apr 1960 Var article. The start of principal photography followed on 6 May 1960, as noted in a 20 May 1960 DV production chart.
       While filming was underway, an 8 Jun 1960 DV article announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (MGM) had come on board to distribute the picture as a “roadshow,” reserved-seat attraction. The studio reportedly planned to release the film using the same strategy it had with the commercially successful Biblical epic Ben-Hur (1959, see entry).
       In Jul 1960, director of photography Franz F. Planer fell ill and was unable to return to the set. Milton Krasner took over his role, according to a 19 Aug 1960 DV item. In Sep 1960, an automobile accident resulted in the death of Arthur Resse, who had been serving as a horse trainer on the picture. Also in the car with Resse was actor Harry Guardino, who was injured in the accident, which occurred as the two were en route from a location outside Aranjuez, Spain, as reported in the 18 Sep 1960 LAT.
       Principal photography was completed in early Oct 1960. The 5 Oct 1960 Var claimed that shooting ended in Madrid three days ahead of schedule. Editing was set to take place at the MGM studio lot in Culver City, CA, the 18 Oct 1960 DV reported. Additional scenes were ultimately deemed necessary, and three-and-a-half days of re-shoots began on 6 Dec 1960, as stated in the following day’s DV. Following a sneak preview screening, it was determined that another scene with actress Siobhan McKenna was needed. The additional footage was shot on 10 May 1961 at E.M.I. Elstree Studios in London, England, the 17 May 1961 Var noted.
       The film’s title was contested by Cinema Corp. of America, distributor of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 film, The King of Kings, as noted in a 24 Aug 1960 Var news item. However, Cinema Corp. had never registered the title with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), whereas Bronston had. Another title dispute arose when Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. attempted to register the title King of the Kingdom for a “Roman Catholic film” previously titled The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary. Bronston contested the title as too similar to King of of Kings, and the MPAA ruled in his favor.
       According to a 6 Oct 1961 NYT brief, the picture received “the highest classification from the Catholic Cinematographic Center,” the film rating organization for the Vatican. The honor came after a lower classification by the National Legion of Decency, which described the story as “taking poetic license with the life of Christ.”
       Pocketbooks was set to publish a paperback novelization, the 31 Jan 1961 DV stated. The first version of the novelization was rejected as too salacious by Samuel Bronston, however, and the 5 Jul 1961 Var announced that an extensive revision would be necessary before the book’s release in Oct 1961. MGM Records planned three albums around the theatrical release, including a soundtrack, a “dramatic narration covering the film,” and a children’s album with a narrated story titled “A Child’s Story of Jesus.” Narration within the film was written by Ray Bradbury, according to the 22 Mar 1961 LAT brief, and was voiced by Orson Welles, who was chosen after a yearlong search.
       ^King of Kings opened on 11 Oct 1961 in New York City. A premiere event was scheduled the following night at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, where a regular theatrical opening was set to follow on 13 Oct 1961.
       Reviews in the 11 Oct 1961 DV, 12 Oct 1961 NYT, and 13 Oct 1961 LAT were mixed. According to the 10 Jan 1962 Var, the film had come under “captious criticism” from clerical sources accusing filmmakers of “rewriting” the Bible. An item in the 12 Oct 1961 NYT pointed to one article written by Moira Walsh in America, a Jesuit weekly publication, which lambasted King of Kings for exploiting the subject of Jesus Christ as a “‘hot’ box-office property.”
       Music composer Miklos Rozsa received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1958
p. 7.
Daily Variety
14 Sep 1959
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1959
p. 6.
Daily Variety
19 Nov 1959
p. 7.
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1959
p. 5.
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
3 Mar 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Mar 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Mar 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
24 Mar 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Apr 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1960
p. 3.
Daily Variety
28 Apr 1960
p. 1.
Daily Variety
20 May 1960
p. 8.
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1960
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
30 Jun 1960
p. 4.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1960
p. 3.
Daily Variety
18 Oct 1960
p. 3.
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1960
p. 6.
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1961
p. 8.
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1961
p. 15.
Daily Variety
11 Oct 1961
p. 3, 6.
Los Angeles Times
20 Apr 1960
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1960
Section B, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jul 1960
p. 26.
Los Angeles Times
27 Jul 1960
p. 25.
Los Angeles Times
18 Sep 1960
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
21 Dec 1960
Section B, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
22 Mar 1961
Section B, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1961
p. 29.
New York Times
24 Sep 1961
p. 11.
New York Times
6 Oct 1961
p. 29.
New York Times
12 Oct 1961
p. 41.
Variety
4 Jun 1958
p. 7.
Variety
24 Dec 1958
p. 7.
Variety
14 Oct 1959
p. 5.
Variety
9 Mar 1960
p. 1, 87.
Variety
13 Apr 1960
p. 62.
Variety
27 Apr 1960
p. 3, 17.
Variety
24 Aug 1960
p. 3, 13.
Variety
5 Oct 1960
p. 7.
Variety
12 Oct 1960
p. 2.
Variety
17 May 1961
p. 11.
Variety
5 Jul 1961
p. 1.
Variety
10 Jan 1962
p. 54.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
COSTUMES
Supv of cost
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreography for salome's dance
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
Makeup created by
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Gen prod mgr
Master of props
Supervisortech
Supervisorelectrn
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Son of Man
Man from Nazareth
The Sword and the Cross
Release Date:
11 October 1961
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 October 1961
Los Angeles premiere: 12 October 1961
Los Angeles opening: 13 October 1961
Production Date:
6 May--early October 1960
additional shooting in early December 1960 and on 10 May 1961
Copyright Claimant:
Samuel Bronston Productions
Copyright Date:
30 October 1961
Copyright Number:
LP23206
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
Technicolor
gauge
35 & 70
Widescreen/ratio
Super Technirama
Duration(in mins):
165
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The life of Jesus Christ is depicted. Highlighted are the following events: his birth in a Bethlehem stable; the prophecies of John the Baptist and his murder; Jesus's forty-day ordeal in the desert; the selection of the Apostles; the Sermon on the Mount; Judas's betrayal of Jesus; the Passion; the Crucifixion; the Resurrection; and the ... +


The life of Jesus Christ is depicted. Highlighted are the following events: his birth in a Bethlehem stable; the prophecies of John the Baptist and his murder; Jesus's forty-day ordeal in the desert; the selection of the Apostles; the Sermon on the Mount; Judas's betrayal of Jesus; the Passion; the Crucifixion; the Resurrection; and the Ascension. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.