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Savant Short Review:

The Bible
... In The Beginning

The Bible ... In the Beginning
Fox Home Entertainment
1966 / Color / 2:35 / 174/172m. / La Bibbia
Starring Michael Parks, Ulla Bergryd, Richard Harris, John Huston, Stephen Boyd, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Peter O'Toole, Gabriele Ferzetti, Eleonora Rossi Drago, Franco Nero
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Special Effects Augie Lohman
Art Direction Mario Chiari
Film Editor Ralph Kemplen
Original Music Toshiro Mayuzumi
Writing credits Vittorio Bonicelli, Christopher Fry, Jonathan Griffin, Ivo Perilli from the book by (just kidding.)
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Directed by John Huston

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

As sometimes happens, the Academy of Arts and Sciences gives out an honorary award to some industry great, and when they screen a montage of the man's glorious achievements, you wonder how in the heck he ever won anything. Dino de Laurentiis, who started in a postwar Italy where producers were often described as men who wanted to sleep with lots of actresses, had a career populated mostly by classics from Fellini, and a long succession of dogs of various breeds. Outside of Federico-land, you have some misunderstood greats like Richard Fleischer's Barabbas and David Lynch's Dune, and perhaps rare real winner (Lynch again, with Blue Velvet). What's left? The White Buffalo? Flash Gordon? Barbarella? The Bible is one of de Laurentiis' more honorable efforts, and it brings together some really great talent, but something in its conception and its execution is fundamentally off-kilter.


The book of Genesis is depicted in episodic, poetic vignettes illustrating the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Sarah and Abraham, The Tower of Babel, Noah's Ark, and others.

The common wisdom with The Bible is to say that John Huston makes a great Noah but the rest of the show is a saggy mess that isn't saved by great performances from the likes of George C. Scott and Ava Gardner. John Huston is a great filmmaker but it is true that some of his latter-day efforts have an air of indifference about them, as if they had been conceived as a way to shore up the director's gambling debts. The Bible is thoughtful, reverent, and even innovative in the way it approaches the Bible for the screen. It certainly has more to recommend it than the conventional Hollywood approach, as best represented by The Robe. But it is still a big, slow, and boring film that is difficult to relate to emotionally.

First off are the bizarre cinematographic and visual choices. Natural wonders are used to illustrate the creation of the Earth, and most of the episodes unspool without flashy special effects, which is good. But too much of the film is dark and dank; there are almost no attractive images at all, which is surprising coming from the great Giuseppe Rotunno. The look is still big-budget glossy, and many scenes, like the Tower of Babel, use very elaborate production values, but the impact on the screen just isn't there.

The story is told straighter than straight, with little or no elaboration on the few scant words granted each episode in Genesis. When the human relationships have some depth, as with Sarah and Abraham, some feeling comes through, but little interpretation is given these fable-like stories and they remain sketches. By contrast, the much-maligned Sodom and Gomorrah by Robert Aldrich takes a few basic facts from the Good Book and spins an engaging yarn that elaborates and enlarges the story while staying true to a reasoned interpretation of the tale's meaning, in narrative and symbolic ways. The changing of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt ends up with a dozen converging meanings. Jehovah's vengeance punishes Lot by turning her into literally that which he worships, money. Aldrich brings in apocalyptic destruction, the film resonates with echoes of Kiss Me Deadly and other 'modern' concerns, yet is still the Bible story we've all heard. The Bible tries to stick with the letter of the book, but just doesn't do enough with it.

The Bible gives us a parade of lost stars, like Peter O'Toole as a triad of Angels. Despite the low-key approach, the familiar faces keep us from perceiving this as anything but yet another Hollywood (or in this case, Cinecittá) product. We can't all be Pier Paolo Pasolini with his Gospel According to St. Matthew, shooting in grainy b&w and using non-actors, but it has to be admitted that that show is more deeply felt than most 'Bibical epics', put together.

The Bible is a super-production, a roadshow 70mm giant of a film of the kind that is no longer made, and it will entertain and interest many a Savant reader for that alone (my defense, to be honest). The Noah's Ark sequence, and to a lesser extent the Tower of Babel, are very pleasing, and Mr. Huston's narrating voice and benign presence are charming. Only after Chinatown, eight years later, did he again seem capable of anything sinister. The Bible is inherently watchable if for no other reason than to soak in Huston's wonderful voice and see the sparkle in his eye.  1

Fox's DVD of The Bible is a great improvement on earlier home video incarnations. The widescreen laserdisc of more than fifteen years ago was a washed out, colorless failure. Visually, this is still not a dazzling experience, but Savant has to guess that the original roadshow might have looked very similar. A trailer is the only extra.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Bible ... in the Beginning rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: October 19, 2001


1. Savant was privileged to see Mr. Huston a few months before he passed away, as he left a voiceover session at Buzzy's in Hollywood. Bowed and hunched, he seemed small in his old age. He carried with him an oxygen tank with a nose-tube, but as he left his roving eye caught mine and 'twinkled' at me. He looked to be having a great time, even with one foot in the grave. This must have been the most charming rogue ever to swindle a career out of Hollywood. Buzzy's probably had to pay him cash and he was on the way to the track!

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