In any case the only film version of the Joshua story I have is from the "Greatest Heroes of the Bible" TV series which aired on NBC in late 1978 and early 1979. I've only seen a few of this series, but they are generally very low budget. This episode pulls out a few special effects when Jericho's walls finally fall, but it's mainly in the form of drawn on lightning and a few pyrotechnics.
Despite the all round poor production values of this series it did provide me with a clip. One of the things I wanted to look at was how the biblical account is often altered in order to make some of these stories more palatable. They essentially load the dice in favour of the Israelites/God in order to make the death of God's "enemies" less troubling.
This film is perhaps the best example of this tendency I have ever seen. I used the opening piece of narration to show this tendency. It talks of Jericho being
impregnable, says it was controlled by ruthless Hittites controlled area, that the people had grown fat, become debased and filthy and that they committed human sacrifices. This is followed by a scene inside the city where we see children stealing and various of ethically dubious acts occuring. Whilst some of this is true, it's noticeably absent in the Jericho narrative itself.
As it happens I could have used various sections of this film for exactly the same purpose. Jericho's King - King Agadiz (Sidney Lassick) - is extremely hard to like. He is instantly annoying, childish, overweight, whining and super, super camp. Sidney Lassick is best known for his earlier role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and those who saw him in that film will find it influences their perception of this role also.
Agadiz relies a great deal on his commander, Assurabi (Cameron Mitchell) who by contrast is proud, stubborn and arrogant. Whilst Agadiz flaps around wondering what to do Assurabi hatches a plot to lure the Israelites to the city (unaware that that is Israel's plan anyway by stealing their children (from a convenient canvas day nursery) and sacrificing them to their Gods. This episode is unacceptably fictional, being true to neither the letter nor the spirit of the book in question. When we're shown one of the children being sacrificed it is the cutest most passive child one could imagine. Later one of Jericho's ordinary citizen's is shown celebrating his sacrificing one of the Israelite children.
When the Israelites finally come to attack the city Assurabi and his comrades mock them and entice them further, whilst the priests and the king sacrifice a goat to their God that they have named Jehovah. In short, the film does everything it possibly can to demonise the residents of Jericho and paint them in a negative light. The portrayal of the Israelites and the Canaanites in the Bible is hardly balanced, but it is much more shades of grey. Joshua's people have just emerged from 40 years in the desert typified by moaning and their lack of faithfulness - we're told little of the Canaanites other than that they worship the wrong Gods and that they possess the land assigned for Israel. The changes made to the film polarise the respective camps into shades black and white. It's abundantly clear who the goodies are and who the baddies are, and almost impossible to feel sympathy for the residents of Jericho who's major crime is living in the wrong place.
In order to really do this, and to clarify why Rahab is saved the film spends an awfully large proportion of the film on fictional episodes, and doesn't really get to the meat of the story until towards the end of the film. The scenes work something like this:
[extra-biblical episode - Introduction]One of the things that occurred to me whilst watching this is that the biblical Rahab's designation as a prostitute almost certainly meant she was a cult prostitute, so her inclusion not only in the people of Israel, but in the ancestors of both David and, therefore, Jesus is quite incredible. Unfortunately, the film isn't able to convey the radical turn around required here. When Rahab first appears it is immediately obvious who she is - she is the only red haired person in all of Jericho. By showing compassion right at the start of the film her character arc is somewhat truncated and her role in the film is much more temple dancer than temple prostitute.
Sending of the spies - (Josh 2:1)
[extra-biblical episode - King and commander plot]
[extra-biblical episode - Jericho attacks Israel]
[extra-biblical episode - Child sacrifice]
King hears of the spies - (Josh 2:2)
[extra-biblical episode - Rahab summons the spies]
Rahab's deal with the spies - (Josh 2:8-14)
Rahab covers for the spies - (Josh 2:3-6)
The spies escape - (Josh 2:15-21)
Spies report back - (Josh 2:23-24)
Joshua prays - (Josh 6:2)
Jericho locks its gates - (Josh 6:1)
Israelites march around Jericho - (Josh 6:6-14)
[extra-biblical episode - Joshua and his generals confer]
Fall of Jericho - (Josh 6:15-25)
As the film reaches it's conclusion it gets even more ridiculous. Assurabi's taunts degenerate to the point where he can only shout at Joshua "Let me hack you into bits…BIIIIIIITS!" Joshua isn't phased he's already seen God speak in a manner somewhat reminiscent of plume of polluted smoke billowing from the clouds. Besides he has to risk exhausting his troops by having them inexplicably jog on the spot for 10 minutes before they make their final charge. This is made all the stranger by the fact that the walls begin to fall when Joshua throws his sword into the ground. Like something out of a bad King Arthur movie (and goodness knows there have been plenty of them) the moment it lands point-in into the ground it's struck by lightning which sends a tremor along the ground which eventually fells the walls. Once inside it turns out that soldiers of Jericho don't actually have any ability with the sword. This is just as well for the Israelites - they are more than content to stick their swords under their enemies arms and hope the camera isn't watching too closely.
All in all then, this is a terrible, terrible film, and whilst it's a particularly pertinent example of the dice-loading tendency inherent in many Bible films, it has little value in and of itself.