• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Bible Films that Never Were

    Cecil B. DeMille's name will forever be associated with the biblical epic even though he only ever made three and a half films based on the Bible - his two versions of The Ten Commandments (19231 and 1956), his Jesus film The King of Kings and 1949's Samson and Delilah. Indeed, given that Samson and the second Ten Commandments were two of the last three movies he ever made , it's a reputation he might never have earned at all. True, there were a number of other ancient epics in his seventy-film canon, but it was those last two films in particular, that cemented his place in the popular imagination as the man that made biblical epics.

    However, I've been reading Robert S. Birchard's "Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood" recently, and one of the appendices lists the veteran director's unrealised projects. Given the vast number of movies he made, it's surprising that there are only twelve sucfilms, but it's interesting that four of them are Bible films.

    The first of these is The Deluge which I discussed last year. DeMille was considering making the film in the late 20s, but when it became apparent that Michael Curtiz was already making Noah's Ark he switched his attention to The King of Kings instead. Aspiring filmmakers considering adapting the story of Noah take note.

    The second film on Birchard's list was Esther (or The Story of Esther) and he notes that MacKinlay Cantour was working on this in the summer of 19342. Birchard doesn't say anymore, but given that this was the same year that DeMille directed Cleopatra, my guess is that he ultimately decided he could only handle one heroine-driven ancient epic at a time.

    There's a good deal more information on Queen of Queens, DeMille's planned story of Jesus's mother, (though it's hard to believe that such a title would ever have been taken seriously).
    Jeannie Macpherson worked on the script from November 20, 1939 to July 27, 1940. William C. DeMille also worked on the script from March 4, 1940 to June 7, 1941, and William Cowan wrote on the project from September 3 to October 9, 1940. Queen of Queens met some resistance from the Catholic Church , and the film was never scheduled for production.3
    Lastly, Birchard tell us that Macpherson also started work on a script for the story of King David, Thou Art the Man.4 This was six years before David and Bathsheba reached the screen with its take on David's adultery, so it seems unlikely that once again DeMille had been put off by a similar project at another studio. Perhaps, given his long-standing desire to bring Samson's story to the screen he decided to focus on that instead.

    Aside from the list of DeMille's films-that-never-were, I was also interested to read that Steve Reeves and Cary Grant had both been considered for the leading role in Samson and Delilah. Reeves is not in the least surprising, given that he went on to play Hercules and Goliath, but it's incredible to think that any kind of consideration was ever given to Grant. Of course, the whole point of the Samson and Delilah story is that the source of Samson's strength isn't obvious. So it wouldn't have been inconceivable for Grant to play him, but when you look at the final film, and it's emphasis on, and love for, Mature's oiled torso, it's hard to imagine Grant in that same role.

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    On a not unrelated note, Eric David of Christianity Today has written a short piece on French director Robert Bresson which claims that he was initially approached to direct Dino de Laurentiis' The Bible: In The Beginning.
    In the mid 1960s, Dino de Laurentiis planned a series of films based on the Bible, featuring top directors of the day, including Huston, Visconti, Welles and Fellini. When Bresson, slated to direct Genesis, told de Laurentiis that he planned to film it in Hebrew and Aramaic, and wouldn't show any animals on Noah's Ark, only their footprints in the sand, he was fired. Huston took over and The Bible: In The Beginning, was released, but did not perform well enough to justify the other directors helming their respective films. Bresson yearned to film Genesis the rest of his life, but it never came to pass.
    That would certainly have made for a very different film, but given that Bresson instead went on to direct his masterful Christ-figure film Au hasard Balthazar that same year, and that Huston's version has so much to commend it, it may well have all been for the best.

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