• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Monday, February 29, 2016

    Blood of Jesus (1941)

    Spencer Williams Blood of Jesus (1941) is not a Bible film as such, though it contains characters from the Bible, namely satan, and various quotes from the New Testament. It's also a little known and under-appreciated film from a period when the Bible barely featured on the silver screen and the vast majority of portrayals of non-white characters were racist and patronising.

    The film was Williams' second as director and he also wrote and starred in it as a husband who accidentally shoots his wife. It's unclear whether her case is something of an exception, or whether the path she undergoes represents something we all shall face, but either way she ends up at a dusty crossroads torn between the pleadings of a giant-winged angel and the temptations of a horned devil.

    For me the film is strongly reminiscent of The Green Pastures (1936). The budget is clearly not high and viewers may find the concept quaint, hokey or imaginative depending on their perspective, but the key performances are engaging and believable, the compositions are clearly the work of someone who knows how best to frame a scene and whilst there's something comical about the angels wings and the devil's horns this appears to be Williams' intent rather than all he could muster.

    Best of all is the soundtrack, a mix of spirituals, traditional hymns and the odd jazz-era hit thrown in for good measure - evocative and moving without ever becoming twee.

    It's not hard, then to see why the film was the first "race film" to be admitted into the US National film registry, nor why the curators of a forthcoming "Pioneers of African American Cinema" box set consider it to have pride of place amongst the diverse range of films comprising the collection. There's more on that from The Guardian as well as a nice write up by The Bullock Museum in Texas to accompany a recent screening. It will be nice to see a propery restored version so we can assess Williams' work as it was meant to be seen.


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