• 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


    Saturday, August 26, 2017

    Daniel in the Lion's Den
    Greatest Heroes of the Bible series (1978-79)

    In contrast to the way in which the story of Daniel has generally been a less popular on film than in general, The Greatest Heroes of the Bible series gave it two episodes out of a total of fifteen/seventeen. The unusual prominence the producers of the series give to it may also be reflected in the fact that it features one of the series' biggest stars, Robert Vaughn, as King Darius. Amongst the episode's other more recognisable faces were two former child stars, Sherry Jackson, from 50s sitcom Make Room for Daddy, and Dean Stockwell, best known to us from roles in Quantum Leap, Air Force One and Blue Velvet, but at the time known for a string of child roles. Indeed Stockwell is one of the few actors associated with the series whose career hit an upward trajectory after their role in it.

    Allotting the story of Daniel (played by David Birney) two episodes rather than one means that this episode, even more than other entries in the series, created a sub-plot to fill out the obvious human-interest shaped holes in the biblical narrative. Here Daniel's rivals are not only jealous that he is higher than them in the hierarchy, but concerned that he has caught them swindling the system. The three advisors (including Stockwell's Hissar) have been substituting cheap building materials for expensive ones and pocketing the extra cash. However, rather than enhancing his role, Daniel's eventual uncovering of the scheme, thanks to a tip off from a Jewish labourer, makes him look weak. The con has been going on for a long time and he, as Darius' chief advisor, has only just noticed. Not only that but whilst he is dithering about what to do about it, his fleet-of-foot rivals manage to convince Darius to create the law that imperils Daniel.

    The series frequently produces special effects that appear sub-par by today's standard, but Daniel in the Lions' Den is particularly culpable in this respect. Aside from the key scene in which an inferior stone lintel cracks at just the right moment to prove right Daniel and his labourer-ally, the angel/light that appears to protect Daniel in the den of lions (above) is really feeble. It seems unlikely to keep a child at bay, let alone a hungry lion.

    But if the episode does anything well it might be the way it suggests many of Daniel's fellow Jewish slaves distrust and even fear him now he has risen to such prominence. It's speculation of course, but it suggestion that 70ish years in exile is enough time for his people to grow affinity on the basis of their place in the social strata rather than race is an interesting one. Given that many Jews decided to stay in the region rather than return home to Judah, perhaps it is correct.

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