DAY OF TRIUMPH (1954)
Directed by John T. Coyle and Irving Pichel
Featuring Lee J. Cobb, James Griffith, Ralph Freud
What it is: The Christ story
The story of Christ's life is seen through the eyes of a man leading a Jewish resistance group against the Romans.
Since the Christ story is awash with miracles and fantastic happenings, I'm probably destined to watch every extant movie version of the story. IMDB claims that this is the first widescreen depiction of the story, and though that may be true, the saying of it makes it sound as if it's going to be bigger and more epic than it is. As it is, the movie feels cramped and static, and it looks like it was doing its best to make a lowly budget stretch to fit the movie. I wasn't surprised to discover that the movie was an independent film made by a newly created company which in a previous incarnation specialized in shorter films distributed to church groups.
Yet, despite this, I rather like the movie. For one thing, the decision to tell the story through the eyes of the leader of a rebel resistance group manages to bring an air of freshness to the scene, and the political backdrop manages to find ways to flesh out the characters of Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate in particular. I also like Robert Wilson's performance as Jesus; though some feel he's dull, I like the sense that he both a) feels very comfortable in the role, as well he should, as he'd played the role in those earlier short movies for the churches and b) he manages to avoid coming across as too sanctimonious. It's an interesting way to tell the story, and it somewhat offsets the rather hangdog air of the movie. Incidentally, this was Irving Pichel's last directorial effort.