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The Golden Age of Biblical Epic

 (1940s to the 1960s)

The Ten CommandmentsAfter the end of World War II, the biblical epic met with somewhat of a revival. No individual is more responsible for the development, revival, and dominance of the biblical epic than Cecil B. DeMille. His Samson and Delilah (1949) helped spark the revival in the 1950s. Nominated for five Academy Awards, it won in two categories (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design). Spurred on by competition with television, another development during this period was wide-screen projection.

Perhaps the most notable film during this period was DeMille's full-colour VistaVision production of The Ten Commandments (1956). While taking many liberties with the biblical text, DeMille's production is a strange mixture of piety and melodrama. The sets and the sheer magnitude of the scenes are still impressive today. It was rightly nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards, though it only won for Best Special Effects. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) and his Samson and Delilah used to rank among the top money earners of all time.

Cecil Blount DeMille:
A Short Bibliography

Critics are divided in their evaluation of DeMille. One the one hand, he is seen as the father of the biblical epic who found the right balance between historical authenticity and dramatic effectiveness (see Jon Solomon's assessment in The Ancient World in the Cinema). On the other hand, others conclude that "his spectacles were little more than glorified melodramas that included an effective combination of debauchery and piety" (Robert K. Johnson, Reel Spirituality, 33).

Here are some books on DeMille and his work:

Huston's Ark

Another notable film that closes this period is John Huston's The Bible... In the Beginning (1966). This three-hour movie was originally to be the first part of a twelve hour epic on the Book of Genesis produced by Dino De Laurentiis, but no others were made. The movie itself covers creation to Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis chapter 22 in a number of distinct episodes with uneven results. While the film has many memorable scenes (such as the Ark scene above), it ultimately fails for a variety of reasons, one being the discontinuity between episodes. The film's lack of success at the box office (it lost millions) is no doubt the reason why it was one of the last major films based on the Old Testament produced during this era.

EveMany of these films are quite campy and some even approach being exploitational as they obviously try to push the envelope on just how much sexuality and nudity can be shown on screen because they are portraying a biblical story. A case in point is the Mexican Adam and Eve directed by Alberto Gout and staring Christiane Martel -- a former Miss Universe -- as Eve (see picture to right). The 1961 production of The Private Lives of Adam and Eve staring the buxom Mamie Van Doren as Eve is not much better, while the 1973 The Sin of Adam and Eve even received an R rating.

  • Samson and Delilah (Director: Cecil B. DeMille, 1949).
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  • Adamo ed Eva (Director: Mario Mattoli, 1949).
  • David and Bathsheba (Director: Henry King, 1951).
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  • Sins of Jezebel (Director: Reginald Le Borg, 1953).
  • Slaves of Babylon (Director: William Castle, 1953).
  • Queen of Sheba (Director: Pietro Francisci, 1953).
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  • Adam and Eve [Adán y Eva] (Director: Alberto Gout, 1956).
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  • The Ten Commandments (Director: Cecil B. DeMille, 1956).
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  • Stvoreni Sveta [The Creation of the World] (Eduard Hofman, 1958).
  • Noah's Ark (Director: Bill Justice, 1959). [Animated]
  • Solomon and Sheba (Director: King Vidor, 1959).
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  • The Creation of Woman (Producer: Ismail Merchant, 1960).
  • Head of a Tyrant [Giuditta e Oloferne] (Director: Fernando Cerchio, 1960). [About the story of Judith]
  • Jonah and the Whale (unfinished, 1960-).
  • The Story of Ruth (Director: Henry Koster, 1960).
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  • A Story of David (Director: Bob McNaught, 1960).
  • Esther and the King (Director: Mario Bava and Raoul Walsh, 1960).
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  • Joseph and His Brethren (Director: Irving Rapper and Luciano Ricci, 1960).
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  • Samson (Director: Gianfranco Parolini, 1961).
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  • David and Goliath (Director: Ferdinando Baldi and Richard Pottier, [1959], 1961).
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  • The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (Director: Mickey Rooney and Albert Zugsmith, 1961).
  • Adam and Eve (Dusan Merek, 1962).
  • Joseph and His Brethren (Alina and Yoram Gross, 1962).
  • Il Vecchio Testamento [The Old Testament] (Director: Gianfranco Parolini, 1962). [This film is actually only the story of the Maccabees, not the entire OT]
  • Jacob, The Man Who Fought with God [I Patriarchi della Bibbia] (Director: Marcello Baldi, 1963).
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  • Sodom and Gomorrah [Last Days of] (Director: Sergio Leone and Robert Aldrich, 1963).
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  • Saul and David (Director: Marcello Baldi, 1964).
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  • Giacobbe ed Esau [Jacob and Esau] (Director: Mario Landi, 1964).
  • Great Leaders of the Bible (Samson and Gideon) [Grandi condottieri I] (Director: Marcello Baldi, 1965).
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  • The Bible. In the Beginning (Director: John Huston, 1966).
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  • Joseph the Dreamer (Yoram Gross, 1967).
  • Saul and David (Director: Marcello Baldi, 1968).
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Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2009 14:03