The Greatest Story Ever Told

Jesus of Nazereth (Click the link to hear the cue.)
1965 film, The Greatest Story Ever Told is the true story of Jesus Christ.  The director, George Stevens handpicked well-known actors such as Charlton Heston (John the Baptist), Max von Sydow (Jesus Christ), and even John Wayne (Roman Centurion). The movie's filming locations were interesting to say the least. States like Utah, Arizona, and Nevada doubled as small biblical towns such as Jerusalem, Cana, Bethlehem, etc. The Colorado river was even used as the Jordan river. The film was nicknamed The Longest Story Ever Told, given it's 225 minute run-time.
The job of composer fell to Alfred Newman who had previously worked with George Stevens on his film, The Diary of Ann Frank, which was nominated for an Oscar. Considering the length of the film, Newman had a lot of work on his hands.
The use of choir in the film is surprisingly minimal given the epic scope of the film. Thankfully the music stands on it's own, without the need of much choral statements. Jesus' theme, used throughout the score, is a mellow somewhat sorrowful sound to it and appropriately so, considering Jesus' crucifixion near the end of the film.
Throughout the film the music remains subtle, simple, and delicate. There are a few powerhouse cues such as, There Shall Come A Time To Enter, in which a choir chants the words "Hosanna". For some, it can seem annoying and cliche, but for me it seemed like the perfect break from the slower paced cues. The choir is also used in the cue, And the Word Was God. It is classic Alfred Newman style choir, at it's best!
During the end when Jesus is flogged, beaten, and crucified, Newman keeps the cues mellow, respectful, and refined most notably in the eleven minute cue; Via Dolorosa. Not once does Newman switch to cacophonic themed cues. Then, in the cue, Resurrection and Ascension (Click the link to hear the cue), Newman brings the choir in while strings are vigorously played. Instead of chanting "Hosanna", the choir sings out, "Hallelujah". It's a really emotionally charged cue!
During post production on the film, most of Newman's score was either cut out, or replaced in the film much to the composer's chagrin. The director also completely removed Newman's end credits suite and replaced it with Handel's Hallelujah Chorus (The cue titled, (The Triumph of the Spirit). Because of that decision, the end of the film borders on corny. The cue is beautifully performed and correctly describes Jesus Christ, but is sadly misplaced.
All in all, the score is a remarkable piece of work, and a great addition to anyone's soundtrack collection!

Rating: ****


  1. Alicia Willis said...
    Sounds interesting. I've never seen the movie - the thought of John Wayne the centurion was too much for me. :)
    Joshua Hoppman said...
    Heheh, I was very surprised when I read about that. He apparently quotes in the movie on line: "Surely this man is the son of God." Not sure is John Wayne was the best guy to play that role....;)

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