Movie of the Week: The King of Kings by Cecil B. DeMille 1927
Old Testament: Isaiah 49:1-7
New Testament: Colossians 1:24-29
Practice: Good deeds
Every Monday during Lent, we will begin by introducing one of the many movies in the history of cinema that depicts the life of Christ. As we saw earlier, Jesus of Nazareth has been one of the most frequently used subjects on the big screen. Each week, the devotional thoughts will use one of the movies to help visualize various moments in the Gospels. If you are so inclined, you may benefit from watching the entire movie over the course of the week – though some of them are quite long. You can consult the viewing guide following this entry to help guide your thoughts and alert you of what to look for as you watch the movie.
Some of the movies were made to very closely follow the story as portrayed in the Gospels, while others take many creative liberties based on the life of Jesus from the Bible. We will cover the movies chronologically, so the oldest movie, The King of Kings from 1927, will be our focus this week. Of course, you can choose to skip the movie reflections and focus solely on the readings themselves. As throughout this guide, use it in whatever way will best benefit your own personal, spiritual journey this Lent.
Today we want to consider Paul’s words in Colossians 1:27 – “Christ lives in you.” When Paul is discussing his famous “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12, he champions his weakness because he knows that when he is weak, “Christ can work through me.” Our work at knowing Christ begins with realizing that Christ lives and works in us. Last week we prayed, “More of you, less of me.” This week let’s continue that prayer. May we feel the presence of Christ every hour of the day. May we learn to rest in him. If Christ is living in us today, surely people will take notice. Jesus talks about our light shining brightly like a city on a hill. Ask God how he can help your light shine brightly today through small good deeds.
Producer/Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Premiere: April 19, 1927
Running Time: 155 minutes
Parent Guide/Rating: Unrated (pre-dates modern rating system); there shouldn’t be any concern of appropriateness in this classic (especially by today’s standards)
Watch The King of Kings free online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=108&v=SKsNAGeXvts&feature=emb_title
Cecil B. DeMille was one of the most important early filmmakers in the United States and is known as “the father of the Hollywood motion picture industry.” In 1952 he received an award at the Golden Globes named after him. It has been awarded annually since to recognize his contributions to the world of entertainment. DeMille was a Christian whose father was a candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church and read Bible stories to his children at nights. DeMille was inspired by his religious upbringing to make biblical stories into movies, including the 1923 epic silent movie The Ten Commandments, which was Paramount pictures most financially successful movie for over twenty-five years.
In 1927, DeMille released The King of Kings, a two-and-a-half-hour silent film based on the story of Christ. It turned out to be the second movie in his biblical trilogy which began with The Ten Commandments and was followed in 1932 with The Sign of the Cross. Watching silent movies today can be a challenged since we are used to such fast-paced scenery changes and non-stop action (not to mention, dialogue). However, even after almost 100 years, the depiction of Christ in The King of Kings continues to be moving.
Every movie made about the life of Jesus faces the same challenge of balancing a reliance on the biblical “script” and the filmmakers’ willingness and desire to take creative liberties in moving the story along on the screen. (A frequent critique of biblical epic movies is that they are boring and slow-paced). Some filmmakers have told the story by using the Bible word-for-word, while others have been much looser with their interpretations. One reviewer of The King of Kings reported in 1927, “The story runs logically, building up finely to its impressive, gripping finale.” The directors, producers, and actors do what we all do – interpret the story of Jesus as told in the four Gospels. As we will see, there is value in both approaches, and we can learn a lot about our own interpretation about Jesus by watching how others have understood him.
It is hard to overstate the power of seeing the stories of Scripture portrayed in moving pictures. Just like all books adapted for movies – the book is always better, but that doesn’t minimize the impact that these movies can have on our understanding of Jesus. In our quest to know Jesus better, we want to use every resource at our disposal, and people have spent millions of dollars throughout the history of the cinema to tell “the greatest story ever told.”
You can choose to watch the movie in its entirety, or, for a shorter reflection, refer to the daily clips from the movie below.
Clip: 00:00 – 02:00
The very opening of the movie is worthy of reflection. The opening slide is a message from DeMille himself explaining that the Jews were under Roman subjection. This was added, partly, to prevent accusations of anti-Semitism which has frequently been associated with Jesus-based movies.
The slide following the title gets at the heart of DeMille’s motive for making the movie.
“He Himself commanded that His message be carried to the uttermost parts of the earth. May the portrayal play a reverent part in the spirit of that great command.”
As we will see, there is an intimate connection between the content (the story of Jesus) and the activity and people involved in making the movie. DeMille states at the very beginning of this movie that his purpose is connected to the Great Commission. In his autobiography, “He calculated that 800 million viewers had seen the film and even cited the use of the film by Catholic and Protestant missionaries in faraway jungles.”
Clearly, DeMille was not simply making this movie for fame and fortune. During the making of the movie, DeMille consulted with religious advisors and encouraged worship on the set. The first day of shooting opened with a prayer service, and following the shooting of the crucifixion scene, the entire cast paused for silent prayer. DeMille was so concerned with the integrity of the film and the story that the actors had character clauses in their contracts to govern off set conduct.
powerful statement at the beginning of the epic provides a good opportunity for
each of us to pause and consider our own effectiveness in sharing the story of
Jesus. Just like the actors were held to a high standard of conduct outside of
shooting the movie about Jesus, as children of God, he expects us to live holy
lives – worthy of our calling as his children. Take a few moments and consider
how well you have represented the life of Christ lately. What are some good
things you could to do today, simply because Jesus has called you to them?
 W. Barnes Tatum, Jesus at the Movies, 3rd ed. (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013), 52.
 Wikipedia article on Cecil B. DeMille.
 W. Barnes Tatum, Jesus at the Movies, 3rd ed. (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013), 59.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 50.