It's a wonder he didn't show up for the Sermon on the Mount in a convertible.
Then comes The Greatest Story Ever Told directed by George Stevens. The acclaimed filmmaker directed five of my all-time favorite films -- Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, The More the Merrier, Shane, A Place in the Sun and Giant. His tale of the Savior was pretty much required viewing for Catholics at that time. It had big stars in cameos and a cast of thousands. It had miracles and epic scenes. It had an extremely reverential and stately tone. It also had a top example of major miscasting. First of all, Max von Sydow was picked to play Jesus. The Swedish actor gained international fame in foreign psychological and theological dramas directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Like Jeffrey Hunter's version, this Jesus also had very blue eyes.
I deeply love the great classic work of George Stevens. But, come on. Like he couldn't have gone to Santa Monica beach in Southern California and found a big, strappin' young Jew with a suntan and a Screen Actors Guild card to play Jesus? Please.
Now we get to the major Hollywood miscasting. Who shows up to deliver one line as a Roman centurion looking at Jesus on the cross? JOHN .... WAYNE.
Yes. John "Stagecoach" Wayne comes on to tell us "Truly...this man was the Son o' God."
For a review, I quote the Holy Bible. John 11:35 "Jesus wept."
My younger sister and I saw this movie together when we were Catholic school kids. At that scene, I turned to her and said "We sound more Roman than he did." This big budget production was not a big box office hit. I can only imagine that some studio executive went into George Stevens' office and politely said "George...um...we've got Chuck Heston as John the Baptist. Good. Claude Rains as King Herod. Also good. Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate and we've got a nice cameo for Sidney Poitier. Then...we've got this blond Swedish actor playing Jesus, singer Pat Boone as an angel and now you want John Wayne to play a Roman guard?"
"George, you have heard him speak, haven't you? Rosanno Brazzi is available. He's ten years younger. And he's from Italy. So he can actually sound like a Roman."
"I want Duke."
"Well, alrighty then. We'll sign The Duke. John Wayne. To play a Roman Centurion. In the Crucifixion scene. With dialogue. Yep."
And there you have it.
You can see the results for yourself. King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told air Easter Sunday on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Happy Easter.