Written by: Nigel Balchin, Diego Fabbri, Christopher Fry, Ivo Perilli, and Salvatore Quasimodo, based upon the novel by Par Lagerkvist
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Jack Palance, Silvana Mangano, Ernerst Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy, Katy Jurado, Harry Andrews, Arnoldo Foa, Roy Magnano, and Michael Gwynn
- Theatrical trailer
Released by: Sony Pictures
Rating: NR, should be safe for most audiences, though there is some violence
My Advice: Buy it if you love epics–at least rent it otherwise
[ad#longpost]We all know the story…Jesus (Roy Magnano), betrayed to the Romans by Judas, is about to stand trial. Because of the holiday, Pilate (Kennedy) and the authorities are prevailed upon to release a prisoner from death row to demonstrate clemency, and the public clamors for the release of Barabbas (Quinn), convicted murderer and thief, instead of Jesus, social revolutionary. This film shows the end of that, but really picks up as Barabbas is leaving, wonderingly, from the building he had thought would be the last he ever saw. Soon, Barabbas loses his former friend and lover Rachel (Silvana Mangano) stoned for her faith in Jesus as Messiah, and this event makes Barabbas even more confused and bitter. He returns to his former thieving ways. Eventually, Barabbas is captured again and sent to gladiator school, then faces his own death.
Barabbas is a fascinating look at the nature of faith. You don’t have to be a Christian to be sucked into the story of Barabbas and how he repeatedly flees any kind of belief, while watching the various faiths of others and the effects it has on them. Following Barabbas through his own religious progression, we get a closer look at what does and doesn’t cause some people to learn to believe. But we can also compare and contrast Barabbas’ reactions and responses with those of the people around him, both believers and non-believers. It’s also a fascinating look at a kind of “survivor’s guilt” complex, as Barabbas, not even a Christian, wonders why he should have been spared death instead of Jesus, whose only real crime was dining with the wrong people.
The acting is as good as you would expect with a cast this stellar. Quinn is just wonderful as the tortured, conflicted title character, making a hero out of a murderer. Each of the other characters represents something important in the passion play unfolding before us as well, such as Palance as the blood-thirsty Torvald, or the gentle, Christian Rachel, played by Silvana Mangano.
The filming is quite good. For example, there is a beautiful shot, early in the film, where Barabbas turns and looks back at the judicial building and sees the condemned Jesus standing, hands bound, with the sunlight at his head. There is just a moment when the sunlight forms a nimbus around him, and then it’s gone. Not too heavy-handed–it would be possible to miss it–but it’s a nice touch for the viewers paying attention. There is all the pomp you expect from a Roman epic, but tempered with an ascetic sensibility at times that helps to convey the emotions of the characters.
I would have liked to have seen a nicer treatment of this film as far as extras go, given the film’s quality. A discussion with a film historian or Ernest Borgnine or Palance would be great, or filmmaker’s and actor’s biographies, or even just a gallery of stills.
Overall, Barabbas is a wonderful classical epic in the vein of Spartacus or The Robe. If you’re a fan of movies such as The Greatest Story Ever Told, then you will enjoy this one as well. Solid script, great acting, wonderful filming and production values–a treat for all movie lovers. Be aware that this film is very serious and lacks much in the way of relief; it is, however, very engaging and worth the time and angst it will cause.