Even the most blasé motion picture viewers will be impressed by the sheer audacity of producer Dino De Laurentiis and director John Huston in attempting a project of the magnitude of The Bible … in the Beginning, a color film that premiered in New York City September 28. What these intrepid gentlemen have sought to do is compress the stories of the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Ark, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom, and Abraham and Sarah into one three-hour roll of celluloid. That they have not scored a major triumph is unimportant. The marvel is that they have succeeded as well as they have.

From Christopher Fry’s terse screenplay, which draws heavily on King James biblical language, Huston has strung together six episodes whose continuity depends on his own reading, both for the narration and the voice of God. Following a scenario of particularized, literal images rather than poetic ambiguity, Huston presents a tasteful film that only occasionally offends with sensational devices.

The six episodes, however, have an uneven quality that prevents a steady development to a climax. Though The Bible has several scenes of great dramatic force—and, in George C. Scott’s portrayal of Abraham, an exhibition of disciplined and perceptive acting—its fatal flaw is that one leaves the theater impressed by aspects of the film but without a deep sense of the glory of the Creator revealed in the pages of Genesis.

The Creation unfolds as the narrator speaks and the amorphous, undulating masses of fog, fingers of light, volcanic eruptions, and swirling waters move across the screen. It culminates in the creation of Adam, uniquely accomplished as the wind blows on a shapeless earthen mass until a human form is distinguishable and flesh appears. The human body, discreetly nude, is seen as the noblest part of God’s creation. Beautiful in its dignity and power, the entire creation sequence elicits a sense of awe.

Adam and Eve fail to come across either as profoundly innocent or as grievously fallen characters. They are played two-dimensionally by Michael Parks and Ulla Bergryd, whose acting ability is less impressive than their splendid physiques. The temptation scene is a dud in its lack of dramatic intensity. But surprisingly, the difficult task of portraying the serpent is carried off quite effectively: Satan has a humanlike form all but hidden in the shadows of the luxuriant Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, on which hangs the glistening golden apple. Conspicuous by their absence are the garments of skins in which God clothed Adam and Eve before they were driven from the Garden.

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Richard Harris as Cain offers an unconvincing caricature of the fleeing vagabond who tries to escape his tormenting guilt. In one of the unfortunate bits of sensationalism of the film, lightning strikes Cain causing a mark shaped like the Tree to appear on his forehead.

Noah, played by director Huston himself, is a man of quiet strength with a twinkle in his eye. He gives no hint of being a raging prophet of God’s judgment but is a wise, persistent man of faith who builds his ark despite the taunting of a mob of men, each of whom resembles the Swedish Angel of wrestling fame. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Noah tootles the bright beasts and his drab family aboard the rough-hewn place of refuge. The Noah sequence is disproportionately long, but it is nevertheless entertaining and, with the climactic return of the dove with the fig leaf, inspirational.

The Tower of Babel scene is perhaps the weakest part of The Bible. Nimrod stands atop the high-rise ziggurat and shoots an arrow high into the heavens as an act of pride in defiance of God. Suddenly a great turbulence occurs in the clouds. When Nimrod speaks to his men, they reply in gibberish. The crowds below begin to quarrel, the tower tumbles, and the people flee—all in the space of a few moments.

The picture saves for the last its best episode, the saga of Abraham and Sarah. George C. Scott brilliantly portrays the Patriarch as a man of humanity, virility, and faith. The attractiveness of Sarah (played by Ava Gardner), who at seventy-five appears more like a mature girl of twenty-five, may have contributed to Abraham’s soundness of spirit.

The screenplay takes the liberty of allowing Abraham to show young Isaac the ruins of Sodom where God’s judgment has been rendered. Here the film reaches its dramatic high point as Abraham (using words found in the book of Isaiah) raves before God before obediently ascending the mountain of sacrifice to offer his son. After God interrupts the uplifted blade of Abraham and provides a ram caught in the thicket for the sacrifice, father and son embrace in a touching show of love. Then, true to the form of biblical epochs, the picture ends with the camera cliché of a sweeping view of the crimson mountains at sunset.

The Bible … in the Beginning is not a great dramatic feat, nor is it likely to communicate profound religious feeling. Yet it is one of the better biblical films produced by commercial movie-makers. Some people will be enthralled by it. Others will be less than satisfied. If nothing else, the film should convince all that the revelation of God is better served by the verbal than the visual symbol.

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Chronicle Of A Controversy

A Time for Burning, a fifty-eight-minute documentary drama produced for the interdenominational Lutheran Film Associates, New York, will make its debut on 105 National Educational Television network stations on October 17.

The film deals with a struggle that began last fall in Omaha when the Rev. William Youngdahl suggested that ten couples of his 1,100-member Augustana Lutheran Church visit ten neighboring Negro families. While this proposal was being debated in the church council, Sunday school teachers invited a group of Negro teen-agers to Sunday services. The presence of the Negroes raised anxiety, and the pastor’s proposal was shelved. Finally, the pastor resigned.

As this drama occurred, it was captured by a hand-held camera and wireless microphones. The film chronicles the build-up of tensions in public controversy and private conversations among church people and members of the community.

In November, the film will be made available for rental through Contemporary Films, of New York, San Francisco, and Evanston. Illinois.

Where Others Leave Off

For Pete’s Sake, a production of Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures, Minneapolis, will have its premiere showing this month at the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin.

According to the producers, this film picks up where most Christian films leave off. Pete, the young adult protagonist, is converted early in the story, and then the camera focuses on the problems that can hit a man after he accepts Christ. The producers say they have attempted to replace the usual happily-ever-after theme with something more realistic, and to show that God has promised, not freedom from problems, but the presence of Himself.

In distributing For Pete’s Sake through commercial movie houses, World Wide Pictures is following a pattern it found successful with previous release of The Restless Ones. In The Restless Ones’ first eleven months (to August 15, 1966), two million persons viewed the film and after its showing, 120,000 recorded decisions for Christ and stayed for personal counseling.

Musical With A Message

Worlds Apart, a ninety-minute color film called by its producers “the first real Christian musical,” will be released on December 28 by Gospel Films, Inc.

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The musical will premiere in theaters and civic auditoriums of thirty major cities before being released for rental to smaller groups.

The idea of writing a “musical with a Christian message in it, using a non-biblical story with the typical boy-meets-girl angle and colorful format,” came to top gospel-song writer John W. Peterson several years ago (see Dec. 20, 1963, issue, pp. 31, 32). Peterson has achieved this in Worlds Apart.

Professional talent from movies and television was used throughout the production. The script was written by Turnley Walker, a writer for the Bonanza TV series, and the cast is headed by Lynn Borden, known for her role as Mrs. Baxter in the Hazel series.

The plot and the characters of the film are the stereotypes one expects to find in a light, romantic Broadway musical, except for the working-in of a gospel message.

The hero, Dr. Paul Matthews, is a tall, dark, handsome, Purple Heart-holding physician who is infallibly Christian. Denise Henley, the heroine, is a beautiful, blonde entertainer whose heart is golden but troubled through neglect of God. They fall in love but are “worlds apart” because of different loyalties.

Their final reunion seems to cast God as something of a great Matchmaker in the sky. Perhaps that is the inevitable result of using the captivating and ageless boy-girl formula.

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