Thursday, March 24, 2022

#2,728. The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966) - The Men Who Made the Movies


John Huston’s grand retelling of the first 22 chapters of the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis, The Bible: In the Beginning… takes us from creation, when Adam (Michael Parks) and Eve (Ulla Bergryd) were cast out of paradise for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, to the murder of Abel (Franco Nero) by his brother Cain (Richard Harris). Noah (played by director Huston) and his Ark are given first-class treatment, as is the story of Abraham (George C. Scott) and his wife Sarah (Ava Gardner), who try for decades to have a son before God finally blesses them with Isaac (played as a child by Alberto Lucantoni).

This joint Italian / American production also features, albeit briefly, the Tower of Babel and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which three angels (all played by Peter O’Toole) warn Lot (Gabriele Ferzetti) and his family to flee before God unleashes his wrath upon the cities (the image of Lot’s wife, played by Eleanora Rossi Drago, transforming into a pillar of salt is profoundly disturbing).

Though not a perfect film, The Bible: In the Beginning... has its strengths. The opening creation sequence (narrated by director Huston) boasts some stunning photography; it almost feels as if this footage, shot in Dimension-150 (similar to Todd-AO 70mm), was lifted from one of those excellent BBC Nature documentaries. In addition, George C. Scott and Ava Gardner do a fine job as Abraham and Sarah, whose exploits take up the entire second half of this nearly 3-hour movie, yet the film’s best sequences are those with Noah and his ark. Director Huston seems to be having a wonderful time portraying Noah, who develops a rapport with the animals he brings along (there are even a few comedic moments thrown in), and the set pieces used to recreate the ark are extraordinary.

Where the film falters more often than not is in its pacing. The opening scenes with Adam and Even drag occasionally, as does the subsequent segment with Cain and Abel. Even more bloated is the last half of the movie, featuring Abraham (there are a few exciting sequences thrown in to break up the monotony, but not enough to salvage it entirely).

Still, The Bible: In the Beginning... is a grand piece of entertainment, a big-budgeted religious epic with an all-star cast and a rousing score by Toshiro Mayuzumi (nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe) all doing their part to bring these biblical tales convincingly to life.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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