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Status of George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told"


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#1 of 98 OFFLINE   ljgranberry

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Posted May 30 2014 - 05:12 AM

It's been awhile since I've read anything on the status on this - does anyone know where we stand on a restoration of George Stevens' THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD?  As the film is owned by MGM (I think) I shudder to think what shape the original film elements are in, but George Stevens, Jr. has always been an excellent caretaker of his father;s legacy, so hopefully there is a better chance at this film being restored.  Anyone know of any updates?



#2 of 98 OFFLINE   DVBRD

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Posted May 30 2014 - 06:18 AM

It was mentioned on another page that the only print of the uncut (224-minute) premiere version in existence is stored at the Library of Congress, but it is unknown how good the elements are.



#3 of 98 OFFLINE   John Maher_289910

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Posted May 30 2014 - 08:08 AM

It was the most beautiful film I ever saw in a theater.  Sad that home video presentations are so poor, by comparison.



#4 of 98 OFFLINE   john a hunter

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Posted May 30 2014 - 03:45 PM

It was the most beautiful film I ever saw in a theater.  Sad that home video presentations are so poor, by comparison.

Would have to agree. The photography and lighting are superb. Only wished I saw it in 70mm Cinerama.

Unfortunately the film was a mega flop-rightly so for it bum numbing length,tedious screenplay, erratic acting including a po faced Jesus  and to top it off a mangled musical score to emphasis the film's weaknesses.

However, it deserves much better than the current effort from MGM.



#5 of 98 OFFLINE   ljgranberry

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Posted May 30 2014 - 03:51 PM

MGM - the studio that killed THE ALAMO and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.  And God know how many others.  Happy 90th anniversary!



#6 of 98 OFFLINE   John Maher_289910

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Posted May 30 2014 - 08:10 PM

I saw it at The Boyd Theatre, which was Philadelphia's Cinerama house.  Although it was actually an Ultra Panavision 70mm film, not Cinerama.  However, it played on that enormous, curved Cinerama screen.  It was breathtaking.  I didn't even care how ponderous it was.  It was just magnificent to see. 



#7 of 98 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 30 2014 - 09:21 PM

Would have to agree. The photography and lighting are superb. Only wished I saw it in 70mm Cinerama.

Unfortunately the film was a mega flop-rightly so for it bum numbing length,tedious screenplay, erratic acting including a po faced Jesus  and to top it off a mangled musical score to emphasis the film's weaknesses.

However, it deserves much better than the current effort from MGM.

 

I think actually time has been much kinder to this film over the years.   The screenplay and acting is much better than the 61 "King Of Kings" IMO because unlike that film, it chose to stick more close to the text and didn't give us historical absurdities that abounded all through KOK by contrast. I also think Stevens has gotten a bum rap for too long regarding the music because the argument that Handel's Messiah was somehow inappropriate overlooks the fact that the screenplay cleverly quotes scriptural passages at many points that are also part of the Messiah piece.   I do think though Handel should have been used only at the end and not at the Act 1 close where Newman's own piece should have run full and clear, but otherwise I think Stevens showed more respect for Newman's music than say, Stanley Kubrick did to Alex North several years later (and for some reason he always gets a free pass).



#8 of 98 OFFLINE   OliverK

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Posted May 30 2014 - 09:55 PM

I think actually time has been much kinder to this film over the years. The screenplay and acting is much better than the 61 "King Of Kings" IMO because unlike that film, it chose to stick more close to the text and didn't give us historical absurdities that abounded all through KOK by contrast. I also think Stevens has gotten a bum rap for too long regarding the music because the argument that Handel's Messiah was somehow inappropriate overlooks the fact that the screenplay cleverly quotes scriptural passages at many points that are also part of the Messiah piece. I do think though Handel should have been used only at the end and not at the Act 1 close where Newman's own piece should have run full and clear, but otherwise I think Stevens showed more respect for Newman's music than say, Stanley Kubrick did to Alex North several years later (and for some reason he always gets a free pass).

King of Kings works better as a movie imo. I have seen both several times and while King of Kings has its improbable moments when viewed as a work of fiction it is the more successful movie. Of course for somebody familiar with the scriptures and the life of Jesus it may not be good enough but for me it is.In TGSET all the solemnity, the drab and dark interiors, the drawn out and often silly dialogues, coupled with a ridiculous number of familiar faces are still putting me off. Visually an often astonishing film with breathtaking vistas but very uneven - the crucification looks as it they ran out of budget right before they filmed the scene. TGSET also has some horrible matte effects that look extemely bad in 70mm. And the movie looks bad in the cinerama squeeeze as the geometry and pans are all messed up - I hated that effect. This is where the Blu-ray could shine but as we all know it is one of the bottom feeders among the Blu-rays from large format movies.As for the music I think that the Newman score is fitting but especially the shrill Hallelujah in the middle of the movie is comical in its effect - I cannot imagine that this would have passed with a normal test audience and I would have left it out.It is one thing to completely discard the work of a composer but to mess with it and release it in mangled and mutilated form - and without success - is inexcusable. Kubrick was so wise not to use any of it and it worked so he gets a pass. Stevens wanted to have his cake and eat it, too and failed.

#9 of 98 OFFLINE   OliverK

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Posted May 30 2014 - 10:02 PM

It's been awhile since I've read anything on the status on this - does anyone know where we stand on a restoration of George Stevens' THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD? As the film is owned by MGM (I think) I shudder to think what shape the original film elements are in, but George Stevens, Jr. has always been an excellent caretaker of his father;s legacy, so hopefully there is a better chance at this film being restored. Anyone know of any updates?

Actually they made an IP about 10 years ago so I would assume that the movie is reasonably well protected.It was also shot on less problematic film stock than The Alamo, Around the World in 80 Days and Raintree County. These are the three big western hemisphere large format / 65mm productions that would have to be attended to next and then it might of course be nice if some titles with lesser Blu-ray releases could be revisited, we have at least half a dozen of these that immediately come to mind.

#10 of 98 OFFLINE   Richard Pyke

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Posted May 30 2014 - 11:45 PM

I saw it at The Boy Theatre, which was Philadelphia's Cinerama house.  Although it was actually a Ultra Panavision 70mm films, not Cinerama.  However, it played on that enormous, curved Cinerama screen.  It was breathtaking.  I didn't even care how ponderous it was.  It was just magnificent to see.

Seconded. I saw it on it's premiere run at the London Casino in single projection Cinerama. It was a magnificent spectacle in this format. The film itself was rather turgid, though.

#11 of 98 OFFLINE   AdrianTurner

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Posted May 31 2014 - 06:10 AM

MGM - the studio that killed THE ALAMO and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.  And God know how many others.  Happy 90th anniversary!

 

Awe truly, another John Wayne movie. 

 

I did see it, more than once, at the Casino Cinerama and, My God, it did look achingly beautiful. However, I do agree it's a terrible strain on one's patience -all those laughable cameos and the incredible self-importance of the thing.  My friend Derek Elley, in his eloquence defence of the film, described it as "Brucknerian" which makes sense if you know your music.



#12 of 98 OFFLINE   ljgranberry

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Posted May 31 2014 - 06:31 AM

Actually they made an IP about 10 years ago so I would assume that the movie is reasonably well protected.It was also shot on less problematic film stock than The Alamo, Around the World in 80 Days and Raintree County. These are the three big western hemisphere large format / 65mm productions that would have to be attended to next and then it might of course be nice if some titles with lesser Blu-ray releases could be revisited, we have at least half a dozen of these that immediately come to mind.

I agree these three need to be restored, but if you read the thread on THE ALAMO that's been ongoing, it is a DIRE situation at best that any of these will ever be restored.  IMHO, the state of film preservation is in one of the worst periods ever in this country.  Simply put - the studios DO NOT CARE!



#13 of 98 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 31 2014 - 09:10 AM

King of Kings works better as a movie imo. I have seen both several times and while King of Kings has its improbable moments when viewed as a work of fiction it is the more successful movie. Of course for somebody familiar with the scriptures and the life of Jesus it may not be good enough but for me it is.

 

 

It is one thing to completely discard the work of a composer but to mess with it and release it in mangled and mutilated form - and without success - is inexcusable 

 

I have found the best movies about Jesus (GSET, Jesus Of Nazareth, POTC) are always the ones that let the basic story speak for itself without silly made-up devices. KOK has a wonderful Rozsa score that manages to avoid copying Ben-Hur but on all other levels, acting, script, direction, and Biblical accuracy it has now become over the years increasingly unwatchable to me.   "Ben Hur" I grant is not a modicum of authenticity regarding 1st century Judea, but its fictional story is the front-and-center one and done magnificently that I can overlook that in ways I can not with KOK and its thoroughly shallow acting and script. 

 

I don't find the cameos in GSET distracting with the singular exception of Shelley Winters, whose entire part isn't necessary.   As someone who first grew up in the era of the all-star cast spectacle typified by the disaster movies and lengthy TV miniseries (like Jesus of Nazareth, which has a galaxy of big names as thorough as GSET), I don't see how GSET is any worse at it (ironically a lot of lesser names in the cast at the time went on to be big names in 60s-70s TV).

 

I also don't get the argument that its more of an offense to the composer to keep most of his work and with but one exception do it right (remove the intrusion of Handel at the Act 1 close and the score is just fine overall in the film), as opposed to removing the work entirely and not telling the composer about it until he shows up at the premiere. Of course I'll admit I'm one of those who also thinks that with the singular exception of the Ligeti piece, all the temp tracks in 2001 reflect poor directorial judgment on all levels (which is but one of many reasons why 2001 is for me the kind of film that tries my patience in ways GSET never will).

 

I would certainly love to see a longer version of GSET since its clear that some of the parts like Angela Lansbury's all but invisible Claudia (Pilate's wife) and Richard Conte's Barabbas were likely longer in the original version.   It's too bad we'll never be able to see it thanks to MGM (on this we can all agree).



#14 of 98 ONLINE   bujaki

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Posted May 31 2014 - 09:26 AM

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The best movie about Jesus remains Pasolini's The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Unadorned, unpretentious, faithful to the word of the gospel. (I follow no religion.)

I've seen all the others mentioned above, including GSET in a Cinerama venue during its premiere run. King of Kings also during its first run.

Christ in Ben-Hur is incidental to the plot.

Ironically, Pasolini was, to my knowledge, not religious, and a dedicated communist.

All films should be restored to their original splendor, whatever it may have been.



#15 of 98 OFFLINE   Paul Rossen

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Posted May 31 2014 - 10:41 AM

I have found the best movies about Jesus (GSET, Jesus Of Nazareth, POTC) are always the ones that let the basic story speak for itself without silly made-up devices. KOK has a wonderful Rozsa score that manages to avoid copying Ben-Hur but on all other levels, acting, script, direction, and Biblical accuracy it has now become over the years increasingly unwatchable to me.   "Ben Hur" I grant is not a modicum of authenticity regarding 1st century Judea, but its fictional story is the front-and-center one and done magnificently that I can overlook that in ways I can not with KOK and its thoroughly shallow acting and script. 

 

I don't find the cameos in GSET distracting with the singular exception of Shelley Winters, whose entire part isn't necessary.   As someone who first grew up in the era of the all-star cast spectacle typified by the disaster movies and lengthy TV miniseries (like Jesus of Nazareth, which has a galaxy of big names as thorough as GSET), I don't see how GSET is any worse at it (ironically a lot of lesser names in the cast at the time went on to be big names in 60s-70s TV).

 

I also don't get the argument that its more of an offense to the composer to keep most of his work and with but one exception do it right (remove the intrusion of Handel at the Act 1 close and the score is just fine overall in the film), as opposed to removing the work entirely and not telling the composer about it until he shows up at the premiere. Of course I'll admit I'm one of those who also thinks that with the singular exception of the Ligeti piece, all the temp tracks in 2001 reflect poor directorial judgment on all levels (which is but one of many reasons why 2001 is for me the kind of film that tries my patience in ways GSET never will).

 

I would certainly love to see a longer version of GSET since its clear that some of the parts like Angela Lansbury's all but invisible Claudia (Pilate's wife) and Richard Conte's Barabbas were likely longer in the original version.   It's too bad we'll never be able to see it thanks to MGM (on this we can all agree).

Just a couple of comments..

1. Not only was Handel's Messiah utilized but Verdi as well as Newman's own music from THE ROBE. Simply stated Steven's butchered Newman's original

score.

2,  I did see the original 224 minute cut of GSET but don't recall additional time with Angela Lansbury and/Richard Conte.  Believe that most of the cuts were with Max Von Sydow.

 

GSET was/is a very long and slow moving film.  That said I too would like to view the original premiered cut once again.  Especially with Newman's own score restored.



#16 of 98 OFFLINE   OliverK

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Posted May 31 2014 - 11:57 AM

Just a couple of comments..1. Not only was Handel's Messiah utilized but Verdi as well as Newman's own music from THE ROBE. Simply stated Steven's butchered Newman's originalscore.2,  I did see the original 224 minute cut of GSET but don't recall additional time with Angela Lansbury and/Richard Conte.  Believe that most of the cuts were with Max Von Sydow. GSET was/is a very long and slow moving film.  That said I too would like to view the original premiered cut once again.  Especially with Newman's own score restored.

Thanks for elaborating about the score, I thought that especially the usage of music from The Robe was well known.I second that Newman's score should be restored, imo the score and the cinematography are the movies greatest assets.

#17 of 98 OFFLINE   John Morgan

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Posted May 31 2014 - 01:39 PM

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Wasn't there a pan-by of the 3 Stooges playing 3 wise men that was in the original 224 minute cut?



#18 of 98 OFFLINE   Paul Rossen

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Posted May 31 2014 - 01:43 PM

Wasn't there a pan-by of the 3 Stooges playing 3 wise men that was in the original 224 minute cut?

My memory must be fading as I don't recall that scene.  Perhaps it was in the preview version of 240 minutes.



#19 of 98 OFFLINE   ljgranberry

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Posted May 31 2014 - 02:29 PM

Wasn't there a pan-by of the 3 Stooges playing 3 wise men that was in the original 224 minute cut?

They played the three wise men.



#20 of 98 OFFLINE   RonDanto

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Posted August 30 2014 - 12:58 PM

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2015 will be the 50th anniversary of Greatest Story. Hoping powers that be will release the restored uncut Cinerama roadshow print as presented at the Feb '65 premiere at the Warner Cinerama in NYC. I saw it a month later there and I think it had already been cut . Hope springs eternal




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