There are epics and then there is George Stevens‘ 1965 film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Based on an internationally bestselling book (The Bible), The Greatest Story Ever Told is a glorious telling of life of Jesus Christ from the Nativity through to the Ascension. .
This 1965 biblical epic features a stunning cast: Max von Sydow, David McCallum, Telly Savalas, Charlton Heston, Angela Lansbury, Sidney Poitier, Claude Rains, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasance and John Wayne. These role range from leading parts to blink and you’ll miss them cameos.
The Greatest Story Every Told is huge in scale with some seriously sumptuous visuals – every shot is a work of art – and every shot looks like a painting. Director George Stevens may best be known for Giant and Shane, but this is his real masterpiece.
There’s a legendary (albeit untrue story) about John Wayne‘s brief role as a Roman centurion in the film story. The story goes that when Wayne said his line, “Truly, this was the Son of God,” George Stevens told him to ‘say it with awe’. Wayne’s response was to say, “Awww, truly this was the son of God”.
Shot across nine months from 1962 and 1963, the film’s production was a complicated one and it faced many difficulties. Cinematographer William C. Mellor died from heart attack during filming and he had to be replaced by Loyal Griggs, the man who shot Stevens’ 1953 western, Shane.
Nominated for five Academy Awards, for Set Decoration, Cinematography, Production Design Score and Special Effects – it criminally failed to win in any category.
The Greatest Story Ever Told cost an astronomical $20 million dollars to produce, but it grossed just $15.4 million at the US box office following its release in 1965.