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Film / The King of Kings

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"Please pass the salt."

The King of Kings (1927) is a Biblical epic telling the story of Jesus, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It concentrates on the last days of his life, including the Passover entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his betrayal by Judas, and his crucifixion.

DeMille, who had started out in movies as something of an auteur (see his classic The Cheat), spent the rest of his career making epic, big-budget spectaculars like this movie, including several with religious themes, such as his famous The Ten Commandments. H.B. Warner, who plays Jesus, went on to have a long and very successful career as a character actor.

A 1961 film called King of Kings isn't really connected with this film, other than also being about Jesus (that one told the whole story of Christ starting from birth.)



  • All Deserts Have Cacti: Jesus preaches next to a beavertail cactus.
  • Ambition Is Evil: In this version of the story Judas doesn't really buy the whole son-of-God business, but is following Jesus because he believes Jesus will become king of the Jews and elevate Judas to high office. When he finally figures out that Jesus is talking about a spiritual kingdom, he betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin.
  • Back from the Dead
    • Hey there, Lazarus! What was being dead like?
    • Not to spoil the ending or anything, but Jesus does this too at the end.
  • Background Halo: It isn't always there, but appears periodically, including when he's introduced and when he reveals himself to the disciples at the end.
  • Bedlah Babe: Mary Magdalene is dressed like this in the opening scene, when she's lounging around with the Romans. After she gets religion, she covers up.
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  • Bible Times: Why, yes!
  • The Cameo: Ayn Rand, of all people, was an extra in this movie.
  • Camp Straight: Some of Mary Magdalene's revelers in the first scene are played this way, despite the implication that they're all hoping to bed her if Judas doesn't show up.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Pretty much mandatory.
  • Defector from Decadence: Mary Magdalene lounges around with the Romans in the lap of luxury, until she finds Jesus.
  • Driven to Suicide: Judas hangs himself.
  • Empathic Environment: The sky goes dark for three hours while Jesus is being crucified, and when he dies an earthquake rocks Jerusalem and the veil in the Temple is torn in two.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly:
    • Judas starts out relatively handsome despite constantly scowling, but becomes unkempt and visibly sickly, even demonic, upon deciding to betray Jesus.
    • Conversely, after the Seven Deadly Sins are driven from Mary Magdalene, she becomes prettier, even though she has been a courtesan before this.
  • Flat Character: Jesus has two lively moments in this film: when he gets angry at the Temple, and when he fixes a child's doll (with twine, not with a miracle). Otherwise, H.B. Warner spends the whole movie looking holy, with no further attempt at character depth.
  • Flipping the Table: Jesus does this when chasing the money changers from the Temple.
  • A Friend in Need: Simon the Cyrene, who carries the cross for Jesus.
  • Funny Background Event: After Matthew demands tax payment, Jesus tells Peter to go fish and Peter catches a fish that happened to have a silver denarii in its mouth, which Jesus uses to pay the tax. Later, two of the Roman guards who accompanied Matthew try to catch a similar fish and are confused that all they can catch is a regular fish, no coins.
  • Gentle Giant: Peter, described as the "giant disciple" and played by a pretty big guy, who is portrayed as timid.
  • Go and Sin No More: Trope Maker, said by Jesus to the woman taken for adultery.
  • Greedy Jew: Caiaphas, leader of the Sanhedrin, is said to care about revenue more than religion. The money changers at the Temple are also this stereotype.
  • Healing Hands: Guess what Jesus can do? Miracles include healing the sick, blind, and crazy, as well as bringing Lazarus Back from the Dead.
  • Holier Than Thou: The Pharisees, as always, trying to catch Jesus in little religious tricks.
  • Messianic Archetype: Guess who?
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Judas has second thoughts about betraying Jesus to the Sanhedrin.
  • Playing Gertrude: Dorothy Cumming as Mary is young enough to be the daughter of her onscreen Son, H.B. Warner.
  • Race Lift / Informed Judaism: Every character in this movie except for the Romans is a Jew, but Jesus's disciples don't look all that Jewish, and Warner, a white Englishman, doesn't at all. The bad guys, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, are crude anti-Semitic stereotypes, and the film takes pains to emphasize their Jewishness—Caiaphas summons his goon squad by banging a gong shaped like a Star of David. Interestingly, Joseph Schildkraut, who played Judas and actually was Jewish, isn't made up to resemble the stereotype.
  • Satan: Appears to Jesus to tempt him, not at the Crucifixion as in some other films, but here after the Passover entry in Jerusalem, when Jesus is being hailed by the crowd.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: When Mary Magdalene meets Jesus, they are driven from her one at a time, with seven ghosts leaving her body and circling around her before they finally go away. One of the more interesting shots in the movie.
  • Shown Their Work: Dialogue directly lifted from or based on Scripture cites chapter and verse, even going so far as to incorporate material from books other than the four Synoptic Gospels.
  • Spiking the Camera: Judas does this on several occasions.
  • Splash of Color: The first scene (Mary Magdalene hanging out with Roman nobles) is in Technicolor, as is Jesus's exit from the tomb towards the end.
  • Title Drop: From the Romans, surprisingly enough. The soldiers mock Jesus.
    "Hail thou, king of kings!"
  • Traitor Shot: Establishes Judas Iscariot as the villain (if not necessarily a traitor) by showing him scowling all the time.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The blind girl who is healed by Jesus in an early scene receives a lot of buildup, including the fact that Jesus is first seen by the viewer through her eyes, courtesy of her miraculous recovery. She's never seen or mentioned again, while her healed-child counterpart Mark continues to be a major character throughout.