King of Kings (1927) - A Restoration and a Review
The film was presented in the Nob Hill landmark Episcopalian Grace Cathedral on Palm Sunday eve, it was truly a night to remember. David Briggs played the 7,466 pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ in the cathedral and filled the space with a huge sound. The restoration of the film was quite simply, fabulous. I am at a loss for words to describe it, it was just gorgeous.
I am not sure if the screening was sold out. I was sitting in the midsection of the pews. Plenty of seating behind and the crowd looked good. The atmosphere beforehand was not exactly reverant since we all were in point of fact, in church. Lively discussions were happening until it came time for the introductions. Then the audience fell silent. Anita Monga made some initial comments and then introduced Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films. Bromberg, ever the entertainer with his charming big personality, told the story of how Lobster came to acquire the rights for King of Kings. He shared a touching story of screening the film, not the print we were about to see, with his wife Violene (who shockingly not a silent film fan). Neither of them were much on the religious film no matter David Shepard's urging, then they sat and watched it without a break and were mesmerized. They bought the rights. Tragically for Serge, his close friend and colleague David Shepard passed away in January 2017, and his own wife passed a few months later. The restored film is dedicated to them both, and it could not have been a more apt and beautiful tribute.
The film opens with some very self-important title cards to let you know you are about to see a Very Important Picture. The first reel is in Two-Color Technicolor and the restoration on the Technicolor is so bright and fresh. If it truly looked like this in 1927, people must have been utterly amazed, as was I.
|Sojin Kamiyama as a Prince of Persia|
From this point forward, the campiness ends and the story covers the last days in the life of Christ in simple and straightforward fashion. Jeannie MacPherson's scenario relies more on quotes from the New Testament to tell the story.
Christ is portrayed by a sober H.B.Warner. Warner at the time he played in the film was 51, rather than the younger man of 33. His figure is often framed by a halo effect by virtue of backlighting from cameraman J. Peverell Marley. Marley got his start working on De Mille's 1923 epic The Ten Commandments and worked with De Mille for the rest of his career as well as a long stint for 20th Century Fox.
De Mille's reputation as a filmmaker is one of producing big epic films. De Mille is caricatured as stalking about in his breeches and boots commanding hoards of extras and browbeating his stars to recite ridiculous dialogue. To the boots and breeches, when De Mille arrived in California in 1914, the knee high boots were a good thing and quite probably a very good preventative measure with rattlesnakes in the wild foothills. After a fashion, I am sure it became habit. He was, after all, a very theatrical man.
|H.B. Warner, stoic and quiet as Jesus|
|Joseph Schildkraut as Judas. He did chew a bit of scenary.|
|Mary Magdelene being cleansed of the seven deadly sins|
|Luxury casting, great Japanese actor Sojin as a Persian prince.|
|Rudolph Schildjraut as Caiaphas|
|Raising Lazarus from the dead.|
|Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.|