The Greatest Story ever told 萬世流芳 1965
The Greatest Story Ever Told originated as a U.S. radio series in 1947, consisting of half-hour episodes inspired by the Gospels. The series was adapted into a 1949 novel by Fulton Oursler, a senior editor at Reader's Digest. Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, acquired the film rights to the Oursler novel short after its publication, but never brought it to pre-production.
In 1958, George Stevens was producing and directing The Diary of Anne Frank at 20th Century Fox when he became aware that the studio owned the rights to the Oursler property. Stevens created The Greatest Story Productions, which existed for the sole purpose of bringing the novel to the screen.
The screenplay for The Greatest Story Ever Told took two years to complete. Stevens originally collaborated with Ivan Moffet, then collaborated with James Lee Barrett. This marked the first and only time that Stevens received screenplay credit for a film he directed. Ray Bradbury and Reginald Rose were considered for input on the screenplay, but neither writer participated in the project. The poet Carl Sandburg was solicited to offer input, though it is not certain if any of his contributions were included in the final screenplay. Sandburg, however, did receive screen credit for “creative association.”
During the pre-production phase, the film’s financial excesses began to grow. Stevens commissioned French artist Andre Girard to prepare 352 oil paintings of Biblical scenes that would be used as storyboards. Stevens also traveled to the Vatican to have a private audience with Pope John XXIII, for consultation and advice on the project.
In August 1961, 20th Century Fox announced it would withdraw its support from the project, which already spent $2.3 million without any footage being shot. Stevens was given two years to find another studio that would finance the project, or 20th Century Fox would reclaim its rights to the property. Stevens successfully moved the film to United Artists.
Stevens cast Swedish actor Max von Sydow to play Jesus. Von Sydow had never appeared in an English-language film prior to this, and was best known for his performances in Ingmar Bergman’s dramatic films.
The Greatest Story Ever Told featured an uncommonly large ensemble of well-known actors, many of whom appeared in relatively brief guest appearances. Some critics would later complain that the large cast distracted from the solemnity of the subject matter, most notably in the appearance of John Wayne as the Roman centurion who comments on the Crucifixion by stating: “Truly this man was the son of God.”
Beyond von Sydow, the film’s primary cast consisted of Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Claude Rains as Herod the Great, Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, Angela Lansbury as Claudia Procula, Martin Landau as Caiaphas, David McCallum as Judas Iscariot, Donald Pleasance as “The Dark Hermit” (a personification of Satan), Sidney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene, Roddy McDowall as Matthew, Joanna Dunham as Mary Magdalene, Joseph Schildkraut as Nicodemus, and John Wayne as The Centurion ref name=HHS />
Smaller and often fleeting roles (some lasting only a few seconds of screen time) were played by Michael Anderson Jr., Michael Ansara, Ina Balin, Carroll Baker, Robert Blake, Pat Boone, Victor Buono, John Considine, Richard Conte, Frank DeKova, Jamie Farr, David Hedison, Van Heflin, Russell Johnson, Robert Loggia, Sal Mineo, Nehemiah Persoff, Gary Raymond, David Sheiner, Marian Seldes, Harry Wilson , Shelley Winters and Ed Wynn.