This grand endeavor was among the seemingly endless number of multinational epic collaborations that polluted cinemas during the 1960s. It was helmed by an Italian producer (Dino De Laurentiis) and an American director (John Huston) who brought together a mix of U.S. and European actors and a Japanese composer (Toshirô Mayuzumi) to recreate the first twenty-two chapters of the book of Genesis in the glories of a widescreen process called Dimension 150. Alas, the result was a vulgar and bewildering disaster that earned derision from faithful and agnostics alike.
The main problem was that the film had no cohesive style. The segments ranged from excessively artsy (the Creation and Adam and Eve) to anvil melodrama (Cain and Abel) to light comedy (Noah and the Flood) to spectacle (the Tower of Babel) to soap opera (Abraham and Sarah) to just plain weird (Sodom and Gomorrah, with Peter O’Toole playing all three of the angels) to a dreary fizzle (Abraham and Isaac).
Huston cast himself as the voice of God, but was then forced to also take on the role of Noah when he was unable to persuade either Charlie Chaplin or Alec Guinness to play the part. Ironically, Huston was also the second choice to direct the film—he arrived only because De Laurentiis was unable to secure Orson Welles as director. (Robert Bresson was briefly attached to the project, but was dismissed over a dispute on filming the animals in the Noah sequence.)
Despite a wealth of glittery stars hired to keep viewers distracted (George C. Scott and Ava Gardner as Abraham and Sarah, Stephen Boyd as Babel’s Nimrod, a pre-Camelot Richard Harris and Franco Nero as Cain and Abel, and unclothed hotties Michael Parks and Ulla Bergryd as Adam and Eve), the resulting production moved at a funereal pace that flattened the solemnity of the source material into a dreary wreck. The sweep and scope of the biblical stories never permeated Huston’s film; yes, it was all quite eye-catching, but the emotional depth (let alone maturity) of the Old Testament was absent from the screen.
Bosley Crowther, reviewing the film for the New York Times, hit upon the film’s strengths and weaknesses: “For all its size, for all its extravagant production, its extraordinary special effects, its stunning projection on the wide screen (D-150) and its almost three-hour length, The Bible is lacking a sense of conviction of God in so much magnitude or a galvanizing feeling of connection in the stories from Genesis.”
De Laurentiis originally planned to use this film to launch a continuous series of Bible-inspired films. The commercial failure of this endeavor encouraged him to switch gears and focus on producing films such as Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, the 1976 King Kong remake, and other films of a significantly non-sacred nature.
And as a personal note: this flick is one of the 100 flicks cited in my new book The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time, published by BearManor Media. The book is now available on Amazon and other online retail sites.