It was the most popular movie of 1951 and I hadn't heard of it until a few weeks ago; David and Bathsheba, a Technicolor biblical epic film directed by Henry King. This movie never bored me--its flaws are sort of deeply weird and fascinatingly grotesque, its virtues are wonderful.
Maybe the best thing about it is the pair of leads, Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward as David and Bathsheba respectively--Peck was a great actor and his moral struggles are never cheapened in this by broad sneering or yelling when he's turning against God's law.
Susan Hayward had one of those faces that always gave the impression of great intelligence and sensitivity. She always seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing and why. Together, she and Peck effectively come across as two people alone against the world. You almost don't even need actual words coming out of their mouths. They could've been braying nonsense at each other and I think through shear force of performance I would have been caught up in the feeling of being onboard with these two.
But when it comes to the words, for a film meant to reinforce Judeo-Christian values, I am amazed anyone could've walked away from this movie and not abandoned their religion. This movie doesn't sugar coat stuff from the Bible--it sees absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that David has multiple wives, or that God smote someone just for touching the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn't seem to think it makes God look bad that he causes a drought when Bathsheba commits adultery, that men can have multiple wives but women can't have multiple husbands.
A woman is shown being stoned to death for adultery, and we're expected to just go with it. Well, then again, not exactly, because David and Bathsheba in well performed scenes themselves question God's law. David asks why should he or Bathsheba be punished just because she, in a loveless marriage to a lunkhead soldier who won't even visit her when he's in town, and David, whose marriages are totally about political and sexual fulfilment, had a love affair. It's a very good question and the movie doesn't make any attempt to answer it.
Visually the movie's great. Leon Shamroy's cinematography is rich, with plenty of darks and many scenes in the latter portion of the movie being painted in somehow violent coppers and greens. I also loved how the Ark of the Covenant, which plays a significant role in the movie, looked so similar to how it does in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Which is another movie where God gets pretty violent, but even melting people's faces doesn't seem quite as brutal as the tantrums he throws in David and Bathsheba.