PASSION AND DEATH OF CHRIST (1903)
aka La vie et la passion de Jesus Christ, Life and Passion of Christ
Article 4177 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca
Featuring Madame Moreau and Monsieur Moreau
What it is: The life of Christ
The story of Christ is told from the Annunciation to the Ascension.
Adventures in Movie-Hunting: This movie was listed in the Walt Lee guide as “Life and Passion of Christ”, but when I couldn’t find a match under that title on IMDB, I did a search on director Ferdinand Zecca’s name. At first I stumbled across a 1907 version of the same story with his name and director and thought that was the match, but by doing a search on the other director’s name, I saw I was mistaken. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the mistake because it led me to a copy of the movie. The copy exists on Amazon Instant Video, but it’s attached to the listing for the 1907 version of the movie instead of the 1903 version. To further confuse the issue, it lists actors who actually appeared in FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS from 1912. Nevertheless, I had a hunch that I had the correct movie, and I rented it. And, based on the final credits from the people who restored the film, I now believe I have the right film. I mention this merely to illustrate how maddening it is sometimes to find these early silents, especially when those providing them don’t do the proper research.
Now, I’m not particularly devout or reverent, and despite the fact that I accept that the Christ story (and indeed, the whole Bible) are at the very least important touchstones of Western culture, the thought of watching all of these early adaptations of the story (many of which are extant) doesn’t really excite me, at least partly because they are geared for the devout and reverent. I will say that this one is one of the more entertaining that I’ve encountered. It’s heavy on the special effects (though there are just too many magical appearances of angels), it uses effective if subdued hand tinting, and some of the scenes are very well staged (particularly in its use of depth and the creative use of backdrops). It’s also efficient and doesn’t let its various scenes run on too long. All in all, I think this is a very good adaptation, and if you get a bit bored with the very familiar story, you can have some fun spotting how many times the Pathe rooster is incorporated into the scenery. Once again, the presence of angels and miracles place the movie in the realms of fantastic cinema.