A couple of months ago there was an odd kerfuffle about the armpits of Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot having been shaved. Feminists actually felt it was some kind of betrayal or undermining of the Wonder Woman metaphor. But when have hairy armpits of any heroic movie figure ever been shown? 50-plus years ago some rolled their eyes over Jeffrey Hunter’s armpits having been shaved for his performance as Yeshua in Nicholas Ray‘s King of Kings.
From “He’s Da Lovely,” posted on 3.23.11:
The new King of Kings Bluray (Warner Home Video, 3.29) arrived yesterday. I’ve said before that it’s not the spiritual content of this so-so 1961 Biblical canvas flick (which I can take or leave) as much as (a) the lusciously detailed Super Technirama 70 photography, which looks mouth-watering on the Bluray, (b) Miklos Rosza‘s legendary score and (c) Jeffrey Hunter‘s performance as Jesus of Nazareth, which seems wooden at first but gradually deepens and sinks in during the second half.
The best journey-of-Christ movie is Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ followed by Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. But in an odd way King of Kings has a special vibe due to Hunter’s Nazarene, who is at once Hollywood-fake and yet captivating and soothing. That handsome face, that nut-brown hippie hair, those light blue eyes, and that red-and-white outfit that he wears during the Sermon on the Mount scene.
I might as well just spit it out: there’s a vaguely erotic appeal to Hunter’s Christ. All the King of Kings characters look at him with half-goofy, half-awestruck expressions, but it’s hard not to presume or imagine that they’re also taken by his physical beauty. (Even Ron Randell‘s Roman Centurion seems to regard him in this light.) There’s no question during the watching of King of Kings that Hunter’s Christ is far and away the best looking….okay, I’ll say it…the hottest guy in the film. If I were a gay Judean and he wasn’t the Son of God…
Two or three years ago I mentioned a sartorial similarity between Hunter’s Jesus and Rebel Without a Cause‘s James Dean with both wearing bright red tunics on top of white T-shirts in climactic scenes. One assumes this was at the urging of Nicholas Ray, the director of both films. Let’s not forget that Ray, according to one or two Dean biographies, had some kind of sexual thing with Dean during the making of Rebel. So it’s at least possible that he injected a subtle erotic undercurrent into King of Kings….maybe.
Technical sidenote: Super Technirama 70 provided 70mm release prints, but not from a 70mm (or 65mm) negative. It used a horizontally-run, 8-perf film almost identical to VistaVision, but with an anamorphic squeeze during the photography so that both 35mmm anamorphic and 70mm prints can be made from the negative.