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The Greatest Story Ever Told

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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) starring Max von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Charlton Heston, Claude Rains, José Ferrer, Telly Savalas
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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) starring Max von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Charlton Heston, Claude Rains, José Ferrer, Telly Savalas

The Greatest Story Ever Told is an epic retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his crucifixion and resurrection.


The Greatest Story Ever Told is an excellent — though not perfect — telling of the story of Jesus Christ. It’s beautifully done, mostly faithful to the Biblical account. I’m frankly amazed at how much of the story they were able to fit into three and a half hours. It’s well worth watching.


  • The Greatest Story Ever Told is excellently done, with great acting, sets, costuming, cinematography.
  • Much of the dialog comes directly from the four Gospels in the Bible. The story is well told, and fairly accurate to the Biblical account.
  • Sadly, it tries to paint Judas Iscariot in a less evil light. He makes the Jewish authorities promise not to hurt Jesus. They, of course, break that promise. Judas Iscariot can’t explain why he’s betraying the Christ, although he considers him the finest man living. He claims to have known Jesus for 30 years. He doesn’t want the 30 pieces of silver, etc. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it certainly detracts.

Cast of characters

The major roles in the movie were following:

  • Max von Sydow (Flash Gordon 1980) as Jesus Christ. The Son of God, the Word made flesh. God incarnate, literally. The long-promised Messiah, who came to save His people from their sins. The Greatest Story Ever Told goes from his birth (and before) to adulthood, and his resurrection.
  • Dorothy McGuire (The Enchanted Cottage) as the Virgin Mary. The young girl, obedient to God, who becomes.pregnant with the Messiah. She raises him, sees his ministry …. And is present at his crucifixion.
  • Charlton Heston (The Greatest Show on Earth) as John the Baptist. The prophet who fulfills the ancient prophesy, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Also, Jesus’ cousin.
  • Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) as Herod the Great. The very villainous, evil, vain ruler of the Jews. He’s responsible for the slaughter of the innocent children, in an attempt to murder the baby Jesus.
  • José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac) as Herod Antipas. The son of Herod the Great, who inherits the throne after his father’s death. And he’s just as wicked.
  • Telly Savalas (Horror Express) as Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor. He has the power to release Jesus, or to put him to death. “Not this man, but Bararabus”. Despite his wife’s vision, warning him against it.
  • Martin Landau (Mission:Impossible) as Caiaphas. The Jewish High Priest. He conspires to have Jesus put to death. Partly out of jealousy, and partly out of fear.
  • David McCallum (The Great Escape) as Judas Iscariot. The man who betrays the Son of God.
  • Donald Pleasence (The Uncanny) as “The Dark Hermit” (a personification of Satan).

Secondary characters

  • Michael Anderson Jr. as James the Just.
  • Roddy McDowall (Lord Love a Duck) as Matthew. One of Jesus’ Apostles. Formerly Levi, the tax collector for the hated Roman oppressors.
  • Joanna Dunham as Mary Magdalene
  • Joseph Schildkraut as Nicodemus. The great Jewish teacher. To whom Jesus has to explain the concept of being born again. He begins to stand up for Jesus …. Shyly at first, and finally, boldly.
  • Ed Wynn (Cinderfella) as “Old Aram”

Smaller roles (some only a few seconds) were played by Michael Ansara, Ina Balin, Carroll Baker, Robert Blake, Pat Boone, Victor Buono, John Considine, Richard Conte, John Crawford, Jamie Farr, David Hedison, Van Heflin, Russell Johnson, Angela Lansbury, Mark Lenard, Robert Loggia, John Lupton, Janet Margolin, Sal Mineo, Nehemiah Persoff, Sidney Poitier, Gary Raymond, Marian Seldes, David Sheiner, Abraham Sofaer, Paul Stewart, John Wayne, Shelley Winters, Cyril Delevanti, Michael Tolan, Richard Bakalyan, and Marc Cavell.

Editorial review of The Greatest Story Ever Told courtesy of

Max Von Sydow, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters are exquisite in this inspiring, grand-scale portrayal of the life of Jesus Christ.

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