• U.S.

Cinema: New Picture, Aug. 20, 1951

2 minute read

David and Bathsheba (20th Century-Fox), apparently inspired by the phenomenal box-office take ($11 million in its first year) of Samson and Delilah, sends Hollywood back to the Bible for another censor-proof tale of a strong man’s weakness for a beautiful woman. Like the Cecil B. DeMille opus, the new epic is a Technicolored potion concocted from equal parts of sex, spectacle and religion. But Producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s mixture, neither so rich nor so heady as its predecessor, comes dangerously close to serving as a sleeping potion.

David and Bathsheba takes itself much more seriously than Samson and Delilah. Scripter Philip Dunne has made a literate adaptation of the story from the second book of Samuel. His characterizations of David (Gregory Peck), a national hero grown cynical, lax and unpopular, and Bathsheba (Susan Hayward), a proud, shrewd charmer, are thoughtful and thorough. And Peck’s performance carries surprising authority.

But the script is more notable for words than action, and its pretensions to serious drama are undermined by a plot that never quite overcomes its resemblance to boudoir farce. Uriah the Hittite (Kieron Moore), whom David cheats first of his wife and then of his life, may well be the most gullible cuckold in literature; even played straight, the character seems like a fugitive from a Molière comedy.

To give the story an upbeat ending that its ancient chronicler overlooked, Scripter Dunne confronts the sinful David with a rebellious populace, a drought in the land and an angry Raymond Massey, who, as Nathan the Prophet, speaks loudly and carries a big stick. All can be made well—and obviously will be—if David will return to the prayerful, God-fearing ways of his youth. While David prays, the movie unaccountably wanders off on a tangent in flashback, interrupting its climax for a blow-by-blow account of how young David slew Goliath, played by hulking (6 ft. 8½ in., 320 lbs.) Wrestler Walter (“The Polish Angel”) Talun.

Disappointing as spectacle, David and Bathsheba is no more successful in its frank tale of adultery. Even the most sensational episodes are weighted down with portentous airs and long-winded prattle, and while the picture gathers an ever loftier mood of religiosity, David and Bathsheba seem to spend nearly as much time suffering and repenting their sins as committing them.

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