Golgotha — the first Jesus talkie

I’ve been writing about life-of-Jesus films in one forum or another for about a decade now, and one film I have always wanted to see is Julien Duvivier’s Golgotha (1935) — quite probably the first Jesus film made during the sound era, and thus quite probably the first “talkie” about the life of Christ.

My interest was particularly piqued when I discovered that Franco Zeffirelli, director of Jesus of Nazareth (1977), had said in a book on the making of his own film: “I had seen all the films on Jesus and felt that the most beautiful was the French director Duvivier’s from the late thirties, for which he shot exteriors entirely in Provence. A bare hour and a half of film.”

Alas, the film, being French and religious and 70 years old and not very well known, is virtually impossible to find on video, at least in North America — and thus, most articles and books about Jesus films, including mine, have tended to jump straight from the 1920s (which reached its peak with Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings; my review) to the 1950s (when a church organization produced The Day of Triumph, the first English-language sound film in this genre) or the 1960s (when Nicholas Ray directed King of Kings, the first major-studio sound film in this genre).

So of course I am rather envious of my friend Matthew Page, who lives in England, and who somehow found a copy, a review of which he has just posted here. Lucky man.

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  • Hy! I made my doctored in comunication (Jesus Film) in Brazil. I have the film, it is the more antisemit film posible. I had it analyzed. Do you reed in portuguese? Do you want a copy of film? it talki in french and legended in portuguese. Search it in the Pathè organization. contact me.

  • Hi, Luiz — I’d love to contact you, but your profile doesn’t have any contact info!

    Also, I don’t know any Portuguese. I do remember just a smidgen of my high-school French, though!

  • Matt Page

    Hi Luiz,

    I don’t speak any Portuguese, and not very much french, which is a shame cos the version I had was in French without any subtitles so I missed whatever anti-semitism there may have been. What was it that you found particularly bad?


  • Anonymous

    Luiz VAdico said…

    Hi, Matt, how are you going?

    The first time I ever watched “Golgotha” I was worried about it being the first “talkie” to adress Jesus’ life because I wanted to know what was he going to actually say in the movie. To my surprise I realized that he talked very little. Only when I changed my focus was that I realized the anti-semitic aspect of the movie. In “Golgotha” there are thefollowing matters that can the interpretedas anti-semitic:
    – Jesus is seen rarely during the movie, compared to other movies of the genre (maybe due to an old British prohibition, 1913).
    – The actual main characters are Annas e Cayaphas;
    – It is the first time a more developed subplot is created for Pilates and his wife Claudia. They pass an idea of “goodness”, when they try to save Jesus, to the public, and are played by actors who reinforce this feeling (Jean Gabin and Edwiges Feuillère);
    – Notice that the movie’s story is more focused on the plot of trying to kill Jesus than with his last days. Then pay attention on the following details: the jewish people watches Jesus being imprisioned beaten up and whipped with the sadistic faces of madmen.
    – During the passion even the children stoned Jesus;
    – Cayaphas is instructed by Annas, who is the hidden power behind the scenes, to pressure Pilates to condemn Jesus;
    – The director shows the high priest giving money to the people to curse against Jesus.

    Try to watch the movie fron this new angle, it will become new imediatelly. In my opinion it is more anti-semitic than Veit Harlan’s “The Jew Süss” because it justifies the anti-semitism through Jesus’ murder, wich is, in its turn, the original reason for the ocidental anti-semitism.
    The movie’s social and historical context is very important too. There was a big anti-semitic movement in France at the time, a strong political movement led by a Jew (Bloom).Robert LeVigan, who played Jesus, became nazi later on.
    In sch a short space it is hard to describe all the elements that support my thesis, but it should give you enough hints to lead you on this new approach of the movie.

    Contact: Luiz Vadico e-mail: vadico@hotmail.com or vadico@iar.unicamp.br