ⓘ The Bible: In the Beginning...


ⓘ The Bible: In the Beginning.

The Bible: In the Beginning. is a 1966 American-Italian religious epic film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Huston. It recounts the first 22 chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis, covering the stories from Adam and Eve to the binding of Isaac. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film was photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno in Dimension 150, a variant of the 70mm Todd-AO format. It stars Michael Parks as Adam, Ulla Bergryd as Eve, Richard Harris as Cain, John Huston as Noah, Stephen Boyd as Nimrod, George C. Scott as Abraham, Ava Gardner as Sarah, and Peter OToole as the Three Angels.

In 1967, the films score by Toshiro Mayuzumi was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures included the film in its "Top Ten Films" list of 1966. De Laurentiis and Huston won David di Donatello Awards for Best Producer and Best Foreign Director, respectively.


1. Plot

The film consists of five main sections: The Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noahs Ark, and the story of Abraham. There are also a pair of shorter sections, one recounting the building of the Tower of Babel, and the other the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sections vary greatly in tone. The story of Abraham is somber and reverential, while that of Noah repeatedly focuses on his love of all animals. Cats including lions are shown drinking milk and Noahs relationship with the animals is depicted as harmonious. It was originally conceived as the first in a series of films retelling the entire Old Testament, but these sequels were never made.


2.1. Production Casting

Ulla Bergryd was an anthropology student living in Gothenburg, Sweden when she was discovered by a talent scout, who photographed her in a museum there, and then promptly hired to play Eve. In an interview for The Pittsburgh Press, Bergryd recalled the experience:

I was especially surprised by the fact that I started to work four days after signing a contract. Although Ive always been interested in movies and the theater, Id never seen any actual shooting, and it was all very exciting.

Huston originally considered Alec Guinness who was unavailable and Charlie Chaplin who declined for the part of Noah until he finally decided to play it himself.

Ava Gardner was reluctant at first to play the part of Sarah, but after Huston talked her into it, she accepted. She later explained why she accepted the role:

He Huston had more faith in me than I did myself. Now Im glad I listened, for it is a challenging role and a very demanding one. I start out as a young wife and age through various periods, forcing me to adjust psychologically to each age. It is a complete departure for me and most intriguing. In this role, I must create a character, not just play one.

Anglo-Persian actress Zoe Sallis, who was cast as Hagar, was originally known as Zoe Ishmail, until Huston decided that she change her name because of its similarity to the name of Ishmael, her characters son.

The film marks the debut of Italian actress Anna Orso, who portrays the role of Shems wife. It also introduced Franco Nero to American audiences; Nero, who was working as the films still photographer, was hired by Huston for the role of Abel due to his handsome features. At the time, Nero could not speak English, and Huston gave him recordings of Shakespeare with which to study.


2.2. Production Filming

The scenes involving the Garden of Eden were shot at a "small zoological garden" in Rome instead of a "beautiful place of trees, glades and wildflowers" which had been demolished shortly before the shooting began. Ulla Bergryd, who was cast as Eve, later recalled, "Paradise was, in fact, an old botanical garden on the outskirts of Rome."

There were five reproductions of Noahs Ark built for the film. The largest reproduction, which stood on the backlot of the De Laurentiis Film Center, was 200 feet long, 64 feet wide, and 50 feet high; it was used for the long shot of Noah loading the animals. The interior reproduction, which was one of the "largest interior sets ever designed and constructed," was 150 feet long and 58 feet high and had "three decks, divided into a hundred pens" and a ramp that ran "clear around the ark from top to bottom." The third reproduction was a "skeleton" ark, built for the scenes depicting Noah and his sons constructing the Ark. The fourth reproduction was "placed at the foot of a dam" for the inundation sequences and the fifth reproduction was a miniature for the storm sequences. The cost of building the five reproductions was more than $1 million. The building took months and more than 500 workers were employed. The animals were delivered from a zoo in Germany. The whole segment of Noahs Ark had a total budget of $3 million.


3. Release

The Bible: In the Beginning. premiered at New York Citys Loews State Theatre on September 28, 1966. The day after the premiere, Ava Gardner remarked, "Its the only time in my life I actually enjoyed working - making that picture."


3.1. Release Critical reception

Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Director John Huston and his associates have wrought a motion picture that is not only magnificent almost beyond cinematic belief but that is also powerful, quaint, funny, thought-provoking and of course, this being the Old Testament, filled with portents of doom." Variety noted that "the worlds oldest story - the origins of Mankind, as told in the Book of Genesis - is put upon the screen by director John Huston and producer Dino De Laurentiis with consummate skill, taste and reverence." It also commended the "lavish, but always tasteful production assaults and rewards the eye and ear with awe-inspiring realism."

Other reviews were less positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the film had "extraordinary special effects" but was lacking "a galvanizing feeling of connection in the stories from Genesis," and "simply repeats in moving pictures what has been done with still pictures over the centuries. That is hardly enough to adorn this medium and engross sophisticated audience." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post described the film as "cautiously literary, impressive in some instances, absurd in others." The Monthly Film Bulletin opined that "the seven or eight episodes are diffusely long, tediously slow, depressingly reverent. The liveliest of the lot is The Ark, with Huston himself as a jolly, Dr. Dolittle old Noah, and a lot of irrestistibly solemn and silly animals; but even here sheer length eventually wears down ones attention." Episcopal priest and author Malcolm Boyd wrote, "Its interpretation of Holy Scripture is fundamentalistic, honoring letter while ignoring or violating spirit. John Huston got bogged down in material of the Sunday School picture-book level and seems unable to have gotten out of the rut. It is an over-long 174 minutes plus intermission picture, tedious and boring." In Leonard Maltins annual home video guide the film is given a BOMB rating, its review stating, "Only Huston himself as Noah escapes heavy-handedness. Definitely one time you should read the Book instead."


3.2. Release Box office

The film earned rentals of $15 million in the United States and Canada during its initial theatrical release, from a gross of $34.9 million.

The film was the second most popular Italian production in Italy in 1966 with 11.245.980 admissions, just behind The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and is the 15th most popular of all-time.

According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $26.900.000 in rentals to break even and made $25.325.000 worldwide, making a loss of $1.5 million.


4. Bibliography

  • Meyers, Jeffrey 2011. John Huston: Courage and Art. Random House. ISBN 9780307590671.
  • Huston, John 1994. An Open Book. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306805738.
  • Hughes, Howard 2011. Cinema Italiano - The Complete Guide From Classics To Cult. London - New York: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-608-0.