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DVD: Barabbas (1961)
Review Rating:   Standard  
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Columbia Tri-Star   
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1 (NTSC)

March 5, 2002



Genre: Historical Epic / Drama  
The story of the thief Barabbas, who is spared instead of Jesus Christ, and that pivotal moment in human history plagues him the rest of his days.  



Directed by:

Richard Fleischer
Screenplay by: Christopher Fry
Music by: Mario Nascimbene
Produced by: Dino De Laurentiis

Anthony Quinn,  Silvana Mangano,  Arthur Kennedy,  Katy Jurado,  Harry Andrews,  Vittorio Gassman,  Norman Wooland,  Valentina Cortese,  Jack Palance,  Ernest Borgnine,  Arnoldo Foa,  Michael Gwynn,  Laurence Payne,  Douglas Fowley,  Guido Celano,  Enrico Glori,  Carlo Giutini,  Gianni Di Benedetto,  Robert Hall

Film Length: 137 mins
Process/Ratio: Super Technirama 70 / 2.35:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:   English (Dolby 4.0) / English, French, Portuguese & Spanish Subtitles
Special Features :  

Theatrical trailer for "Barabbas" (2.35:1 - Ltbx)

Comments :

Though legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis didn't have the immense budgets allotted to "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "Spartacus" (1960), he nevertheless managed to create a engaging Biblical epic with intimate characters, rich locations, and a talented pool of actors. Quinn shines as the guilt-ridden crook, Gassman excels as his Christ-following companion, and character actors Katy Jurado, Arthur Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Andrews, and Jack Palance are surprisingly credible in their limited roles.

Often seen on television in grainy and ugly prints, Aldo Tonti's careful widescreen compositions were additionally ruined by nasty cropping and re-framing. Columbia's DVD presents the film in a beautiful transfer, and reveals a unique colour scheme: Tonti's cinematography follows a careful series of off-white colour shades, with a near-absence of dark blues and blacks; there's a soothing amber-orange shading that permeates the film, and the digital transfer maintains a steady balance throughout. What makes these aging widescreen films so exciting is not only the chance to see them in their original ratios, but witness the magnificent sets (and locations) populated by masses of extras, with fine details artfully extending across the panorama frame. Director Richard Fleischer (who remains a much under-appreciated filmmaker today) had an excellent sense of pacing, and his selective camera movements effectively reveal the depth of the rocky, barren landscapes, and exploit production values in the film's several village and city locations.

"Barabbas" does contain a discreet 4.0 surround soundtrack, but the ambience and key effects occur at 4-5 specific moments, such as the superb eclipse sequence, a Christian's stoning, and the sulfur mine collapse. Mario Nascimbene's minimalist score, based on the Gregorian chant, "Dies Irae" (heard to great effect in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," in 1957), had limited fidelity on the original soundtrack album, but successfully maintains a constant atmosphere of inevitable doom (with chilling experimental sounds) in an otherwise adequate sound mix.

The DVD contains the film's original trailer (non-anamorphic) and no other extras, so it's a pretty economical release that trades special features for transfer quality. A commentary from director Fleischer would have been fascinating - given the film's cast, shooting in Europe, and the De Laurentiis enigma, as sample topics - but admirers can find sufficient production anecdotes (and much wit) in the director's 1993 autobiography, "Just Tell me When To Cry."

© 2002 Mark R. Hasan

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