When thief and murderer Barabbas (Anthony Quinn) is freed by the people of Judea rather than Jesus of Nazareth, the criminal struggles to understand why he was chosen to live. Rachel (Silvanno Mangano), the woman he loves, becomes a follower of Jesus, whom she believes has risen from the tomb. Barabbas, however, is unconvinced. Caught preaching, Rachel is stoned to death. Barabbas is sentenced to life working in the sulphur mines. Years later, when Barabbas is chained to Sarak (Vittorio Gassman), a Christian, the mines collapse. Barabbas and Sahak escape, and are taken to Rome and trained to fight. In the Coliseum, Barabbas eventually faces the villainous Torvald (Jack Palance). Academy Award-winning director Richard Fleischer's fictional look at one of the New Testament's most stirring passages showcases strong performances all around.
Barabbas (Anthony Quinn) is a man literally marked with the blood of Jesus. Before being crucified, Jesus is brutally flogged while tied to a post outside Barabbas' cell. When released by decree of the people, Barabbas staggers into this post, covering his hands in Christ's blood. His life is never the same again.
BARABBAS is a powerful, vigorous movie, unlike most of the slow and reverential, Biblical epics that were being made in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Also unlike most of those movies, BARABBAS was not directly based on the Bible, which may have been less constraining to director Richard Fleischer and his collaborators. The movie is based on Noble Prize winner Pär Lagerkvist's novel, and has dialogue by poet and dramatist Christopher Fry.
Visually, the film is very robust. Fleischer and director of photography, Aldo Tonti, use large masses of color against neutral backgrounds, often suppressing brighter colors. When they do allow bright light into the frame, it is dramatically striking. Also, as in most Fleischer movies, the camera movements are bold and confident. Given Fleischer's visual style, it is perhaps not surprising that the brutal gladiatorial scenes in BARABBAS were not equaled for almost years--until Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR was released in 2000.
Bible Epic |
Jesus Christ |
Period Piece |
Theatrical release in New York City: October 10, 1962. The film's world premiere was on June 4, 1962 at the Odeon Haymarket in London, England.
BARABBAS was shot on location in Italy and at the Dino De Laurentiis Studios in Mezzogiorno, Italy.
BARABBAS is based on the novel for which Pär Lagerqvist won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1951.
The solar eclipse that takes place during the crucifixion scene was a real solar eclipse. Director Richard Fleischer delayed shooting in order to capture the actual phenomenon on camera.
There is some confusion over the script and editing credits for BARABBAS. The U.S. version of the movie gives sole credit to Christopher Fry (for the script) and Raymond Poulton (for the editing). Most sources suggest that, as well as Fry, Nigel Balchin, Diego Fabri and Ivo Perilli made uncredited contributions to the script, and it is possible that Salvatore Quasimodo had some involvement as well. As to the editing, some sources give credit to Alberto Galliti, omitting Poulton's name altogether. One possible explanation is that the U.S. and Italian versions of the movie may have been somewhat different with different people working on them.