Gregory Peck in “David and Bathsheba” (1951)



King David ben Jesse (Gregory Peck), the second king of Israel, returns to Jerusalem after a military victory over the Philistines. En route, a cart bearing the Ark of the Covenant hits a rut and threatens to capsize. Uzzah, a captain in David’s own army, reaches out to prevent the Ark from falling to the ground. He abruptly dies. While the prophet Nathan declares this the will of God, a skeptical David pronounces it the result of heat-stroke combined with too much wine. David becomes attracted to Bathsheba (Susan Hayward), the wife of Uriah the Hittite (Kieron Moore), another captain in David’s army.

The attraction is mutual, although both know an affair would break the law of Moses. When Bathsheba discovers she is pregnant from the affair, David sends for Uriah, hoping the Hittite captain will spend time with his wife and thus cover her pregnancy. David’s wife Michal (Jayne Meadows), who knows of the affair, tells David that Uriah did not go home. He slept at the castle, as a sign of loyalty to his king. The frustrated David orders Uriah to be placed on the front line, and for his own troops to withdraw, thus leaving Uriah to die, which he does. David sends a dispatch to tell Bathsheba of her husband’s death, and the two plan their marriage.

Nathan informs David that the Israelites are dissatisfied with his leadership. They want David’s sons to rule. Nathan goes on to mention that David has forgotten his role as a servant of the Lord. Shortly after David marries Bathsheba, a drought hits Israel and the couple’s newborn child dies. Nathan returns to tell David that God is displeased with him. However, he will not die as the law demands, but will be punished through misfortune in his family. David takes full responsibility, insisting Bathsheba is blameless, but the people still want her killed. David plans to save Bathsheba, but she tells David they are both equally at fault.

David is reminded of the Lord and quotes Psalm 23 as he plays his harp. David tells Bathsheba she will not die. He accepts God’s justice for himself. A repentant David, seeking relief from the drought as well as forgiveness, enters the Holy of Holies. He begs God not to punish Israel for sins which their king alone committed. David touches the Ark as a suicide attempt. There is a clap of thunder, followed by flashbacks to David’s youth, depicting his anointing by Samuel, his battle with Goliath, and the like.

King David removes his hands from the Ark. Outside, rain falls on the dry land.

A 1951 American Technicolor epic film directed by Henry King, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the Second Book of Samuel, cinematography by Leon Shamroy, starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Raymond Massey, Kieron Moore, James Robertson Justice, Jayne Meadows, John Sutton, Dennis Hoey, and Francis X. Bushman. Goliath is portrayed by 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) Lithuanian wrestler Walter Talun. Released by 20th Century-Fox.

Nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Art Direction – Color, Best Cinematography – Color, Best Costume Design – Color, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and Best Story and Screenplay,

While Twentieth Century-Fox owned the rights to the 1943 book David written by Duff Cooper, the film was not based on that book. Darryl F. Zanuck had owned the rights to a Broadway play, “Bathsheba” (1947). After the success of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” (1949) for Paramount Pictures, Zanuck commissioned Philip Dunne to write a script based on King David. Dunne’s original concept was for a film that would encompass David’s life in three main chapters: David as a boy fighting Goliath; a more mature David and his friendship with Jonathan ending with his affair with Bathsheba; and an older David and his relationship with his son Absalom. Dunne estimated that his treatment would make a four-hour film, but Zanuck was not enthusiastic. Dunne then pitched the idea of a film solely based on David and Bathsheba, which Zanuck loved. Dunne conceived the story as a modern play exploring the corruption of absolute power. The film is noticeably devoid of the epic battles and panoramas frequently seen in biblical movies. Zanuck opted to use stars already under contract with Twentieth Century-Fox.

By giving Bathsheba a more active role, it reflects tensions and questions about gender identity in America in the aftermath of World War II, when women had entered the work force in large numbers and experienced a greater degree of independence and economic self-sufficiency.

The film was banned in Singapore as the country’s censorship board were troubled by the unflattering portrait of David, an important prophet in Islam, as a hedonist susceptible to sexual overtures.

Variety wrote, “This is a big picture in every respect. It has scope, pageantry, sex (for all its Biblical background), cast names, color—everything. It’s a surefire boxoffice entry, one of the really ‘big’ pictures of the new selling season.”

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