Greatest Story Ever Told, The (1965): Critical Response to Stevens Biblical Epic

George StevensThe Greatest Story Ever Told premiered on February 15, 1965, after a lengthy editing process, at the Warner Cinerama Theatre in New York City.

With the exception of the trades, critical reaction toward the movie was mixed to negative.

Variety called the film “a big, powerful moving picture demonstrating vast cinematic resource.”

The Hollywood Reporter stated: “George Stevens has created a novel, reverent and important film with his view of this crucial event in the history of mankind.”

The N.Y. Times film critic Bosley Crowther  wrote: “The most distracting nonsense is the pop-up of familiar faces in so-called cameo roles, jarring the illusion.”

Shana Alexander complained in Life magazine: “The pace was so stupefying that I felt not uplifted – but sandbagged!”

John Simon wrote: “God is unlucky in The Greatest Story Ever Told. His only begotten son turns out to be a bore.”

Bruce Williamson wrote in Playboy, that the movie is “a big windy bore.”

Brendan Gill wrote in the New Yorker: If the subject matter weren’t sacred in the original, we would be responding to the picture in the most charitable way possible by laughing at it from start to finish; this Christian mercy being denied us, we can only sit and sullenly marvel at the energy for which, for more than four hours, the note of serene vulgarity is triumphantly sustained.

Stevens told a New York Times interviewer: “I have tremendous satisfaction that the job has been done – to its completion, the way I wanted it done, the way I know it should have been done. It belongs to the audiences now, and I prefer to let them judge.”