Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 11. June 26, 1952
Film Review. . . — Heaven's Above!
Film Review. . .
In the "de Mill"-ion dollar effort "Samson and Delilah" the producer turned Biblical history into cinematic spectacle, remodelling history's surface when spectacle demanded it. "David and Bathsheba" offers us the same formula, except that there is less spectacle, less bad taste, fewer plunging necklines and bare midriffs. The result of such a formula? Less entertainment.
The film attempts to tell the love story of David and Bathsheba in a straight forward manner, with no vulgar distractions such as gorgeous slave-girls or dancing midriffs. But vernal love-making and wooing expressed in inane dialogue and revealed by an almost static camera is, to me, dull entertainment. I longed for a divine interruption of such tiresome activity. A falling temple perhaps, or a divine flood. No! We are concerned with this dull love affairs (adulterous and royal, admittedly) for thousands of celluloid feet before any form of rescue is ours.
Our rescuer is Nathan, lite Prophet of God, who sends David Off to the Tabernacle to pray before the Holy Shrine. Here we are subjected to more discomfort. For fully three minutes David prays aloud to his God, apparently with complete lack of self-consciousness: the embarrassment is left to the audience. But once again the director's (Henry King) happy sense of timing saves the audience from mass hysteria. With a scries of heavenly thunderbolts we are introduced to flash-backs of David's life. We see Hollywood's version of David slaying Goliath, the "Phyllis-tin." Here we have, spectacle at last! But it is clumsily introduced, spoiling the whole artistic unity of the flint. The director throws good taste to the Jerusalem winds, pandering to those illiterates who control the quality of films produced in Hollywood every year.
How do the players unfold this dull drama of Love and Prayer? Half the trouble with this film (as with others of a historical nature) Is that one's attention is distracted by the discovery that half of ancients israel's population are one's personal acquaintances. Unices. "All, all were there the old familiar faces" ... or at least voices, as most of the film was played in the shadows. Prom what I could make out, Gregory Peck, as David, acts ably with his body but not at all with his voice, while Susan Hayward as the Lady of the Bath is well out of her depth. There is a surprising lack of variety in both these performances, but this is partly due to the director. He does not know the function of the camera, which can do much to develop an actor's characterisation. A camera's job is to comment time exact effects and ensure the highest visual cloaqucnce. A good acting performance depends upon whether the camera is sluggish or alert. This director's camera merely observes.
The director is also to be blamed for mishandling that devise used to gloss over the staccato of the camera and to add emphasis to certain sequences—the musical background. It is true that he has been given poor music (written by neither a psychologist nor a music-connoisseur), but he plays around with it in a most distracting way. It is maddening for me to have soft music braying out Just when the hero and the heroine are murmuring sweet nothings. Perhaps King is convinced that audiences get a thrill out of recognising traditional tunes and orchestration for each emotion; the right music for angry crowds, praying kings, first kisses, shrine carriers and what have you. It seems that Director King has instructed the Hollywood Heavenly Orchestral Body to be close at hand, ready to burst into a mighty crescendo at the drop of every "cliche." He instructed the Californian Celestial Choir (with apologies to C. A. Lejeune) to start on 'The Lord is My Shepherd" as soon as the audience realises that the Lord has rorglven the wicked David. Gab riel and his fellow males start the ball rolling with the first verse, softly accompanied by the Heavenly Orchestral Body. By the time Hero David reaches his Beloved Bathaheba, the Celestial Choir is in full chorus (males and females) with the Heavenly Orchestral Body performing great crescendos and tuttis in the background. All we, needed to make the scene really moving was the Cel-tial Warlitzer.
The film did not make me very concerned about the fate of David and Bathsheba. Heaven can save them for all I care: but I would say very definitely to Hell with the Celestial Choir.