David and Bathsheba (1951) starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Raymond Massey, Kieron Moore, James Robertson Justice, Jayne Meadows directed by Henry King Movie Review

David and Bathsheba (1951)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Gregory Peck as King David in David and Bathsheba (1951)

David's Wayward Over Hayward

Whilst not a completely obscure biblical story it has to be said that the story of David and Bathsheba it is not as well known as the likes of The Ten Commandments or Noah and the Arc. It makes it a bit of an unusual choice for a biblical epic because familiarity is one of the reasons why these movies worked; people knew the story before watching where in this case some will not be aware of the story of David and Bathsheba. The choice of David and Bathsheba is also unusual for a biblical epic because it isn't a story of action but a story of the fall and rise of King David who having risen to greatness lost focus and where he came from, almost losing everything when he lusted over Bathsheba only to be confronted with his failures. It means that whilst we have some romance and drama as David and Bathsheba fall in love the end product is a very wordy movie, a literal adaptation of the story which whilst visually impressive lacks the combination of action and drama which some might be expecting from a biblical movie.

As the King of Israel David (Gregory Peck - Only the Valiant) has almost everything he desires but when one night he observes a beautiful woman bathing on her roof top he knows he must have her too. The woman is Bathsheba (Susan Hayward - Canyon Passage) the wife of one of his military leaders Uriah (Kieron Moore) and feeling unloved in her marriage is welcoming to David's advances leading to a secret affair. But when Bathsheba falls pregnant their relationship will come out and Bathsheba will have to be stoned to death for being an unfaithful wife to Uriah. Whilst David calls Uriah back from military campaign in the hope he will sleep with Bathsheba so that it seems the baby could be his things don't go to plan and he is forced to send Uriah to his death on the front line. But with David's action comes the wrath of God as death & famine plague his kingdom.

Susan Hayward as Bathsheba in David and Bathsheba (1951)

So as already mentioned the story of David and Bathsheba is to me a bit of a weird choice for a biblical epic because unlike other biblical epics it is not a story about action, although we do get a flashback to David and Goliath. Instead what we have is the story of a man who became King, forgetting that it was God who made him great rather than himself and then as he faces losing everything repents for his mistakes and learns his lesson. It is a good story and one which is as important now as it ever was but when compared to other biblical epics makes "David and Bathsheba" a very wordy affair with long episodes of exposition.

Now there are a lot of elements which combine to make this story, there is David lusting after Bathsheba after watching her washing on her rooftop, there is his betrayal of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband as they try to cover the fact she is carrying David's child and of course David rediscovering where his strength comes from. But the trouble is that because David and Bathsheba is a very wordy even theatrical production it often becomes hard going and never fully brings the story to life. There are times when it gets it right, there are some nice romantic scenes between David and Bathsheba and the jealous betrayal from his wife Michal is powerful but far too often it feels too literal and dry. That means that whilst the cast which is lead by Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Raymond Massey all look the part there are many times they seem lost in delivering their lines rather than delivering their character and what their motivations are. It is especially the case of Susan Hayward as Bathsheba who whilst beautiful seems to have been directed to be beautiful and tempting but little more.

Because "David and Bathsheba" is a wordy the actual movie has a different feel about it and whilst I place it alongside other biblical epics it lacks that sense of scale which many of these other movies have. This is a movie with a much smaller cast, just a handful of main actors and with it being shot in an aspect ration of 1.37 : 1 lacks that look of scale. But then it is still an impressive looking movie and there has been a lot done with little to create visual depth. In fact to be honest the look of the movie, the location shots and the reconstruction of David's Palace as well as the costumes ends up being what is most impressive.

what this all boils down to is that "David and Bathsheba" is not a bad movie from the time when biblical epics were made but it is one which due to the nature of the story ends up feeling less epic than others. Still it is despite various technical choices a visually impressive movie and whilst not the most exciting of stories it is still an interesting one.