Made in 1951, David and Bathsheba was directed by Henry King in Technicolor. Starring Gregory Peck as David, Susan Hayward as Bathsheba, and Raymond Massey as Nathan, with a run-time of 116 minutes, the film was promoted with this tagline: "For this woman... he broke God's own commandment!" The woman, of course, is Bathsheba, which is not pronounced the way you are hearing it in your head as you read this. It's Baaath-shiba, with the emphasis on the bath. Additionally, the Philistines are now the Phil-iss-tins, with the emphasis on the second syllable. Now that you've got that down, you're ready to hear the plot.
Oh, don't you know the plot? Well, perhaps not as Hollywood tells it, for what was the story of a man's morbid lusts of the flesh is now portrayed as the doomed affair of the star-crossed lovers. 2 Samuel 11 describes David looking out and seeing Bathsheba washing herself on the roof of a neighboring house. According to the scriptures, "David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, 'I am pregnant.'"
According to Henry King's version, David sends for Bathsheba. He finds out that she is unhappy in her marriage; only then does he suggest to her what is on his mind, with a kiss for her virtue.
Bathsheba: "The King does what he must. His needs are the kingdom's."
David: "Not all of them."
Well, when Bathsheba seems unwilling, David's pride is wounded, and he starts to send her away, taking consolation that her modesty matches her beauty. What happens next is shocking, with Bathsheba making a startling confession. Watch below.
An interesting exchange and interesting development in Bathsheba's character, to say the least.
So together they stay and together enter a second adolescence, frolicking through fields of sheep and taking romantic picnics and camping trips. How sweet. When Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David tries to hide their sins from Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, who is uncooperative. When Uriah cannot see an honorable reason for going to his wife, David argues with him from a almost feminist point of view, stressing the value of appreciating a woman's feelings, and trying to get Uriah to look at the situation from his wife's point of view. The way the whole thing comes off is almost funny.
Uriah does not comply, so he must be offed, but Hollywood softens the blow by having Uriah beg David to order him to the front of the hottest battle so that he may prove his honor. And in one fell swoop the production crew steals away David's creative genius!
In other deviations:
- Bathsheba momentarily refuses to marry David because he did not visit her during her time of mourning.
- Their son dies before Nathan foretells it from the Lord.
- An angry mob enters the palace with Nathan and demands that Bathsheba be brought out for judgment under the Law of Moses. This leads to an amusing scene in which David throws together a quick plan for fleeing the palace on fast horses, before he realizes that it is surrounded.
- After David refuses to deliver Bathsheba to her accusers he marches out of the city to the tent of the Ark of the Covenant to deal directly with God in the Holy of Holies. He prays, lays his hands on the Ark, and low and behold: the miraculous resolution of all of his problems! The rains begin to fall, his people pay him homage, and Bathsheba is evidently forgiven.
I have two truly nice things to say about the film. One is that Gregory Peck's acting was quite good. The second is that Raymond Massey also did a sound job in the role of Nathan. Susan Hayward wasn't bad, until she had to pretend she was crying about her child's death. This film is probably among the best and most faithful Biblical films ever made by Hollywood, but that's not saying much. The script is still infused with a good deal of typical humanistic Hollywood undertones. At least they are undertones and not in-your-face.
This was made in 1951, so we don't get the nudity and graphic bedroom scenes we would expect if this were made today, and of course the portrayal of her bath is conservative, even if having the camera focused on David's face magnifies the creepiness of the whole thing. There is a flashback memory scene of David fighting Goliath, which is fun. And it is always entertaining to hear an East Coast accent coming out of Israelite soldiers.
So for some reasons this film is worth looking into. It is interesting to see how they handled David's attitude toward and interaction with God - in the Holy of Holies and throughout the film. I think the vast majority of old films are worth watching, and this is no exception, but I would not call this a masterpiece, and I won't cheer for it. I'm not rooting for the Phil-iss-tins either, though, so I'll call it even. :)