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Barabbas (1961 film)

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Barabbas (1961 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Nigel Balchin
Diego Fabbri
Christopher Fry
Based on Barabbas 
by Pär Lagerkvist
Starring Anthony Quinn
Arthur Kennedy
Jack Palance
Silvana Mangano
Harry Andrews
Ernest Borgnine
Music by Mario Nascimbene
Cinematography Aldo Tonti
Edited by Alberto Gallitti
Raymond Poulton
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 23, 1961 (1961-12-23) (Italy)
  • October 10, 1962 (1962-10-10) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes
Country Italy
Language English
Box office $2,900,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

Barabbas is a 1961 Vittorio Gassman, and Jack Palance, and was distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was conceived as a grand Roman epic, was based on Nobel Prize-winning Pär Lagerkvist's 1950 novel of the same title. A previous film version of the novel, in Swedish, had been made in 1953.

The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and shot in Verona and Rome under the supervision of producer Dino De Laurentiis. It included many spectacular scenes, including a battle of gladiators in a Cinecittà film studio mock-up of the arena, and a crucifixion shot during a real eclipse of the sun.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
  • Awards 5
  • Biography 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Shortly before the crucifixion of Christ, Pontius Pilate offers to release either Jesus Christ or Barabbas in keeping with the local custom. As the Bible story goes, Barabbas is the one the crowd chooses.

Barabbas returns to his friends, and asks where his lover Rachel is. They inform him that Rachel had changed while he was away, and has become a follower of Christ. Rachel soon returns, but she is not overjoyed to see Barabbas.

As Christ dies, the sky turns dark. Shaken by this, Barabbas goes to witness the crucifixion. Afterwards, he goes to watch Christ's body being sealed in the tomb. On the third morning, Barabbas goes to the tomb to find it open, and the corpse gone. Rachel tells him that Christ has risen, but Barabbas dismisses this as illusion, or that his followers had taken his body. He goes to see the Apostle Peter and Christ's other followers; they do not know where he is, but do believe he is risen.

Rachel begins to talk to others in Jerusalem about Christ. This results in her being stoned to death at the insistence of the priests. When Barabbas comes across them later while robbing a caravan, he throws stones at one of them rather than fleeing, and is captured by Roman soldiers. Pilate finds that the law forbids him to execute someone who has been pardoned as Barabbas has, so he instead sentences him to the sulfur mines of Sicily.

Barabbas manages to survive a hellish existence for the next twenty years in the mines. Eventually, he is chained to Sahak, a sailor who was sent to the mines for being on watch when some slaves escaped. Sahak is a Christian. At first, Sahak hates him for being chosen to live by the mob instead of "the Master", but the two men eventually become friends. After some time, Sahak becomes too weak to work, and is about to be killed - but the mine is destroyed in an earthquake. Sahak and Barabbas are the only survivors. As such, they are considered lucky by Julia, the superstitious wife of the local prefect. The prefect is due to leave for Rome to become a Senator. Julia insists that Barabbas and Sahak be brought along for good luck.

Once in Rome, the men are trained to become gladiators by Torvald  – the top gladiator in Rome. Just after one of the gladiatorial events, Sahak is overheard sharing his faith with other gladiators, and is condemned to death for treason. When the others deliberately miss with their thrown spears, he is executed by Torvald. The next day, Torvald and Barabbas battle in the arena, with Barabbas winning. Impressed with Barabbas, the Roman Emperor Nero sets him free. Barabbas takes Sahak's corpse to the catacombs, where the local Christians are worshiping, for a proper burial.

Barabbas is separated from the Christians within the catacombs, and becomes lost while trying to find his way out. When he eventually emerges, Rome is on fire. Upon entering the city, Barabbas is told that the Christians started the fire. Believing that the end of the world has come (as he had heard Rachel and Sahak teaching), Barabbas begins to set fire to more buildings. Barabbas is confronted by Roman soldiers and he tells them that he is a follower of Christ. Barabbas is imprisoned with several other Christians, among them Peter. Peter corrects Barabbas' mistaken arson. Afterwards, the Christians are executed en masse by crucifixion in the persecutions that followed the fire. Throughout his life, Barabbas was reputed to be the man who could not die; having finally placed his faith in Christ, he dies. This movie does not however follow the book very closely.




The music score by Mario Nascimbene, which was conducted by Franco Ferrara, the noted conductor and lecturer on conducting at several famous international academies, was noted for its unusual, stark experimental component – the composer referred to his work, which included the introduction of electronic sounds achieved by the manipulation of tape speeds, as "new sounds". The depiction of the crucifixion was filmed on 15 February 1961 when a real total eclipse of the sun, which had been considered to be a supernatural event in the Judean age, really took place.[2][3]


Barabbas received positive reviews; it currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[4]



  • Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano - The Complete Guide From Classics To Cult. London - New York: I.B.Tauris.  

See also


  1. ^ "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. ^ Hughes, p.72
  3. ^ See liner notes of CD of original soundtracks of Alexander the Great (1956) and Barabbas, music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Mario Nascimbene.
  4. ^ Barabbas at Rotten Tomatoes

External links

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