The Bible: In the Beginning...

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The Bible: In the Beginning...
Directed byJohn Huston
Screenplay byChristopher Fry
Based onBook of Genesis
Produced byDino De Laurentiis
StarringMichael Parks
Ulla Bergryd
Richard Harris
John Huston
Stephen Boyd
George C. Scott
Ava Gardner
Peter O'Toole
Zoe Sallis
Gabriele Ferzetti
Eleonora Rossi Drago
Narrated byJohn Huston
CinematographyGiuseppe Rotunno
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Music byToshiro Mayuzumi
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • 28 September 1966 (1966-09-28) (New York City premiere)
  • 13 October 1966 (1966-10-13) (Italy)
Running time
174 minutes
United States
Budget$15–$18 million[2][1]
Box office$34.9 million[3]

The Bible: In the Beginning... (Italian: La Bibbia, lit.'The Bible') is a 1966 religious epic film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Huston. It recounts the first 22 chapters of the Biblical Book of Genesis, covering the stories from The Creation and Adam and Eve to the binding of Isaac.[4]

Released by 20th Century Fox, the film's ensemble cast features Huston, Michael Parks, Richard Harris, Franco Nero, Stephen Boyd, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Peter O'Toole and Gabriele Ferzetti. The screenplay was written by Christopher Fry, with uncredited contributions by Orson Welles, Ivo Perilli, Jonathan Griffin, Mario Soldati and Vittorio Bonicelli, photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno in Dimension 150, a variant of the 70mm Todd-AO format. The musical score was by the Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi, with additional cues by an uncredited Ennio Morricone.

Premiering in New York City on 28 September 1966, the film received generally positive reviews from critics. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures included the film in its "Top Ten Films" list of 1966.[5] De Laurentiis and Huston won David di Donatello Awards for Best Producer and Best Foreign Director, respectively.[6] Toshiro Mayuzumi's score was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.[7] The film was originally conceived as the first in a series of films retelling the entire Old Testament, but these sequels were never made.


Part I

The film begins with the Creation. God (voiced by John Huston) creates everything that exists, including the first man, Adam (Michael Parks) and the first woman, Eve (Ulla Bergryd). Both live in the utopical Garden of Eden until a Serpent convinces Eve to disobey God by eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge, and in turn Eve convinces Adam to do the same. God punishes all three of them harshly and banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden.

They have two children: Cain and Abel. When they are older, both make regular ritual sacrifices to God. God favours the sacrifice made by Abel (Franco Nero), so Cain (Richard Harris) grows jealous and murders Abel and runs away. Adam and Eve mourn the loss of both their sons. Generations come to pass, and most of the descendants of Cain grow evil.

God is displeased by his creation and intends to destroy it all via a global flood. He makes contact with a good man named Noah (John Huston) and commands him to build an Ark in order to save himself from the flood, as well as his family and a pair of each animal of the world. Noah obeys and, after the ark is ready, everything in the world is covered by water and every living thing outside the ark dies. The occupants of the ark survive the catastrophe. Noah's wife is the only one able to count the days inside. After a while, they find dry land again and God promises to never again destroy his creation by water. This promise is symbolized by a rainbow.

Part II

The second part begins with a visual representation of Noah's descendants and a brief depiction of the story of the Tower of Babel, in which the king Nimrod (Stephen Boyd) defies God by ordering the construction of a colossal tower and firing an arrow from the top of it towards the sky. God responds by making people speak different languages from then on, making them disperse across the Earth.

The remainder of the film tells the story of the patriarch Abraham (George C. Scott), who always wanted a child who would inherit his position, but his wife Sarah (Ava Gardner) is barren. Sarah offers her handmaiden Hagar (Zoe Sallis) to bear Abraham's children instead. Hagar becomes pregnant with Ishmael, but God promises that Abraham will have another child with Sarah despite all, and that this child will be called Isaac and will inherit Abraham's position instead of Ishmael. Hagar and Sarah begin to grow resentful of each other.

The men of Abraham start quarreling with those of his nephew Lot (Gabriele Ferzetti), and so they agree to part ways. Lot decides to try and live with his family in the city of Sodom, but it is full of sinners. Abraham receives the visit of three angels (all played by Peter O'Toole), who announces God's plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. Abraham intercedes for the sodomites. Two of the angels go visit Lot, but ultimately decide to go ahead with the destruction of the cities, only saving Lot's family if they flee the city without looking back. Lot's wife looks back and she is turned into a pillar of salt.

Time goes by and, at long last, the elderly Sarah gives birth to Isaac as God predicted. Fearing that Ishmael might kill Isaac as Cain did Abel, she sends him along with his mother out into the desert. Hagar and her son almost die, but God ultimately calls to her while a water fountain springs miraculously from the sand, promising that a great lineage of men will come from Ishmael.

God then instructs Abraham to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham is devastated, but obeys and takes off towards the mountain Moriah, alone with Issac, in order to make the sacrifice there without telling his true intentions to him or his mother. In Moriah, as he prepares to sacrifice his son, God stops Abraham's hand in the last moment, telling him that all of that was a test to see if Abraham would still obey God no matter what. Abraham and Isaac merrily sacrifice a ram that was stuck in some nearby bushes.



Seven Arts Productions contributed 30% of the budget.[8]


Ava Gardner was reluctant at first to play the part of Sarah, but after Huston talked her into it, she accepted.[9] She later explained why she accepted the role:

He (Huston) had more faith in me than I did myself. Now I'm glad I listened, for it is a challenging role and a very demanding one. I start out as a young wife and age through various periods, forcing me to adjust psychologically to each age. It is a complete departure for me and most intriguing. In this role, I must create a character, not just play one.[9]

Anglo-Persian actress Zoe Sallis, who was cast as Hagar, was originally known as Zoe Ishmail, until Huston decided that she change her name because of its similarity to the name of Ishmael, her character's son.[10]

Ulla Bergryd was an anthropology student living in Gothenburg, Sweden when she was discovered by a talent scout, who photographed her in a museum there, and then promptly hired to play Eve.[11] In an interview for The Pittsburgh Press, Bergryd recalled the experience:

I was especially surprised by the fact that I started to work four days after signing a contract. Although I've always been interested in movies and the theater, I'd never seen any actual shooting, and it was all very exciting.[11]

Huston originally considered Alec Guinness (who was unavailable) and Charlie Chaplin (who declined) for the part of Noah until he finally decided to play it himself.[12]

The film marks the debut of Italian actress Anna Orso, who portrays the role of Shem's wife.[13] It also introduced Franco Nero to American audiences; Nero, who was working as the film's still photographer, was hired by Huston for the role of Abel due to his handsome features. At the time, Nero could not speak English, and Huston gave him recordings of Shakespeare with which to study.[14]


The scenes involving the Garden of Eden were shot at a "small zoological garden" in Rome instead of a "beautiful place of trees, glades and wildflowers" which had been demolished shortly before the shooting began.[15] Ulla Bergryd, who was cast as Eve, later recalled, "Paradise was, in fact, an old botanical garden on the outskirts of Rome."[11]

There were five reproductions of Noah's Ark built for the film.[16] The largest reproduction, which stood on the backlot of the De Laurentiis Film Center, was 200 feet long, 64 feet wide, and 50 feet high; it was used for the long shot of Noah loading the animals.[16] The interior reproduction, which was one of the "largest interior sets ever designed and constructed," was 150 feet long and 58 feet high and had "three decks, divided into a hundred pens" and a ramp that ran "clear around the ark from top to bottom."[16] The third reproduction was a "skeleton" ark, built for the scenes depicting Noah and his sons constructing the Ark.[16] The fourth reproduction was "placed at the foot of a dam" for the inundation sequences and the fifth reproduction was a miniature for the storm sequences.[16] The cost of building the five reproductions was more than $1 million.[16] The building took months and more than 500 workers were employed.[16] The animals were delivered from a zoo in Germany.[17] The whole segment of Noah's Ark had a total budget of $3 million.[16]

The opening Creation sequence was shot by photographer Ernst Haas.[citation needed]


The Bible: In the Beginning ... premiered at New York City's Loew's State Theatre on 28 September 1966.[18] The day after the premiere, Ava Gardner remarked, "It's the only time in my life I actually enjoyed working—making that picture."[19]

Critical reception[edit]

Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Director John Huston and his associates have wrought a motion picture that is not only magnificent almost beyond cinematic belief but that is also powerful, quaint, funny, thought-provoking and of course, this being the Old Testament, filled with portents of doom."[20] Variety noted that "the world's oldest story—the origins of Mankind, as told in the Book of Genesis—is put upon the screen by director John Huston and producer Dino De Laurentiis with consummate skill, taste and reverence."[21] It also commended the "lavish, but always tasteful production [that] assaults and rewards the eye and ear with awe-inspiring realism."[21]

Other reviews were less positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the film had "extraordinary special effects" but was lacking "a galvanizing feeling of connection in the stories from Genesis," and "simply repeats in moving pictures what has been done with still pictures over the centuries. That is hardly enough to adorn this medium and engross sophisticated audience."[22] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post described the film as "cautiously literary, impressive in some instances, absurd in others."[23] The Monthly Film Bulletin opined that "the seven or eight episodes are diffusely long, tediously slow, depressingly reverent. The liveliest of the lot is The Ark, with Huston himself as a jolly, Dr. Dolittle old Noah, and a lot of irrestistibly solemn and silly animals; but even here sheer length eventually wears down one's attention."[24] Episcopal priest and author Malcolm Boyd wrote, "Its interpretation of Holy Scripture is fundamentalistic, honoring letter while ignoring (or violating) spirit. John Huston got bogged down in material of the Sunday School picture-book level and seems unable to have gotten out of the rut. It is an over-long (174 minutes plus intermission) picture, tedious and boring."[25] In Leonard Maltin's annual home video guide the film is given a BOMB rating, its review stating, "Only Huston himself as Noah escapes heavy-handedness. Definitely one time you should read the Book instead."[26]

Box office[edit]

The film earned rentals of $15 million in the United States and Canada during its initial theatrical release,[27] which made it the second highest-grossing film of 1966.

The film was the second most popular Italian production in Italy in 1966 with 11,245,980 admissions, just behind The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and is the 15th most popular of all-time.[28]

According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $26,900,000 in rentals to break even and made $25,325,000 worldwide (as of 11 December 1970), making a loss of $1.5 million.[1][29]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Award Best Original Score Toshiro Mayuzumi Nominated
David di Donatello Best Producer Dino De Laurentiis Won
Best Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno Won
Production Design Mario Chiari Won
Best Foreign Director John Huston Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Score - Motion Picture Toshiro Mayuzumi Nominated
National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Top Ten Films of 1966 Won
Silver Ribbon Awards Best Cinematography, Color Giuseppe Rotunno Nominated
Best Costume Design Maria De Matteis Nominated
Best Producer Dino De Laurentiis Nominated
Best Production Design Mario Chiari Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media[edit]

20th Century Fox released the film on videocassettes during the later 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, DVD in 2002, Blu-ray Disc on 22 March 2011 and online for both permanent downloading and streaming video online rentals.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hall, S. and Neale, S. Epics, spectacles, and blockbusters: a Hollywood history (p. 179). Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan; 2010. ISBN 978-0-8143-3008-1. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p254
  3. ^ "The Bible: In the Beginning, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  4. ^ Shevis, James M. (15 July 1966). "John Huston Narrates Film, Directs, Portrays Noah". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  5. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures - Top Ten Films of 1966". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  6. ^ "David di Donatello - La Bibbia". Retrieved 24 July 2013.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  8. ^ "7 Arts 30% 'Bible' Share: $4,550,000". Variety. 6 October 1965. p. 3.
  9. ^ a b "Biblical Role Scares Ava". The Spokesman-Review. 6 September 1964. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  10. ^ "What's In A Name?". The Pittsburgh Press. 13 December 1964. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  11. ^ a b c Heimbuecher, Ruth (19 October 1966). "'Bible's' Eve Disliked Her Fig Leaf Costume". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  12. ^ Pearson, Howard (19 October 1966). "A Director Speaks - Huston: 'Bible' Unique Film". The Deseret News. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  13. ^ "E' morta l'attrice Anna Orso, Aveva recitato con Al Pacino". la Repubblica. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  14. ^ Texas, Adios (Franco Nero Bio) (DVD). Los Angeles, California: Blue Underground. 1966.
  15. ^ Huston 1994, p. 322.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ark Easier For Noah To Build". The Deseret News. 2 February 1965. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  17. ^ Hughes, p.70f
  18. ^ Crowther, Bosley (29 September 1966). "The Bible (1966) The Screen: 'The Bible' According to John Huston Has Premiere:Director Plays Noah in Film at Loew's State Fry's Script Is Limited to Part of Genesis". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  19. ^ Boyle, Hal (5 October 1966). "Ava Gardner Declares Public Image Not Real". Sarasota Journal. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  20. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (2 October 1966). "Movies: 'The Bible' Powerful and Faithful". Los Angeles Times. p. 9.
  21. ^ a b "Review: 'The Bible – In the Beginning . . .'". Variety. 31 December 1965. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  22. ^ Crowther, Bosley (29 September 1966). "The screen: 'The Bible' According to John Huston Has Premiere". The New York Times. p. 59.
  23. ^ Coe, Richard L. (30 October 1966). "The Bible". The Washington Post. G1.
  24. ^ "La Bibbia (The Bible ... In the Beginning)". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 33 (394): 163. November 1966.
  25. ^ Boyd, Malcolm (27 November 1966). "Houston's [sic] 'The Bible' Fails to Make a Moral Statement". The Washington Post. G5.
  26. ^ Maltin, Leonard, ed. (1995). Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide. Signet. p. 107. ISBN 0-451-18505-6.
  27. ^ Solomon p 230
  28. ^ "La classifica dei film più visti di sempre al cinema in Italia". 25 January 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  29. ^ Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 325. ISBN 9780818404856.
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  31. ^ "Bible-In The Beginning Blu-ray". TCM Shop. Archived from the original on 1 April 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2014.


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