June 19: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is free.
Hugh J. Schonfield was a British Bible scholar who specialized in the study of the New Testament and the early development of the Christian religion. I bet he never believed that when he went from being one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls team members and writing a non-ecclesiastical historical translation of the New Testament to writing The Passover Plot that it’d be made into a movie with Zalman King, Dan Hedaya and Donald Pleasence.
The central thesis of Schonfield’s book that Jesus was completely convinced that He was the Messiah, as he was a descendent of King David. Therefore, he calculated His journey, keeping many of the Disciples on a need-to-know basis of his true plans, which ultimately included dying on the cross and being resurrected so that He could rule as a king on Earth.
Then things went wrong.
The plan was that Jesus would not end up being on the cross for more than a few hours, as Jewish people by law had to be taken down in time for Sabbath. One of His followers was to give him a drug to knock him out. Then, Joseph of Arimathea would take His body while Jesus healed. However, a Roman soldier — one assumes the one played by John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told — stabbed Jesus and killed him before The Passover Plot could be completed.
Producer by Wolf Schmidt and Menahem Golan (yes!), The Passover Plot was written by Paul Golding (the writer of Beat Street), Patricia Louisianna Knop (the writer of 9 1/2 Weeks, Wild Orchid, Red Show Diaries and the wife of Zalman King) and Millard Cohan.
Jesus — called Yeshua of Nazareth — is intense, but that’s because that’s Zalman King’s acting style. He’s up against Pontius Pilate (Pleasence), who is working with the Jewish High Priests to rule what will someday be The Holy Land. There’s a commotion at the temple, presumably led by Barabbas, which Jesus hopes to calm so that He can bring the people together and become the Messiah. Either that or ask Jusad (Scott Wilson) to betray him so that he can fake his death.
This movie plays fast and loose with the Gospel and the direction by Michael Campus — yes, the same man who made The Mack and Z.P.G. — is kind of wild. But hey! It has a score from Alex North, who did Spartacus and Cleopatra, plus Academy Award-nominated costumes by Mary Willis, who also worked on both the TV movie and original versions of The Diary of Anne Frank.
My favorite thing about this whole controversy was that Pat Boone bought national syndicated TV time to create an hour-long show asking people not to go see this movie. In fact, he even called Donald Pleasence on the phone to ask him why he was in it, thereby proving my theory that Mr. Pleasence never said no to anything that would have him perform on camera.
Also, in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Pat played the Angel at the Tomb. Who did Donald play? Satan.