Cast: Brad Harris (Simon), John Heston [Ivano Staccioli], Margaret Taylor (Miza), Susan Paget, Mara Lane (Diotima), Philippe Hersent (Namele), Carlo Tamberlani (Mattatia), Jacques Berthier (Apollonio), George Nenadovic [Djordje Nenadovic], Ivy Stewart, Enzo Doria (Gionata), Ignazio Dolce, Isarco Ravaioli (Giovanni), Vladimir Leib (Antenone), Nicola [Niksa] Stefanini, Pino [Giuseppe] Mattei, Ray Martino [Arnaldo Martelli], Vladimir Bacic, Sava Sever [Sava Severova], Irena Prosen, Alan Steel [Sergio Ciani], Fulvia Gessner [Fulvia Gesser], Rino Mattioli
The Old Testament was the final of the three peplums made by Gianfranco Parolini in Yugoslavia for Cinematografica Associati and the French company Comptoir Français du Film Production. As with both A.D.79 and The Fury of Hercules, shooting outside of Italy meant that the limited budgets went further, most particularly in the creation of the numerous crowd scenes, which would have cost a lot more if filmed in Cinecitta. A.D.79 and The Old Testament were actually shot back to back, over a period between 25 and 30 weeks in Llubjana. The two of them also feature many of the same crew (cinematographer Francesco Izzarelli, writer Giorgio Simonelli, costume designer Vittorio Rossi) and cast members (Brad Harris, Jacques Berthier, Philippe Hersent, Mara Lane) which, combined with the similar locations, means that they do both rather blend into one.
Jerusalem, 150 years before the birth of Christ. Conquered by the Syrians, the city is suffering under the rule of a new governor, the cruel Appolonius (Jacques Berthier). The High Priest, Mattathias (Carlo Tamberlani), however, is unwilling to sanction any rebellion, despite the best entreaties of his son Judas, believing that peace is sacred. Until, that is, Appolonius tries to install a statue of Jupiter, a pagan god, in his temple. This outrage sparks a full-scale uprising which ends in partial success, as the Syrians are forced to seek refuge in their headquarters in the city. Knowing, however, that this situation is only temporary, and that the Syrian’s revenge will be harsh, the rebels decide to flee, heading across the country on an exodus to Jericho.
Judas’s pacifist brother, Simon (Brad Harris), is left behind after being wounded in the battle and, once recovered, does his best to broker a peaceful resolution between the two parties. He’s betrayed by Appolonius, though, who sends his troops to kill the fleeing rebels and arrests the majority of the remaining Jews, forcing them to work as slaves on a new highway he’s building. Hoping to make up for his mistake, Simon heads off after his compatriots, but only manages to catch up with them just as his father dies. And, after Judas is killed in battle, it is left to Simon and his remaining brother, Jonathan, to lead the few survivors to safety.
This is a better film than the lightweight A.D.79, but it still doesn’t really feel like a Parolini film: it’s rather sombre, somewhat po-faced, crammed full of dialogue and with very little in the way of humour. In other words, it’s not a huge amount of fun; which is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from the director. Given that, it’s not badly made, and certainly an improvement over its predecessor: the plot is more interesting and a little different to the norm – although anyone expecting it to be a faithful recounting of the biblical Old Testament will be sorely disappointed – and there are some decently drawn characters. Simon, particularly, makes for an unusual protagonist, someone who relies on his brains rather than brawn, and is actually seen to make a number of mistakes as the narrative progresses.
Many of Parolini’s peplums contain religious elements. They often feature some kind of miracle – here the statue of Jupiter is hit by lightning as it’s being carried into the Jewish temple – and end up with characters either being crucified or experiencing some kind of ‘metaphorical’ crucifixion. There’s a bit of action, most notably in the chaotic battle sequences, but very little of the acrobatics that would be found in The Ten Gladiators. There arte a couple of powerful scenes which stand out from the rest: a montage in which assorted unfortunate Jews are tortured in order to get them to reveal the whereabouts of the exiles and the death of Simon’s Syrian friend, Antenon.