Golgotha (AKA: Behold the Man or Ecce Homo) was the first sound film of the life of Christ, it was directed and written by Julien Duvivier, with the cinematography by Jules Kruger, the costumes were designed by Jacques-Philippe Heuzé, the makeup artist was Acho Chakatouny; Golgotha was edited by Marthe Poncin, with the production design handled by Jean Perrier and the music was composed by Jacques Ibert (the Golgotha Suite is masterful[i]), with the score being played by the Paris Symphony Orchestra.[ii] The film starred Robert Le Vigan as Christ, Harry Baur as Herod, Jean Gabin appeared as Pilate, Charles Granval as Caiaphas the High Priest, Lucas Gridoux portrayed Judas, and Hubert Prélier as Peter.
Golgotha received rave reviews, and it was considered one of the Top Foreign Films of 1937 by the National Board of Review, and soon Golgotha became a favorite of Churches and civic groups in North America as an evangelistic tool, church after church, group after group, city after city, state after state[iii] (in 1938 and 1939 the film became a part of the Lent and Easter season); all offering admission to the film for free (in a few cases a small entrance fee), to be shown at the host Church or venue. But, if Lent and Easter were the only dates of popularity then Golgotha would have fizzled early, instead the film traveled on a grand tour, coast to coast, north to south and east to west, in every month over the course of the next seven years, April of 1937 through 1944, finally, becoming sporadic in showings in 1945-1946, and then becoming that Lent and Easter repeat seen throughout the remainder 1940’s and beyond. Golgotha played at Bible classes, Grammar schools, varied organizations, PTA’s and high school auditoriums (even a college football stadium) hosted this French import. Anywhere and everywhere, Golgotha played it played well, drawing large crowds, with nary a negative response. (Please see our collection of Golgotha ads and announcements, at the end of this article)
A unique note is that while many believe that the first film to show Jesus being hung on the cross with the nails going through the wrist (instead of the hands) was in the 1979 production of Jesus by The Genesis Project – The Jesus Film Project, yet, Golgotha is the first film to utilize the modern-Biblical-understanding of the crucifixion, 44 years earlier than any other film. Golgotha is available on DVD both in the English dubbed version and the original French version with subtitles.
By C. S. Williams
[i] An excerpt from La crucifixion by Jacques Tchamkerten from his Album: Jacques Ibert: MacBeth / Golgotha / Don Quichotte, August 22, 1990
[ii] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 9, 1937
[iii] Many of the church announcements began to change the focus of the film by adding the words “Passion Play,” or that Biblical instruction was the purpose for the making of Golgotha.