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THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976; Just For the Hell of It).

Forget all the holier-than-thou hullabaloo concerning THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Here's the revisionist flick the crackpot Christian scum would've had more cause to picket for "blasphemy". Any intelligent viewer (thus excluding most fundamentalist lemmings) felt TEMPTATION was a magnificent film that oozed with True Faith. But over 10 years earlier, producer Menahem Golan spewed forth this wild little Bible saga which says Jesus was a fake and that the entire crucifixion was nothing but a magic trick to fool the gullible and help butt-kick the Romans from the land. So, are you shaking in your boots by this postulation? Tough shit, you sheep. Read on... Using the Hebrew names, Zalman King (star of drive-in fare like BLUE SUNSHINE and TRIP WITH THE TEACHER, before graduating to director of sexpo-trash like TWO MOON JUNCTION and WILD ORCHID) stars as Yeshua of Nazareth, an angry, unquestionable Jewish hero who happily breaks all the Anglo-Saxon stereotypes of past features. Having read the prophesies of a king leading his people to freedom, Yeshua decides to pose as this Son O' God in order to speed up the Roman's departure. He fasts, rounds up a few random apostles, fakes a couple miracles using strong-arm tactics, and has the public eating out of his hand. Yeshua's certainly passionate about his philosophy -- shouting his gospel like some crazed revolutionary -- but underneath he's just another politician, taking a good cause and compromising it with deception and cynicism. By the end, Yeshua stages his own arrest and subsequent crucifixion with the help of Judah. His hare-brained plan: To fake his own death on the cross with a medical potion and when he is 'resurrected' the people will recognize him as their savior. But as we all know, the scheme goes slightly haywire, with Yeshua winding up dead, followed by 2,000 years of mindless toadying to his image. This isn't some half-baked story conceived simply to rake in a few controversial dollars though. It's inspired by Hugh J. Schonfield's meticulously researched book, and the film is often as conceptually powerful as Scorsese/Kazantzakis', even though the shoestring budget gives it the look of any Sunn Classics tripe. Filled with inexpensive, but authentic details (e.g. they serve matzo at the Last Supper instead of Wonder Bread) and Israeli locations, director Michael Campus (THE MACK, THE EDUCATION OF SONNY CARSON) even takes a couple trippy tangents, such as Yeshua's solarized hallucinations. In the final judgment, the film is generally more thought-provoking than downright entertaining. Campus does his best to compress the book's political and social themes into less than two hours (with early advertising materials for the film initially crediting the script to HUACC-blacklisted writer Millard Lampell, who earlier co-founded the Almanac Singers with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Woody Guthrie), and the result is a dialogue surplus. The fine supporting cast -- an eclectic mix of UK and US thesps -- is up to the challenge, including Donald Pleasence as Pontius Pilate, Hugh Griffith as Caiaphas, Harry Andrews as Yohanan the Baptist, IN COLD BLOOD's Scott Wilson as Judah, a couple of EASY RIDER alumnus (Robert Walker, Jr. and Helena Kallianiotes), plus a young Dan Hedaya in his first credited screen role. Though the film never succeeded in convincing me wholeheartedly of its bold concept, then again, neither did that entertaining little fairy tale the Bible trumpets as undiluted truth.

© 1990 by Steven Puchalski.