Barabbas (Richard Fleischer, 1961) might be one of the most interesting takes I've seen on the Christ story; this time, we follow the journey of Barabbas, the thief who the mob pardoned at Passover instead of Jesus. Turns out this makes Barabbas immortal, or at least he's lucky enough for his circumstances to make it seem that way. He's a subject of both awe and scorn, a sinner who nonetheless was in the presence of Christ near the end of his life and so, perhaps, divinely touched by that experience. But can the cynical non-believer come to terms with his role in the story of Christ, or is he forever damned to walk the earth?
Anthony Quinn is predictably excellent as Barabbas, capturing the thief's bitterness and anger while projecting just enough doubt and vulnerability for us to believe that he really was touched by his experience, despite his protestations.
The costuming and production design create a believable first-century ambiance, and there's a gladiatorial combat sequence almost as grand as the chariot race seen in Ben-Hur (1959). The many years Barabbas spends mining sulphur are appropriately claustrophobic and desperate.
Still, I can't say that this film will stay with me. Barabbas' eventual redemption seems predictably inevitable, without any truly gripping moments of revelation; it's as if time simply wore him down and he got tired of resisting his conversion. In the end, like Christ, Barabbas is crucified, and this final scene is one of the film's most powerful moments, not simply because of the weight of its allusions, but because of the composition, the lighting, and Quinn's convincing death agonies.