Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week. The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas, Frank Thring, Stephen Russell, Greg Hicks and Cyril Ritchard may be viewed here, here, here, here here , here, here, here and here.
One of the earliest screen portrayals of Pilate was by Hungarian actor Vincent Varconi in Cecil B. DeMille’s silent screen epic King of Kings (1927). We first see Pilate enthroned as the embodiment of Roman power before a huge imperial eagle. Initially bored by the attempt by Caiaphas to have him execute Jesus, he refuses to look at a document that Caiaphas has prepared laying out the charges against Jesus, after he talks to Jesus he feels the power of the words and presence of Christ, and seeks to satisfy Caiaphas and his mob by having Jesus beaten.
The reluctance of Pilate to have Jesus executed is intensified when his wife tells him that she has had a dream about Jesus that disturbed her greatly. However, Pilate’s determination to spare Jesus crumbles before the superior skills of Caiaphas who outmaneuvers Pilate at every turn, DeMille well portraying the chaotic mob that Caiaphas uses to implicitly threaten violence if Jesus is not executed. Throughout, Caiaphas is portrayed in almost demonic fashion as an evil tempter to convince Pilate to put to death the Son of God. When Pilate makes one last attempt to save Jesus by telling the mob to look at their King, it is Caiaphas who nudges Pilate and reminds him, wink, wink, that the Jews have no King but Caesar. Pilate washes his hands but refuses to give the command for the crucifixion, leaving that in the hands of Caiaphas, who, in this portrayal, completely dominates a well meaning but weak Pilate.