Writer/director Jules Dassin died this week at age 96. He is perhaps most fondly remembered as a key figure in establishing the genres of film noir (Naked City) and the heist film (Topkapi and “Rififi”) and for the marvelous Never on Sunday, starring his wife, Melina Mercouri, as an earthy prostitute who is “educated” about ancient Greece by an American scholar (Dassin himself).
The movie I most want to remember today is one that Dassin wrote and directed early in his career, one of the most profoundly spiritual films I have ever seen. It is called “He Who Must Die,” and it is the story of a group of Greek villagers who put on a passion play each year. The powerful citizens of the town decide who will play each part. Almost contemptuously, they select a stuttering shepherd to play Jesus and the town prostitute to play Mary Magdalene. But when a real-life conflict comes to the town, the members of the passion play cast begin to take on the attributes of the New Testament figures they are portraying. Unfortunately, the film is not available on video or DVD, but I strongly recommend making every effort to try to see it.