From the Manger to the Cross
Theatrical poster
Directed bySidney Olcott
Written byGene Gauntier
Produced byFrank J. Marion
CinematographyGeorge K. Hollister
Distributed byKalem
Release dates
  • October 3, 1912 (1912-10-03) (London)
  • October 17, 1912 (1912-10-17) (New York City)
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
Box office>$1 million
From the Manger to the Cross

From the Manger to the Cross or Jesus of Nazareth (often shortened to simply From the Manger to the Cross) is a 1912 American drama film directed by Sidney Olcott, written by Gene Gauntier (who also portrays Virgin Mary), and starring Robert Henderson-Bland as Jesus of Nazareth. Filmed on location in Egypt and in Palestine,[1] it tells the story of Jesus's life, interspersed with verses from The Bible.

Kalem released the film in October 1912 to critical acclaim. It saw a re-release in February 1919 following Vitagraph Studios' acquisition of Kalem.[2]


Production background

Herbert Reynolds has shown[3] how Olcott used James Tissot's illustrations for his The Life of our Saviour Jesus Christ (1896-1897)[4] as the basis for numerous shots in the film. The head of Kalem, Frank J. Marion, presented a copy to the troupe as they departed for the Middle East.[3]

According to Turner Classic Movies, the film cost $35,000 to produce (roughly between $690,000 and $19,400,000 adjusted to 2020 dollars);[5] another source[6] says that Olcott spent $100,000 of his own money on the project. Although the film's profits eventually amounted to almost $1 million (roughly $19,700,000 to $554,000,000), the Kalem directors refused to increase Olcott's basic salary and he resigned.

In later years, Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, would say this was the premiere film for his movie theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts and a major boost for him in the movie business.[7] However, most sources place the release date of this film as 1912, long after the opening of Mayer's theater.[8]

At around 5,000 feet it was one of the longest films to be released to date,[6][9][10] although the Kinemacolor documentary With Our King and Queen Through India released in February 1912 ran to 16,000 feet;[11] and another religious film The Miracle (the first full-colour feature film) - was released in the UK at 7,000 feet in December 1912.[12]

Reception in Britain

The five-reel film showed at the Queen's Hall, London, for eight months (a relatively lengthy run for the time).[6] A statement by Israel Zangwill (founder of the Jewish Territorialist Organization) hailing it as "An artistic triumph — the kinema put to its true end" appeared on advertising bills outside the Queen's Hall.[13]

From the Manger to the Cross gained considerable publicity from an outcry in the Daily Mail: "Is nothing sacred to the film maker?" it demanded, and waxed indignant about the profits for its American investors.[6] Although the clergy were invited and found little to be affronted by, the controversy resulted in the voluntary creation of the British Board of Film Censors, which began operating on 1 January 1913.[14][15]


The film disappeared from cinema screens for a number of years until Reverend Brian Hession, vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Walton, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, went on a quest to the US to find a copy of the film for re-issue in Britain. Although initially disappointed, he eventually discovered a set of negatives after searching in the vaults and cellars of old film concerns.[16] Hession added a musical sound track and spoken commentary, and From the Manger to the Cross was re-released in 1938.[17]

Critical reception

TCM host Robert Osborne and the National Film Preservation Foundation consider this film to be the most important silent film to deal with the life of Christ. In 1998, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[18][19]

A history of cinemas and film-making published in 1947 had this to say: "To-day it appears to be somewhat overacted, and the camera work is stilted, the camera being merely a recording instrument and not part of the pattern of the exposition of the story itself. Its pace is slow by modern standards, doubtless an attempt to obtain dignity, and Bland's performance is so sedately remote as to be not so much an acting performance at all but a series of dignified poses."[6]


  1. ^ Wood 1947, pp. 163–6.
  2. ^ "From the Manger to the Cross at SilentEra". Archived from the original on 2013-06-25. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
  3. ^ a b Reynolds, Herbert (1992). "From the Palette to the Screen: The Tissot Bible as sourcebook for From the Manger to the Cross". In Cosandey, Roland; Gaudreault, André; Gunning, Tom (eds.). Invention of the devil?. Saint-Foy: Presses Université Laval. ISBN 9782763773001.
  4. ^ Tissot, James (1899). The Life of our Saviour Jesus Christ. (4 vols). Toronto: G.N. Morang & Co. Vol. 1 · Vol. 2 · Vol. 3 · Vol. 4
  5. ^ Currency comparison table
  6. ^ a b c d e Wood 1947, p. 167.
  7. ^ "Mr. Motion Picture", Time magazine obituary (November 11, 1957)
  8. ^ From the Manger to the Cross at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  9. ^ Kevin Brownlow, 'Silent Films: What Was the Right Speed?' Sight and Sound, Summer 1980, pp. 164-167.
  10. ^ James Card, 'Silent Film Speed' Image, October 1955, pp. 55-56.
  11. ^ McKernan, Luke (2009). 'The modern Elixir of Life: Kinemacolor, royalty and the Delhi Durbar' Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, in Film History, Vol. 21, pp. 122–136, 2009.
  12. ^ "Film show in Covent Garden". New York Times, 9 December 1912
  13. ^ Wood 1947, pp. 167–8.
  14. ^ Wood 1947, p. 168.
  15. ^ Conrich, Ian (October 2003). "Film Classification and the BBFC". BBC. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  16. ^ Wood 1947, pp. 166–7.
  17. ^ From the Manger to the Cross (1912). BFI. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  19. ^ "Hooray for Hollywood (December 1998) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin". Retrieved 2020-06-22.