Starring Anthony Quinn in the title role, Barabbas was released in 1961 in the midst of a wave of widescreen epics based on biblical characters. The screenplay, by playwright Christopher Fry (who also contributed to Ben-Hur), is an unusually intelligent one. Further assets are the imaginative, sparingly orchestrated score by Mario Nascimbene and a handsome production design by art director Mario Chiari that is so rewarding to the eye in Aldo Tonti's often dazzling cinematography.
Many scenes, such as Christ's crucifixion, are shot and staged like tableaux in a style reminiscent of the great masters of art. And director Richard Fleischer surpasses anything Ridley Scott achieved years later in Gladiator: he fills the huge arena--a vast Roman amphitheatre--with a gladiatorial school of hand-to-hand combat, a parade of elephants, and a den of lions, and then caps his production with a riveting and thrillingly mounted duel between Jack Palance, careering round the circumference of the arena in his chariot, and Barabbas dodging him on foot.