Barabbas is a 1961 film expanding on the career of Barabbas, from the Christian Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark and other gospels. It starred Anthony Quinn as Barabbas, with Silvana Mangano, Katy Jurado, Arthur Kennedy, Harry Andrews, Ernest Borgnine, Vittorio Gassman, and Jack Palance, and was distributed by Columbia Pictures. The film, conceived as a grand Roman epic, was based on the Nobel-Prize winning novel Barabbas (1950) by Pär Lagerkvist. A previous film version of the novel, in Swedish, had been made in 1953.
The film of Lagerkvist's novel was directed by Richard Fleischer and shot in Rome under the supervision of producer Dino De Laurentiis. It included many spectacular scenes, including a battle of gladiators in a Cinecittà mock-up of the Colosseum, and a final crucifixion shot during a real eclipse of the sun.
The music score by Mario Nascimbene contained a stark experimental component—what the composer himself called 'new sounds', in order to demonstrate the eclipse as a supernatural event in the Judean age (see liner notes of CD of original soundtracks of Alexander the Great and Barabbas, music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Mario Nascimbene).
Shortly before the crucifixion of Christ, Pontius Pilate (Arthur Kennedy) offers to release either Jesus Christ or Barabbas in keeping with the local custom. As the Bible story goes, Barabbas is the one the crowd chooses.
Barabbas leaves and returns to his friends. His friends are glad to see him, but Barabbas wants to know where his lover Rachel is (Silvana Mangano). They inform him that Rachel had changed while he was away, and was following the teachings of Christ. Rachel soon returns, but she is not overjoyed to see Barabbas again. During their reunion Christ is crucified. As Christ dies the sky turns dark. Shaken by this, Barabbas goes to witness the crucifixion. Afterwards he goes to witness Christ being sealed in the tomb. On the third morning Barabbas goes to the tomb to find the tomb open, and Christ gone. Rachel tells him that Christ has risen, but Barabbas dismisses this as illusion, or that his followers had taken his body. He goes to see the apostle Peter and Christ's other followers to demand what happened to the body - they do not know where he is but do believe he is risen. Rachel begins to teach others in Jerusalem about Christ and an impending, fiery end of the world. Soon, Rachel's teachings lead to her being stoned to death by the same men who had Jesus crucified. When Barabbas comes across them later while robbing a caravan, he assaults one of the men. For this, Barabbas is arrested by the Roman authorities. Pilate decides not to execute Barabbas, but instead sentences him to a life sentence in the sulfur mines of Sicily.