Columbia Pictures and Cleveland Public Library, Everett Collection and Archive Photos

Rita Hayworth swayed as Salome (large photo) in a 1953 production that recast her character as a proto-Christian believer who danced to save John the Baptist (she is shown listening to him, top left) and not, as the Bible has it, to have him beheaded. After several decades of avoiding the Gospels, Hollywood finally returned to them in the 1950s. But in the films of that era, biblical stories were often altered, and portrayals of Jesus were sketchy at best. Directors kept their cameras behind Jesus’ back and rarely allowed him to speak. In The Robe, a 1953 production starring Richard Burton as a Roman guard (below), Jesus wasn’t even given center stage during his crucifixion, usually the climax of his story. In the 1959 version of Ben-Hur (lower right), the actor portraying Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha right in front of Charlton Heston, but moviegoers never saw Jesus’ face.