Animation character

“He Who Must Die” Blu-Ray Review

Set in a Greek village occupied by the Turks shortly after World War I, Jules Dassin’s incredible He Who Must Die tells the story of the townspeople’s efforts to stage their Passion Play, an event that occurs once every seven years. The main citizens choose who will play the roles: a stuttering shepherd boy is chosen as Jesus; the butcher of the city as Judas; the city prostitute by the name of Mary Magdalene. But as the film unfolds, the Passion becomes a reality and the villagers actualize their biblical roles against the tragic backdrop of a country uprooted by war and poverty. Adapted from author Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ) by world-famous Jules Dassin, the director of Rififi, Never a Sunday and Topkapi, this powerful film asks: what would happen if Jesus descended on Earth a second time? The extraordinary international cast includes Melina Mercouri, Pierre Vaneck, Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Grégoire Aslan, Gert Fröbe, René Lefèvre, Roger Hanin, Nicole Berger, Maurice Ronet and Fernand Ledoux.

For thoughts on the one who must die, please see our discussion on The Video Attic:

Video quality

The one who must die makes its Blu-Ray debut thanks to Kino Classics with a 1080p transfer that isn’t listed as being from a new scan, but ultimately looks pretty good. There are occasional cases of light nicks and scratches, but this source has been fairly well maintained. The atmospheric black and white photography taken by Gilbert Chain and Jacques Natteau shines in high definition with an intact and well-resolved natural grain. You can easily spot a great amount of detail present in regards to textures on clothing, environments, and in the period production design. The new transfer shows a great amount of improved depth and detail in the film’s composition. Black levels are deep enough with no glaring occurrence of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is admirably defined and the track only experiences fleeting instances of flicker and density fluctuation in the print. Kino Classics provided an excellent viewing experience overall.

Audio quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a perfectly natural DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track in the original French which serves this film well. A few odd cases show a small amount of age-related wear, but overall there’s not much to complain about here. Even the score sounds sturdy and works in harmony with the dialogue or other important information. The environmental effects are well delineated from each other. Kino Classics served up another great track. Optional English subtitles (SDH) are included for the feature film.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary: Filmmaker/film historian Daniel Kremer delivers a very informative commentary track in which he explains how this film fits into Jules Dassin’s filmography, offers background on Dassin and his relationship with European cinema, explores the long and short from the creatives, dives into how it compares to the source material, offers some personal anecdotes and more. It’s a well-documented trail that’s well worth the detour.
  • Trailers: There’s a minute and a half trailer for The one who must die provided here. There are also trailers for Port Des Ombres, Quai Des Orfèvres, Priest Léon Morin and Topkapi.

Final Thoughts

The one who must die is far from Jules Dassin’s best-known work, but it’s an under-the-radar gem that deserves further exploration by moviegoers. The way the narrative evolves, twists, and surprises with its complexity is a joy to behold, as the archetypes are inhabited in a way that never feels too precious or too constructed. Dassin’s direction brings out the best in these performers, who never fail to impress from the biggest role to the minor stars. Kino Classics delivered a Blu-Ray release that sports a wonderful A/V presentation and an informative commentary track. If you’re a fan of the author, or just intrigued by the story, this one is worth your time. Recommended

The one who must die is actually available for purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect Blu-Ray image quality.

Disclaimer: Kino Classics has provided a free copy of this disc for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.