In a Turkish-occupied Greek village in 1921, inhabitants cast the Passion Play they stage by tradition, with the stuttering Manolios (Vanek) playing Christ, and saucy widow Christina (Mercouri), Mary Magdalene. Brutalized by the Turks, desperate refugees led by priest Fotis (Servais) arrive from a nearby village, but get turned away by the town’s head cleric Grigor (Ledoux), who wants to appease the Turks and avoid trouble. This real-life crisis offers sobering parallels to the Passion Play they’re mounting.
Working overseas after being blacklisted in Hollywood, director Dassin’s second European film never got the following of its predecessor “Rififi”, but should have. Shot on Crete, the film is dark but never heavy-handed. In her second film, and her first with future husband Dassin, Mercouri is luminous, supported by Ronet as a rebellious son who helps the starving villagers, veteran player Servais, and Frobe (“Goldfinger”) in a typically unsympathetic turn. Over sixty years after initial release, “He Who Must Die” is a wonderful, thought-provoking discovery.