After burning Rome, Emperor Nero decides to blame the Christians, and issues the edict that they are all to be caught and sent to the arena. Two old Christians are caught, and about to be hauled off, when Marcus, the highest military official in Rome, comes upon them. When he sees their stepdaughter Mercia, he instantly falls in love with her and frees them. Marcus pursues Mercia, which gets him into trouble with Emperor (for being easy on Christians) and with the Empress, who loves him and is jealous. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Reportedly, when Cecil B. DeMille heard the booming voice of John Carradine, he chased him down the boulevard until he caught up with the unemployed actor, who wound up doing 5 features for the famed director. See more »
In the Coliseum, we see a woman tied up and is at the mercy of a gorilla. Europeans had no knowledge of gorillas' existence until more than 15 centuries later. See more »
[the Empress, soaking naked in a tub of ass's milk and calling to her handmaiden]
Dacia, you're a butterfly with the sting of a wasp. Take off your clothes. Get in here and tell me all about it.
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First, this film is high camp. One need only know some of the backstage events to know that all the actors had a great deal of fun in making the film. March tells in his biography that Claudette Colbert spurned his attempts to flirt by chewing several garlic cloves before each close up between the two of them. The famed Chicago World's Fair fan dancer Sally Rand has an uncredited role (according to her family members) as the woman who is about to have her head bitten off by an alligator near the end. There is a close up of Sally's face. With such goings-on, what's not to like here?
I found Fredric March as Marcus Superbus (the Prefect of Rome and man upon whom Empress Poppea has her eyes) convincingly full of himself through the first three quarters of the film. He shows a believable change of heart towards the end. Colbert is charmingly over-the-top as Poppea, as is Charles Laughton, who plays Nero. The ingenue Christian girl, Mercia, is played with restraint by Elissa Landi. While this may make her seem to be overshadowed by Colbert, Marcus states that he is "tired" of overpowering patrician women and, thus, Landi's cool understatement entrances him.
Despite the violence, which is standard fare in tales about early Christians in Rome, there are moments of good acting, not only by the main characters, but by the bit players. Some of the group scenes and interactions among the Christians as they await the arena are well-played, indeed.
There is nothing to dismiss here. At very least, the film is worth a viewing as a landmark epic sporting some of the Hollywood elite of the mid-1930s.
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