The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama, History  |  10 February 1933 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 1,451 users  
Reviews: 57 user | 14 critic

A Roman soldier becomes torn between his love for a Christian woman and his loyalty to Emperor Nero.


(as Cecil B. De Mille)


(screen play), (screen play), 3 more credits »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ian Keith ...
Arthur Hohl ...
Harry Beresford ...
Favius Fontelas
Tommy Conlon ...
Ferdinand Gottschalk ...
Vivian Tobin ...
William V. Mong ...
Joyzelle Joyner ...
Ancaria (as Joyzelle)
Richard Alexander ...
Clarence Burton ...


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A picture which will proudly lead all the entertainments the world has ever seen


Drama | History


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

10 February 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Im Zeichen des Kreuzes  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


(without intermission)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The censors had Claudette Colbert's navel removed from her abdomen for the bath sequence. See more »


We see a woman tied up in the Coliseum as crocodiles are set loose on her. They are clearly alligators (broad snout), which were unknown to Europeans until Columbus's time, 15 centuries later. Only two countries have alligators: The United States and China.The Romans never went to either place. See more »


Emperor Nero: My head is splitting... the wine last night, the music... the delicious debauchery!
See more »


Referenced in Number 96 (1974) See more »


Christian Hymn No.1
(1932) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by Rudolph G. Kopp
Sung a cappella by Christians at the meeting
Reprised by them after their capture and at the arena
Sung a cappella by Elissa Landi and Tommy Conlon
Played and sung offscreen at the end
See more »

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User Reviews

DeMille At His Most Decadent
8 March 2000 | by (Forest Ranch, CA) – See all my reviews

Rome - First Century A. D. Nero, the mad Emperor & Poppaea, his vile Empress, engage in every sort of vice & degradation. Wanton cruelty becomes a spectator sport and virtue & innocence are denigrated. Slowly, however, a new Power is growing. People calling themselves Christians are secretly spreading their Faith ever more widely. They are horribly persecuted, but they continue to multiply. Which will eventually triumph - the might of Imperial Rome, or the gentle ones who follow THE SIGN OF THE CROSS?

This Cecil B. DeMille epic is a vivid retelling of the struggles of the first Christians. Paramount gave the film a lavish production and DeMille wrings every drop of piety & puerile interest possible from the plot. Fredric March is stalwart as the Roman official who falls in love with a beautiful Christian girl. While his ultimate conversion wouldn't convince the average modern Baptist, he holds his own in scenes with other performers whom are allowed to behave outrageously. Elissa Landi is sweet as the virtuous Believer, effectively underplaying her role.

`Do you want to play the most wicked woman in the world?' DeMille asked Claudette Colbert one day on the studio lot. She did & she does memorably, from her eye-popping milk bath scene to her revenge on her would-be lover. Sniveling, whining and wearing a huge fake nose, Charles Laughton is pure effeminate evil as Nero (notice his catamite), a foul blot on the face of humanity & stealing all his scenes from everyone else. History tells us that Nero eventually murdered Poppaea by stomping her to death...

Ian Keith is enjoyable as an unpunished villain. Ferdinand Gottshalk & Vivian Tobin are effectively degraded as Roman bacchants. Film mavens will recognize the voice of John Carradine, calling `We who are about to die, salute you!' out of the arena to Nero; he can later be spotted in the role of a Christian martyr ascending the dungeon stairs to his death.

DeMille had just returned to Paramount from a 3-year, 3-picture stint at MGM, where he was remarkably subdued. Back at his home studio he was allowed more license. Wrapping a little sermon up in a lot of sin, he filled this pre-Production Code drama with plenty of the latter. When THE SIGN OF THE CROSS was re-released in 1944, many cuts had to be made. The film now having been restored, it's not difficult to guess which sections those were. The Dance of the Naked Moon & much of the antics in the final arena sequence are beyond the bounds of good taste, but certainly not beyond the bounds of Cecil B. DeMille.

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