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>
According to Fredric March's assessment of co-star Colbert in this film, "She was a hot woman in it - a hot, hot woman! When she worked herself up, she put Monroe, Harlow, Gardner, Novak, all of them in the shade." 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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Christian Hymn No.1
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 »
Cecil B. DeMille was famous for the excesses he depicted on screen, and "The Sign of the Cross" has enough excess for a dozen movies by any other director. Fortunately, DeMille loved to detail the debauchery that warranted divine punishment, because he was more adept and entertaining when portraying orgies than he was when depicting piety. Perhaps sin is intrinsically more interesting than virtue. Certainly the sinful characters, especially Charles Laughton as Nero and Claudette Colbert as Poppaea, are riveting and colorfully conceived. Laughton lolls around on his divans, while alluring slave boys attend to his whims. Colbert lures and tempts lovers when not catering to her bare flesh in a milk bath. Bloody gladiatorial games and the obligatory feeding Christians to the wild beasts keep the proceedings on track, and an erotic Lesbian dance enlivens an otherwise dragging orgiastic gathering. Orgies can be difficult to film because the delights are far more evident to participants than they are to viewers. Perhaps every orgy needs a Lesbian dance.
Unfortunately, DeMille felt compelled to throw away screen time on a group of early Christians, whose idea of a good time was to sit on rocks, sing tuneless songs, and listen to a motivational speaker. Naturally, the improbably named Marcus Superbus, played by Frederic March in a fetching mini-skirt and tight curls, falls in love with Mercia, a bland, but virginal, Elissa Landi, and he rejects the advances of the milky, silky Claudette Colbert, who had been around the Colosseum a few times. Of course, March not only rejects Colbert, but risks losing the endless parties and his own rising career for the touch of Landi's soft hand. "The Sign of the Cross" is hardly convincing drama despite the lure of Romans sinning every way, everywhere, and with everybody.
If the corny dialog and stilted scenes of pious proceedings had been severely cut and Laughton's and Colbert's roles had been brought to center focus, the film would have been a delicious camp spectacle. However, as the film now plays, viewers must patiently wait out the dull-as-drying-paint scenes with Landi and company to savor the sinful delights of Nero and Poppaea, which make "The Sign of the Cross" worth a look and a hoot or two.
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