Androcles is a Christian who follows that religion's teachings even as they apply to the treatment of animals. Seeing a lion in pain, he removes a huge thorn from the beast's paw, creating a friend for life. Androcles and a number of other Christians are evenutally arrested and condemned to death in the arena. They are to die by being eaten by lions. Is it too much to hope that one of the lions may have a paw that has healed recently and might remember who helped heal it? Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Minor Shaw made more so by Hollywood, but charming nonetheless
G.B.S. declared in the lengthly "Preface" to this play, written years after its 1913 premiere (the "Preface is actually longer than the play itself), that he had written it in pique at the one J.M. Barry play he had ever thoroughly disliked - PETER PAN! The sentiment certainly sets a bench mark for measuring what Shaw may have accomplished in his charming, witty examination of a "Greek wizard" Christian (Androcles) who finds animals of all stripes and species more lovable and easy to get along with than his long (and vocally) suffering wife and neighbors.
It also may explain why Hollywood missed with this neatly produced filming despite a number of inspired casting choices (Maurice Evans as Caesar, Elsa Lanchaster as Androcles' wife & Robert Newton as the warrior/Christian, Ferrovius) and deft directorial touches.
In trying to focus on the "family friendly" (deadly words in the Hollywood lexicon) aspects of Shaw's charming satire, the film gives a bad case of the "cutsies" to the central role (it would have been interesting to see this Alan Young performance before he became so identified with his role, Wilbur, in TV's iconic MR. ED) and soft pedals or ignores most of the legitimately humorous byplay among his fellow Christians who wish martyrdom to wildly varying degrees and the infighting of the professional gladiators who echo (in somewhat more bloodthirsty fashion) the outrageous practicality of Captain Bluntschli in Shaw's early ARMS AND THE MAN.
Having made the decision to play the lion *as* a lion (before or after Harpo Marx departed the production?), the delicious hold on adult satire Shaw infused his play with was probably a lost cause, but what remains remains a very pleasant diversion worth a Saturday afternoon. For lovers of good Shaw however, it's more than a little watered down - perhaps most surprising of all, more watered down that the later equally enjoyable musical version Richard Rodgers and Peter Stone did for TV with Noel Coward as Caesar and Norman Wisdom as Androcles!
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