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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>
This 1952 film was the first film version of a George Bernard Shaw play produced after the playwright's death, and the compromises are already obvious.
Shaw had had artistic control over three films produced from his plays-- the 1938 "Pygmalion", "Major Barbara" (1941) and "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1945), and his influence had clearly been felt, some would say for both good and bad. He had had absolute final say-so over the casting, and, after his experience with "Pygmalion", Shaw became somewhat more demanding and insisted that not a word be cut from both "Major Barbara" and "Caesar and Cleopatra", a decision that resulted in both of these excellent films being flops. "Androcles and the Lion" clocks in at less than two hours.
The casting suffers without Shaw's influence. Because this is an RKO release directed by Chester Erskine, a not especially distinguished American director, the cast features two American actors in major roles, and the clash between their style of acting, and that of the British actors who HAVE had experience with Shaw, is apparent. Some other American actors can be seen in bit roles.
In a blatant effort to court the average movie audience who wouldn't recognize a Shaw play if it hit them in the face, movie hunk Victor Mature (yes, the very same actor who appeared in "The Robe" and "Samson and Delilah") is cast in the somewhat demanding role of a Roman captain trying to understand the Christian martyrs. An actor like James Mason or Stewart Granger might have been perfect and would have had the necessary acting ability, but Mature, although apparently trying hard, comes close to wrecking the film and destroying its Shavian flavor. And he gets second billing!
Alan Young, whom most people will remember as Wilbur from the "Mr.Ed" TV series, is also American, but is a far better actor than Mature, and although his style sometimes seems as if it straight out of a sitcom rather than a Shaw play, Young does quite a good job in the all-important lead role of Androcles. But was it the Hollywood adaptors, or is it REALLY Shaw who gave the lion the endearing name of "Tommy"? Or is that just another sop to the movie-going crowd who loves animals with cute names?
The rest of the cast is just fine--Jean Simmons excellent, and not syrupy, as a devout woman willing to face martyrdom in the arena, Robert Newton, hilarious as a hulking strongman converted to Christianity who can barely be kept from singlehandedly demolishing his enemies, Noel Willman, Elsa Lanchester in the brief role of Androcles' wife, and, in his best screen performance, Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius in the 1968 "Planet of the Apes") as the Roman emperor. They make this film exactly what it should be.
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