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The film opens with Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) calling for his
guards to find him the robe to bring him eternal life
his life on the loyalty of the Praetorian Guards
So if they can keep
him alive at all, why not forever?
Peter (Michael Rennie) gave Demetrius of Corinth (Victor Mature) their master's robe to keep for him As we all remember, Demetrius took the robe from the foot of the cross before Jesus died
By order of Caligula, 20 pieces of gold were authorized to pay for information concerning the robe that Jesus wore to the cross Defending Lucia (Debra Paget) from malicious attack of a Praetorian Decurion, Demetrius is caught and sentenced to train as gladiator in the Claudian school
Being fully a Christian entails having a commitment: Demetrius, obviously, is condemned to death because he can't take a man's life Puzzled by his religion, and fascinated by his magnificent physique, and wanting to find out if Demetrius will kill or not his opponent, Messalina asks to be put in the arena against the king of swordsmen the Nuban Glycon (William Marshall).
The dramatic moment of the film comes when Lucia (Debra Paget)Demetrius' sweetheartsneaks in and is attacked by Dardanius (Richard Egan) and other gladiators... His faith shaken, Demetrius makes several kills, renounces his god, and succumbs to Messalina's charms...
Susan Hayward looked gorgeous as the wicked Messalina The part, however, was not developed... It might have been an ideal role for this beloved actress... This was Hayward's second movie with the radiant Debra Paget, who was still considered a promising starlet, but, again, they were never together in a scene...
Future Academy Award winners Ernest Borgnine and Anne Bancroft had small parts... Michael Rennie and Jay Robinson were excellent in their respective roles... Julie Newmeyer was one of the dancing girls, long before she became Julie Newmar and played Howard's rival in "The Marriage-Go-Round."
"Demetrius and the Gladiators" is a lively, efficient sequel to "The Robe," with emphasis less on religiosity than on the brutality of the arena
The historical epics which were so popular in the fifties and early
sixties frequently had a religious theme. Some were based on stories
taken directly from the Bible ("The Ten Commandments", "Solomon and
Sheba", "King of Kings"), while others tried to convey a Christian
message indirectly. Thus the central character of "Spartacus" is
treated as a metaphorical Christ-figure, and "The Egyptian" draws
parallels between Christianity and the monotheistic religion of Atenism
which briefly flourished under the heretical Pharaoh Akhnaten.
"Demetrius and the Gladiators" is one of a number of films (the most
famous is "Ben Hur", but others include "The Robe", to which
"Demetrius" is a sequel, "Quo Vadis" and "The Fall of the Roman
Empire") which deal with the early days of the Christian church and its
persecution by the Roman emperors. The stories told by such films were
normally fictitious, but were set against a background of historical
The central character, Demetrius, is a former slave who, after assaulting a soldier who is molesting his girlfriend Lucia, is sentenced to fight in the arena as a gladiator. This causes him difficulties as he is a Christian whose moral code will not permit him to kill another man, even in self-defence. He survives, however, largely because he attracts the attention of Messalina, the wife of Claudius, uncle of the Emperor Caligula. Later, believing that Lucia has accidentally been killed by another gladiator, Demetrius renounces his Christian faith, and fights fiercely, killing the man he believes to have been responsible for her death and several others. His courage and skill with a sword lead to his being made a tribune in the Praetorian Guard, and he becomes Messalina's lover. As in "The Robe", the robe which Christ wore to His crucifixion plays an important part in the film; Caligula wants to get his hands on it because he believes that it has magical powers and that it will give him the secret of eternal life.
Several of the epics of this period combined, incongruously, an improving religious message with a good deal of eroticism, with much bare female flesh on display- examples include "Solomon and Sheba", "Esther and the King" and "Salome", where we get to see the famous dance of the seven veils, but it is made clear that, contrary to the Biblical version of the story, Rita Hayworth's character is in fact a virtuous heroine who only is flashing her legs in public in a desperate attempt to save John the Baptist from his fate. There are elements of this strange combination of godliness and sexiness in "Demetrius", but the sexiness is very much downplayed. Messalina's notorious promiscuity is alluded to rather than shown on screen, and the scene between the gladiators and the women brought in to entertain them may be an orgy, but it is a very decorous one. The film-makers were clearly more interested in the element of godliness, and, unlike some films of this type, "Demetrius" raises genuine moral issues about pacifism, non-violence and Christian forgiveness.
Demetrius himself is a man who goes through a crisis of faith and abandons his Christian beliefs in favour of an ethic based on revenge and worldly ambition. His conscience, however, is troubled, especially after he is reproached by his old friend St Peter. He is a more complex and interesting figure than many epic heroes, so it is unfortunate that the part was played by Victor Mature, an actor whose success often seemed to owe more to his ruggedly masculine good looks and his virile physique than to his acting technique. Susan Hayward (an actress who could often look bored and listless when asked to play roles that did not interest her) makes a weak Messalina. Neither give their worst performance (in Hayward's case that must surely have been "The Conqueror"), and Mature brings a certain rough sincerity to his part, but I felt that the film might have been improved with other actors in these roles.
Nevertheless, there was much I enjoyed about the film. Michael Rennie was appropriately dignified as Peter, played as a sort of ascetic philosopher, although I would agree with the reviewer who pointed out that it would be hard to imagine him ever working as a fisherman. I also liked William Marshall as Glycon, the former African king now forced to fight as a gladiator, who befriends Demetrius. ("Spartacus", a better film than "Demetrius" although it owes something to it, also features a sympathetic black gladiator who befriends the hero).
Jay Robinson, who played Caligula, has been criticised by some reviewers for overacting, although I must say I liked his performance. Historians have doubted whether the real Caligula was actually insane, although he was undoubtedly cruel and eccentric, but in the context of this film he is definitely presented as a lunatic, a man who has literally been driven mad by power to the point where he believes himself to be a god. (Not even Hitler went that far). There is an interesting contrast with a modern epic, "Gladiator", in which Joaquin Phoenix plays another tyrannical Roman Emperor, Commodus, as a basically weak and insecure young man. Although Phoenix's performance works well in the context of that particular film, the way the role of Caligula was written called for something quite different- the sort of ranting, over-the-top performance which might be unfashionable now but would have been less controversial in the fifties.
Although the standard of the acting is mixed, I generally enjoyed the film. It does not reach the standard of the really great epics, such as "Spartacus" or "Ben-Hur", but it works well on the level of spectacle, with fine sets and costumes and some exciting scenes of gladiatorial combat, and has a more intelligent script than many epics. 7/10
The box office reception of The Robe for 20th Century Fox exceeded a
whole lot of expectations. What to do, but make a sequel to tell of
where the rest of some of these characters wound up.
Victor Mature as Demetrius, Michael Rennie as St. Peter, and Jay Robinson as Caligula continue their roles from The Robe. An original screenplay was done with these characters already familiar to the public from the film and from the beloved Lloyd C. Douglas novel. The film starts with a clip from the end of The Robe where Caligula has condemned Richard Burton and Jean Simmons to execution. As they leave Simmons hands Jesus's robe to an unnamed extra and says it's for the big fisherman.
Of course it gets into Michael Rennie's hands, but Jay Robinson has heard rumors about this magical robe the Christians possess. Nobody can get an obsession like Robinson so he finds Demetrius who's now got a girlfriend in Debra Paget. He's sold back into slavery this time as a gladiator.
Mature who was a supporting character in The Robe takes center stage here. He goes through quite a test of faith on many levels, including an affair with the notorious Messalina played by Susan Hayward. She's appropriately tempting and Mature's flesh is definitely weak here if not in the arena.
Michael Rennie who has always played aesthetic upper class gentlemen is really miscast as the rugged outdoor St. Peter. He does what he can with the part, but my conception of St. Peter at various times of his life is better realized by Howard Keel in The Big Fisherman and Finlay Currie in Quo Vadis. These two look like they made a living outdoors, I could never see Rennie out on a commercial fishing boat.
Of course Robinson continues with his well received portrayal of Caligula from The Robe. The difference is that in The Robe he was the spoiled heir to the throne. In Demetrius and the Gladiators, Robinson truly descends into madness as he starts believing he's divine.
Another outstanding performance is William Marshall as Glycon, the gladiator/slave from Ethiopia. Marshall had a tremendous speaking voice, think James Earl Jones and Marshall makes him sound like a soprano. Had he come along a few years later, Marshall would have had the career Mr. Jones had. He's probably best remembered today for both the Blacula films and in an episode of the original Star Trek series as Dr. Dengstom who invents a computer to run the Enterprise.
Some of this ground was covered better in the highly rated I Claudius series from the BBC. But that does not diminish Demetrius and the Gladiators in quality. Both should be seen and evaluated side by side on their own separate merits.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
'Demetrius and the Gladiators', the sword-and-sandal sequel to 'The Robe', sets the tone from the opening frames, when the famous climax of the earlier film is repeated. As the emotionally-charged Alfred Newman theme is played, Jay Robinson as Caligula, hissing contempt, orders the execution of a stoic Diana and Marcellus (Jean Simmons and Richard Burton)...but wait! Up in the balcony are Susan Hayward and Barry Jones, as Messalina and Claudius, looking suitably imperious! As Diana directs a slave to give the robe of Jesus to "the big fisherman", only Messalina, at least 100 yards away, hears the instructions (she IS a crafty wench!), and the scene fades out, to be replaced by Franz Waxman's imperiously Roman theme music, and the title credits.
Demetrius (the ever-wooden Victor Mature), has assumed the position of second-in-command to Peter (again played, with dignity, by Michael Rennie), and has found happiness hanging around a pottery, where his love (played by Debra Paget), a young Christian girl (with VERY '50s makeup), works for her father. As Peter must make a trip to the north, he turns over the robe to the Greek, and tells the Christians to obey him. Unfortunately, Caligula, doing an 'about face' from the first film, decides he wants the robe, after all, and Messalina informs him where it is to be found. When Paget is pushed by a soldier, Demetrius jumps in, swinging, quickly getting himself arrested (so much for being a leader!), and, when he cannot prove he is a freed slave, he is assigned to Gladiator training, under gruff-but-likable Strabo (played by gruff-but-likable Ernest Borgnine!).
The school has all the usual stereotypes; Richard Egan (who would achieve '50s stardom being even MORE wooden than Mature!), is the sneering bully, William Marshall (with a Paul Robeson-like intensity), is the noble black ex-king turned gladiator who befriends Demetrius, etc. When Messalina visits, she immediately gets the hots for Demetrius, and decides she'll 'cure' his Christianity by making him fight his black friend to the death, for the Emperor's birthday. When, after winning (without, by the way, ANY gladiator training), the Greek refuses the Emperor's demand for 'No Mercy', and he then must fight three tigers (not being human, he CAN kill them!) Messalina, lust dripping from her pagan heart, orders the injured and unconscious Demetrius to be taken to her quarters, where she nurses him back to health.
Of course the noble Christian spurns her advances, but when his true love sneaks in to visit him during the next prefight orgy (a very G-rated affair!), Messalina, all jealous indignation, has Demetrius locked away, and the poor Christian girl is left to the mercy of Egan and his horny friends. The Greek prays for a miracle, the young girl swoons, and Anne Bancroft(!), another love slave, screams "She's DEAD!" Mature goes ballistic, blaming God for killing his love, and at last the film moves on into the Blood-and-Sex phase that everybody has been WAITING for! Demetrius kills Egan and his (actually innocent) buddies in the arena, rebukes Jesus and gives fealty to the Emperor, then shacks up for THREE MONTHS with Messalina, while her husband, Claudius, is ridiculed by Caligula! How the pious has fallen!
Finally Peter, escorted by Marshall, visits the sinning couple, and tells the sneering Demetrius to come to the pottery, if he wants to get Christ's robe for Caligula...and, SURPRISE!, Paget is NOT dead, only catatonic (actually, considering her performance, it's hard to tell the difference!) Naturally, the Greek prays for forgiveness, the girl recovers, and everything is as right as rain (other than the fact he's had a chance to savor Messalina's forbidden fruit for months!)
Caligula quickly RE-discovers the robe has no miraculous powers (his scene of commanding a murdered prisoner to rise, while wearing the robe, is a hoot!), and orders Strabo to kill Demetrius in the arena. Strabo is killed by a Praetorian Guard (only to REAPPEAR, alive, in the final scene...maybe the robe worked, after ALL!), then another Guardsman kills Caligula (acting schools around the country, REJOICE!), and Claudius is named Emperor. Messalina promises to be a good Empress, and not mess around with the hired help, anymore (yeah, right!), and Demetrius, Marshall (carrying the robe), and Peter leave the Palace, to the swell of Waxman's finale.
Seeing Bancroft, Julie Newmar (in an unbilled role as a court dancer), and Borgnine are added pleasures, but the REAL fun in this movie is watching Robinson define 'ham' as the scenery-chewing Emperor! While the moral message of "Have as MUCH fun as you can, THEN ask forgiveness" may have Christian ministers cringing, the film always maintains a '50s approach to sin and sex, always as implied rather than demonstrated, so it can be safely viewed by the entire family!
Cheesy? You bet! But ENJOYABLE cheese!
Once you have seen this movie you will never ever forget Jay Robinson's performance as deranged but cunning Caligula.Is it great acting or just one of the greatest slices of ham ever put on film?I don't know but it proves the maxim that one actor can make a basically routine movie into a personal favourite."Demetrius" is in some ways superior to its predecessor "The Robe" -it lacks the ponderous religiosity,theres more action,and Caligula moves into centre stage.
OK, so it is not historically correct and contains a dramatic personality change by Susan Hayward, I still love this movie. The film has some surprisingly witty dialogue, a rousing music soundtrack, high production values and very good performances all around. If you can accept the story for the fiction it is it can be surprisingly inspirational even if you are not Christian. My wife and I watch it at least once yearly.
Demetrius and the Gladiators is a sequel to The Robe. It's directed by
Delmer Daves and stars Victor Mature as Demetrius, a Christian slave
made to fight in the Roman arena as a gladiator ( and ultimately
entering into a bigger fight, that of faith), and Susan Hayward as
Messalina. Filling out the support cast are Ernest Borgnine, William
Marshall, Michael Rennie, and Jay Robinson as the maniacal emperor
Caligula. The screenplay is from Philip Dunne (How Green Was My Valley/
The Agony and the Ecstasy} and cinematography comes courtesy of Milton
R. Krasner (Academy Award winner Best Color Cinematography for Three
Coins in the Fountain 1955).
Following straight on from The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators is a safe and enjoyable Biblical picture that doesn't outstay its welcome. Running at just over 100 minutes, the film is far from being epic in its telling. However, and without cramming in, it does contain all the necessary ingredients to make up a sweaty sword and sandals pie. Filmed in CinemaScope, persecuted hero, bonkers villain, sexy babe, huge sets, colourful costumes, and fights, lots of fights. Thankfully the serious dialogue is mostly kept brief, there a few things worse in this genre of film than bloated discourse on religious beliefs and political dalliances. Get in there, let us know what is going on, and move on to the next chapter of the story. This is something that Daves' film does real well, it has an eagerness to entertain with dots of gusto and sexual swagger. The acting is mixed, Mature is solid without ever really convincing as the heroic figure of Demetrius, Hayward and Robinson are camping it up and thus entertain royally, while Borgnine and Rennie earn there pay.
Very much like another Phillip Dunne screenplay genre piece, David And Bathsheba, this one is often overlooked or forgotten in discussion about the sword & sandals genre. That both film's are not in the same league as the likes of Ben-Hur and Spartacus is a given, but both have much to offer the discerning cinephile. Recommended Sunday afternoon fare with a flagon of claret and a roast ox dinner. 7/10
Filmed at almost the same time, this film was a fitting sequel to "The
Robe," considering it did not have the star power of the earlier film.
None the less it loses some of the reverence of the first film, as
Demetrius, so passionate a Christian in the first film, seems to give
in and give up on it all too quickly in this one. The tie-in of the
final scene from "The Robe" as the opening scene to this movie was a
good advertising ploy, and the musical score of Franz Waxman melded
well with the earlier Newman themes. The powerful insanity of Caligula
is once again handled well by Jay Robinson, who brought the character
vividly to life, as I remember from my Roman History studies. If the
Rome of those days was as charming as depicted in these films, I would
not have minded living there and then.
The performances of the cast, especially the minor characters, was excellent, although Mature was still awfully stiff in his performance. But a good sequel over all.
If made today, they'd call this The Robe II. Mostly a beefcake fest and
spectacle rather than a first class religious drama--which is what "The
Robe" was. This one has lots of gladiator fights in the arena and "a
day in the life " at gladiator school stuff. The action is quite
excitingly staged, but lessened by the handicap of early Cinemascope,
where close ups and even medium closeups looked distorted and were very
Susan Hayward is fun to watch as a sexually ravenous and manipulative noblewoman. Victor Mature confirms his acting chops (see "My Darling Clementine") by making a the struggling hero part believable, in a part that could have been cardboard rendered by many an action hero actor.
The video quality on this DVD is disappointingly mediocre; Fox obviously didn't spend any money on restoration, as they do with many of their titles from the 1950's. Colors are muddy, and the print, while perfectly watchable, is scratched. Stereo sound is so-so, and at least on my system, I didn't hear any surround sound, which this movie certainly had (this was a significant aspect of early Cinemascope presentations).
The actor playing bad guy Caligula gives one of the most hammy, over the top performances I can remember; he seems to have studied at the Simon Legree school of melodrama.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A worthy, though rushed, follow-up to "The Robe" has a fun cast, a tired looking Victor Mature (from all his work on the previous film, no doubt). Susan is a bit 50s looking for ancient Rome, with her bushy hairdos. Jay Robinson again goes way over the top as Caligula but really has some delicious mad scenes. One oddity: while watching the trailer on the DVD, scene 17 with Debra Paget on the trailer has her saying a line about "seeing Jesus". This line was NOT in the finished film. Wonder why. All in all, fun to watch, a good cast, and a fine score by Franz Waxman, who wisely gives credit to Newman for the themes used.
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