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The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Not Rated | | Drama, History | 10 February 1933 (USA)
A Roman soldier becomes torn between his love for a Christian woman and his loyalty to Emperor Nero.

Director:

Cecil B. DeMille (as Cecil B. De Mille)

Writers:

Waldemar Young (screen play), Sidney Buchman (screen play) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Fredric March ... Marcus Superbus, Prefect of Rome
Elissa Landi ... Mercia
Claudette Colbert ... Empress Poppaea
Charles Laughton ... Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar
Ian Keith ... Tigellinus
Arthur Hohl ... Titus
Harry Beresford ... Favius Fontelas
Tommy Conlon ... Stephan
Ferdinand Gottschalk ... Glabrio
Vivian Tobin ... Dacia
William V. Mong ... Licinius / Old Man Carrying Child
Joyzelle Joyner ... Ancaria (as Joyzelle)
Richard Alexander ... Viturius
Nat Pendleton ... Strabo
Clarence Burton Clarence Burton ... Servillius
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Storyline

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 <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Drama | History

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 February 1933 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El signo de la cruz See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(without intermission) | (original)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In this film, Charles Laughton plays the Roman Emperor Nero. In the unfinished I, Claudius (1937), he played Claudius, Nero's great-uncle, stepfather and predecessor. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

[the Empress, soaking naked in a tub of ass's milk and calling to her handmaiden]
Poppaea: Dacia, you're a butterfly with the sting of a wasp. Take off your clothes. Get in here and tell me all about it.
See more »

Alternate Versions

EMKA Limited (the film's current owner) and American Movie Classics restored and preserved the original full-length version in 1994 and is available on video. This restored version runs 125 minutes (including a 3-minute intermission). See more »

Connections

Referenced in Quo Vadis (1951) See more »

Soundtracks

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

 
The Wages of Sin are Quite Entertaining
7 June 2007 | by dglinkSee all my reviews

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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