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The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama | 18 October 1935 (USA)
In the doomed Roman city, a gentle blacksmith becomes a corrupt gladiator, while his son leans toward Christianity.

Directors:

Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper (uncredited)

Writers:

James Ashmore Creelman (story), Melville Baker (story) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Preston Foster ... Marcus
Alan Hale ... Burbix
Basil Rathbone ... Pontius Pilate
John Wood John Wood ... Flavius, as a Man
Louis Calhern ... Prefect (Allus Martius)
David Holt ... Flavius, as a Boy
Dorothy Wilson ... Clodia
Wyrley Birch ... Leaster
Gloria Shea ... Julia
Frank Conroy ... Gaius Tanno
William V. Mong ... Cleon, the Slave Dealer
Murray Kinnell ... Simon, Judean Peasant
Henry Kolker ... Warder
Edward Van Sloan ... Calvus
Zeffie Tilbury ... The Wise Woman
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Storyline

Peaceloving blacksmith Marcus refuses lucrative offers to fight in the arena...until his wife dies for lack of medical care. His life as a gladiator coarsens him, and shady enterprises make him the richest man in Pompeii, while his son Flavius (who met Jesus on a brief visit to Judaea) is as gentle as Marcus once was. The final disaster of Marcus and Flavius's cross purposes is interrupted by the eruption of Vesuvius. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Adventure | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

18 October 1935 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Der Untergang von Pompeji See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

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

Trivia

If you listen closely during the African scene, you can hear several "words" used by Noble Johnson in King Kong. See more »

Goofs

Pontius Pilate committed suicide in Gaul in approximately 38 A.D. and could not have been present in Pompeii during the same year that Mt Vesuvius erupted (79 AD). See more »

Quotes

Marcus: If you don't want my money, what will you give to the poor?
Flavius, as a Man: Myself.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The foreword at the beginning of the film is a disclaimer stating that this film is not based on Bulwer-Lytton's novel at all. (It does not use the novel's plot, nor does it have any of the novel's characters.) However, the disclaimer goes on to say that the filmmakers are indebted to him for the description of the destruction of Pompeii. See more »

Alternate Versions

RKO planned to issue a French and a Spanish version of this film, with Preston Foster and Gloria Shea repeating their lines in those languages, but it is not known if those foreign versions were ever made. See more »

Connections

Referenced in An Opera of Violence (2003) See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Dangers of Reading a "Classic" Novel
16 January 2006 | by theowinthropSee all my reviews

I wonder how many of you read any of these novels: THE CAXTONS, THE LAST OF THE BARONS, MY NOVEL, PAUL CLIFFORD, EUGENE ARAM, THE COMING RACE. Any takers out there? Well how about PELHAM (which has nothing to do with an 18th Century British Prime Minister, nor an area of the Bronx near the Connecticut Border)? No? Well, how about THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII? Bet you heard that title somewhere? It has been the subject of about seven or eight major productions in the movies from the silent period (a major full length version by the Italians in 1913 or so - which was a flop) to a television version in 1985 (that remains something of a critical joke to this day - all 240 odd minutes of it). Most people agree that of all the versions of the story, the 1935 version starring Preston Forster and Basil Rathbone (as a sad, philosophical Pontius Pilate) is the best. That it is basically entertaining is true. That it jettisoned the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is equally true. That the novel is unreadable today is also true.

Bulwer-Lytton has become, in a small way, a literary immortal from Victorian England - actually from late Regency through Victorian England). He was a wealthy landowner and aristocrat, who would be in the British cabinet as Secretary of State for the Colonies in the middle 1850s. He was the father of a would-be poet, who rose to be Viceroy of India. Lytton was a baronet when he started writing in 1825, and would eventually be an Earl (First Earl Lytton). He wrote all the titles (including THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII) which I mentioned. Only PELHAM, his novel of Regency England's aristocracy (which he knew well) and THE LAST DAYS are still reprinted. That's because (as his own contemporaries - especially the greatly amused Thackeray noticed) Lord Lytton's ideas out paced his abilities. He wrote bad prose. A "Bulwer-Lytton" prize is now presented every year to those writers who write the worst, cliché-full opening paragraph for a novel. It is named for him because of the start of his novel EUGENE ARAM: "It was a dark and stormy night...."

He tried to be original in his concepts. EUGENE ARAM was based on the 18th Century schoolteacher, linguist, and murderer (hanged in 1759). Lytton tried to make a case that Aram's philosophical beliefs allowed him to take the blame for the murder he was hung for. The story sold well in the 1830s, but it met with mostly critical rejection. In MY NOVEL, his villain, Baron Levy, actually has a very human reason for his improbably complicated vengeance on two men: he's angry of their attentions to a woman he loves. Levy is Jewish, so it was a curious thing to make his motivation so mundane as love for a woman - but Bulwer spoiled it shortly after by adding the image of a vengeful Jew who had been insulted. That was always the problem with Bulwer-Lytton. He's a literary Ed Wood, in that his concepts outstrip his abilities (and in comparison Wood is more bearable - one of his movies lasts about an hour or so, while Bulwer can write a novel of over 700 pages!).

The reason THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII happened to have a long shelf life is that the subject (the small town near Naples that was buried in a sea of ash and lava by Vesuvius, and rediscovered preserved 1,700 years afterward) fascinates us, and to his credit Bulwer did his classical history homework. But as a piece of fiction his characters are dry as dust. One of the more interesting is a wealthy Egyptian who plans to take over the Roman Empire. He's the villain in the plot. The events that destroyed Pompeii are clearly revealed to us, including the earthquake that hit the town a decade before the volcanic eruption.

So when the movie was made they wisely jettisoned the actual story line (which I plowed through when I read the boring novel about 1985). Foster is a blacksmith who becomes a successful gladiator, and then a wealthy land owner near Pompeii. Early he lived in Judea, and met Christ, and he (like his old patron Pilate) are aware of an alternative to the materialist and corrupt empire. The film is old fashioned, but bearably so, and gave Foster one of his best screen performances (his retired police captain in KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is it's closest rival). Never a leading man in major productions, Foster demonstrated here that he could handle lead roles. Except for an occasional film though he usually was in supporting parts. For his performance, and Rathbone's Pilate, and for jettisoning Bulwer's idiot writing and plot, I'll give this an 8.

By the way, if you want to see an interesting, literary view of the later life of Pilate - by a Nobel Prize Winner no less - read the short story, THE PROCURATOR OF JUDEA by Anatole France. Far from being so thoughtful and sad as Rathbone's Pilate acts, France's version of the Procurator seems more realistic regarding his memories.


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