In the doomed Roman city, a gentle blacksmith becomes a corrupt gladiator, while his son leans toward Christianity.In the doomed Roman city, a gentle blacksmith becomes a corrupt gladiator, while his son leans toward Christianity.In the doomed Roman city, a gentle blacksmith becomes a corrupt gladiator, while his son leans toward Christianity.
Although burdened with occasional wooden acting, this is generally a fine historical drama. RKO spent quite a bit of money on its production and it shows in the large crowd scenes and still noteworthy special effects. The film boasted a very fine team behind the camera, working together as they had on KING KONG (1933). Directorial duties were shared by Ernest B. Schoedsack & Meriam C. Cooper. Special effects wizard Willis O'Brien worked his magic, while composer Max Steiner contributed a pounding score.
Preston Foster had one of his finest roles as the stalwart blacksmith turned gladiator and slaver. His performance during the prolonged climax, while desperately trying to save the life of his doomed son, is especially effective. David Holt & John Wood, playing the youth at different ages, are also very good.
Additional fine support is offered by Alan Hale as the rough mercenary who teams with Foster; and by villainous Louis Calhern as Pompeii's last prefect. Acting honors, however, go to marvelous Basil Rathbone, who gives a most sophisticated performance as Pontius Pilate, by turns rogue, fate's victim & moral philosopher.
Movie mavens should recognize Ward Bond as a boastful gladiator, elderly Zeffie Tilbury as a soothsayer, Edward Van Sloan as Pilate's clerk & Edwin Maxwell as a Pompeii official, all uncredited.
The film makes rather a mishmash of historical chronology. Young Flavius appears to be about ten years old at the time of Christ's crucifixion, which occurred around AD 29. It would be another fifty years - August 24, AD 79, to be precise - until Vesuvius' eruption destroyed Pompeii, yet Flavius is still depicted as a youthful fellow, just reaching maturity. Early Christian tradition also holds that Pilate committed suicide in AD 39 - four decades before Pompeii's rendezvous with destiny.
While using the same title & location, this film tells quite a different story from that of the classic 1834 novel by Baron Bulwer-Lytton.
- Ron Oliver
- Jan 22, 2002