In first-century Rome, Christian slave Demetrius is sent to fight in the gladiatorial arena and Emperor Caligula seeks Jesus' robe for its alleged magical powers.In first-century Rome, Christian slave Demetrius is sent to fight in the gladiatorial arena and Emperor Caligula seeks Jesus' robe for its alleged magical powers.In first-century Rome, Christian slave Demetrius is sent to fight in the gladiatorial arena and Emperor Caligula seeks Jesus' robe for its alleged magical powers.
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.
- May 22, 2006