Thursday, May 26, 2016


This Christian epic is a sequel to THE ROBE, beginning exactly where the first movie ended, even to the point of including a scene from the end of that movie as the opening scene here, but you don't need to know that film to follow this one, set not long after the crucifixion of Jesus. The emperor Caligula, hearing Christians refer to achieving eternal life through Christ, thinks if he can get his hands on the robe that Jesus wore before he died, he will be able to bring the dead back to life and live forever. Demetrius, entrusted with the robe by the apostle Peter, manages to hide it at the home of young Lucia before he is dragged off by Praetorian Guards and, unable to prove that he is a free man and not a slave, is sentenced to the gladiator arena. Meanwhile, Claudius' notoriously unfaithful wife Messalina becomes fascinated with Demetrius, who refuses to fight to the death as it's against Christ's teachings. He earns the crowd's favor when he refuses to kill Glycon, a Nubian slave who befriended him, but Caligula unleashes man-killing tigers on him. He manages to kill them all as Messalina watches in a state of sexual arousal. Demetrius is made a palace guard and Messalina tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. But when young Lucia comes to visit, she is manhandled by the gladiators and just as one of them is about to rape her, she dies in his arms. This turns Demetrius against God and he gives in to Messalina's advances—until he finds out that Lucia is not dead but hidden away in a catatonic state, being cared for by Peter.

This was filmed on the expensive sets for THE ROBE and looks great. The director, Delmer Daves, takes DeMille's lessons to heart and uses a fair amount of sex and violence to get his message across. I'm not a fan of Victor Mature, who plays Demetrius as he did in THE ROBE, but I do like Susan Hayward who does a nice job as Messalina—she is able to flesh out her character a bit beyond the usual Biblical femme fatale. Two other actors from THE ROBE also appear: Michael Rennie as Peter, who only has a few scenes, and Jay Robinson as Caligula, who once again conveys the character's full-tilt batshit manner mostly by shouting his lines with an effeminate edge. Ernest Borgnine (pictured) is the gladiator teacher and Debra Paget is Lucia. Anne Bancroft is in it as well, but I didn’t recognize her at all. This is shorter than THE ROBE and moves at a nice pace, and builds well to its climax. [TCM]

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