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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954)

In this quickie sequel to THE ROBE/’53 (the stiff, dollar-churning debut of CinemaScope), we’re still following those early Christians in Rome, but the focus has shifted from martyrs & religion to swords & sandals. (There may have been more of the former at one time. A fade-to-black pause at the one-hour mark signals Intermission, but there’s no actual break. Best guess is that the developing character arc between good-girl Debra Paget & bad-girl Anne Bancroft got left on the cutting-room floor.) Jay Robinson’s Caligula is still chewing up the scenery and the Christians; Victor Mature’s Demetrius is still questioning what it all means and still oiling up his hair & limbs; Michael Rennie’s Peter is still wise & saintly, but he’s been demoted and the script sends him off on a road trip. The big addition is Susan Hayward as Messalina, the new vixen in Rome. She’s married to Claudius, plotting against Caligula and vamping Victor in brightly colored Roman outfits that could easily work on the L.A. cocktail party circuit. One red number has a bodice that’s pure ‘50s Bel Air chic. All in all, the whole shebang is a lot less ponderous than the original . . . but even more forgettable.

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