George Bernard Shaw’s whimsical take on the old fable about a Christian näif, a lion with a thorn in his paw, and their reencounter at the Roman Coliseum may not be his weakest play, it just seems so in this lame, painfully obvious adaptation. The cast & tech credits don’t look so bad on paper. Well, except for Alan Young, hopelessly over-parted as a holy fool of an Androcles. But the entire production is visually inert, with a cramped stage-bound look that suggests a tv ‘spectacular’ from the ‘50s. There’s a bit of fun seeing Jim Backus (of Mr. Magoo & GILLIGAN’S ISLAND fame) as a hardened Roman Centurion; and catching Victor Mature & Jean Simmons in a dry run for next year’s CinemaScope debut of Christians/Romans/Lions in THE ROBE/’53. Or, you might try to envision the original planned cast of Harpo Marx as a (speaking?) Androcles, with Rex Harrison & Dana Andrews in for Maurice Evans & Victor Mature. Then, again, some things are best left imagined.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Buster Keaton tackles the Androcles fable in less than a minute of footage as a toss-away gag during the Roman section of THREE AGES/’23, his hilarious send-up of D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE/’16.