THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS: A DUO OF BIBLICAL MOVIE REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
THE ROBE. (1953) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY LLOYD C. DOUGLAS. DIRECTED BY HENRY KOSTER. STARRING RICHARD BURTON, JEAN SIMMONS, VICTOR MATURE, MICHAEL RENNIE AND JAY ROBINSON AS CALIGULA.
DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS. (1954) BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY LLOYD C. DOUGLAS IN HIS NOVEL ‘THE ROBE.’ DIRECTED BY DELMER DAVES. STARRING VICTOR MATURE, SUSAN HAYWOOD, MICHAEL RENNIE, DEBRA PAGET, ERNEST BORGNINE AND JAY ROBINSON AS CALIGULA.
‘Were you… out there…?’
I know Easter was about a month ago but I’m still cheerfully riding that wave of great old Biblical epics, haha. THE ROBE and its sequel DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS have always been two of my all-time favourites, along with BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, SPARTACUS and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, to mention but a few. Well, I think those are the main ones!
It was said of some guy once, I don’t know who, that ‘he killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille,’ referring of course to the number of extras used in this type of film. They all had a cast of thousands all right, along with camels and rolling hills and raucous open markets in which you could buy a nice living-room carpet and a pair of comely slave twins to go with your watermelon and jugs of wine. They’re all marvellous old films and you just don’t see their like anymore.
THE ROBE is the story of Tribune Marcellus Gallio, brilliantly played by screen heart-throb and two-time hubby of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton. He plays a rich Roman soldier from a good family, a boozer and a womaniser who falls afoul of the Emperor Caligula and gets stationed in the back end of nowhere, otherwise known as Jerusalem, as a sort of pay-back.
While he’s there, he’s put in charge of the unit that’s responsible for crucifying a local troublemaker of note known as Jesus Christ. Yep, that Jesus Christ…! Not unnaturally, the crucifixion has a profoundly unsettling effect on Tribune Gallio.
Believing himself bewitched by Jesus’s robe, which he shamefully won in a card game, Marcellus sets out to find it and destroy it. Yeah, he obviously lost it again after he won it, haha. He nearly loses his mind with the strain of it all before miraculously converting to Christianity, much to the surprise- but not displeasure- of his childhood sweetheart Diana, played by the lovely Jean Simmons. (Mrs. Spartacus, remember?)
Demetrius, played by the beefy and burly Victor Mature, is Tribune Gallio’s slave and the star of the sequel movie, DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS. Demetrius, a handsome Greek, becomes a devoted follower of Jesus after witnessing the shocking events of the crucifixion alongside his master, Marcellus.
Poor Demetrius is captured and tortured by the Emperor Caligula, who is more than a little disturbed at rumours of an underground cult, ie, Christianity, that places another god above himself. Caligula’s ego is insanely over-developed and any suggestion that he’s not the one true God himself is like a red rag to a bull.
The actor portraying Caligula in both films, Jay Robinson, was only twenty-three and then twenty-four respectively when he starred in them. This is incredible to imagine as he is absolutely magnificent as the spoilt brat of an Emperor, who quite literally throws screaming tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants.
‘I want Tribune Gallio! Bring me Tribune Gallio before morning or I’ll have you all killed!’ What did I tell you? Completely and utterly spoilt…
In DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, our freed slave Demetrius finds himself in a school for gladiators run by Ernest Borgnine’s tough nut, Strabo. Demetrius attains such success in the arena that he attracts the attention of Messalina, the wife of Caligula’s doddery old uncle, Claudius.
Messalina, played by Susan Hayward, is a saucy temptress who has forced her aged hubby to wear the cuckold’s horns so many times that they’ve worn an actual groove across his bald pate. When a fatal incident in the gladiators’ recreation room causes Demetrius to reject his Christian faith, the horny little hussy has no trouble at all in luring the hunky gladiator to her bed.
Caligula takes an interest in the robe in this film, mistakenly believing that it imbues the wearer with powers of immortality. Huh. It’s not a flippin’ cloak of invisibilty or anything. It’s not a magic cloak or anything like that. Or is it…?
Anyway, he orders Demetrius away from his carousing and merry-making in Messalina’s love-dungeon and tells him to find the robe and bring it to him. Demetrius finds the robe, but he finds something else as well, something which will hopefully jerk him back to his senses in a big way. And after several months spent lying between Messalina’s alabaster thighs (nice legs, what time do they open…?), the randy sod’s gonna need some serious deprogramming…!
These old films are so special. They’re not just for Easter, either. Any Saturday or Sunday afternoon during the year would do for a good long viewing of a nice swords-and-sandals epic. Now bring me a mojita this minute.
That’s right, bring me a mojita right now or I’ll feed you all to the lions! Haha, I’m only joking, of course. I simply wouldn’t dream of channelling my inner Caligula (Caligulady, geddit?) around you guys. As if I’d feed you guys to the lions. But a mojito would be nice…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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