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20th Century Fox presents

Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)

"What men will do under the inspiration of their beliefs."- Claudius (Barry Jones)

Stars: Victor Mature, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Debra Paget, Anne Bancroft, Jay Robinson
Other Stars: Barry Jones, William Marshall, Richard Egan, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Evans, Richard Burton, Jean Simmons
Director: Delmar Daves

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:41m:03s
Release Date: 2001-02-27
Genre: epic

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BB-A D

 

DVD Review

Some might look at the release of this DVD as a naked attempt to cash in on the success of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, and they'd probably be right, considering this is a sequel to a film that hasn't even been announced for release on DVD. But that all-important "gladiator" in the title brings this epic opus to our players a little earlier than might have been expected otherwise.

This sequel to The Robe (1953) brings back several of the first film's cast, including Victor Mature as the freed Greek slave of the title, Michael Rennie as Peter and most entertainingly, Jay Robinson as the mad emperor Caligula. The film picks up where The Robe left, off with a clip from that film as Richard Burton and Jean Simmons are sentenced to death for being Christians. Freed slave Demetrius, who retrieved the titular robe of Jesus at the crucifixion, takes it to Peter for safekeeping. When the Romans come looking for the robe, which Caligula believes confers eternal life, Demetrius gets into a tussle to protect his sweetie Lucia (a luminous Debra Paget), and finds himself re-enslaved and sentenced to the gladiatorial schools owned by Claudius, the emperor's uncle, and run by Strabo (a young Ernest Borgnine).

However, Demetrius is spotted by Claudius' wife, the notorious Messalina, and she sets her sights on adding him to her collection. Demetrius' faith keeps him from falling for her, however, in predictable pseudo-Biblical epic fashion. Where this picture gets interesting is when it departs from the formula. Lucia sneaks into the gladiators' quarters to see Demetrius with the aid of the courtesan Paula (Anne Bancroft), and after a brief tête-a-tête, they are separated. As the other gladiators prepare to gang rape Lucia, Demetrius' prayers to God are unanswered and she dies. Demetrius finds his faith shaken and becomes both a bloodthirsty killer in the arena and Messalina's lover. Of course, being a Major Motion Picture from 1954, this is only temporary, but it still makes this picture far more interesting than the usual pious claptrap of the genre.

Those looking for blood and gladiatorial mayhem are sure to be disappointed. Barely ten minutes of the film takes place in the arena, and even then, the combat is quite antiseptic. When Demetrius is forced to face three tigers, the fighting is quite convincing, if bloodless.

The cast by and large is at least adequate. Mature doesn't quite have the breadth to carry this film by himself, but he is aided by Hayward as the lusty Messalina and Jay Robinson as the maniacal Caligula. When Demetrius is in combat in the arena, Hayward's bosom heaves to the extent that she looks as if she's going to do a Harry Met Sally. Robinson raves, whines and threatens, making a deliciously whacked Caligula; whenever he's on screen, the movie is always entertaining. Barry Jones makes a good Claudius, borrowing a fair amount of his character from Robert Graves' novels about that later emperor. Although hobbled by a silly deus ex machina and a ridiculous and historically inaccurate ending, this is a brisk and entertaining epic that at least won't eat up more than two hours of your time.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic Technicolor picture is widely variable in quality. Several of the reels seem to be completely lacking in yellow, while others look just fine. Speckling is observed throughout, though no major frame damage was seen. In the arena scenes, there is considerable moire effect, and edge enhancement is visible throughout. On occasion skin tones are highly reddish. Blacks are rather lacking in strength throughout. The image is occasionally unstable, jittering briefly after reel changes. In all, the picture generally has a dated appearance and is not terribly attractive.

Image Transfer Grade: B-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
4.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The original four-track audio seems to be well-preserved in the DD4.0. The sound is nicely directional on a wide soundstage, with the surround primarily used for crowd noises. Franz Waxman's score blends in rather subtly and atmospherically as compared to the 2.0 English and French tracks. In the scenes at Strabo's gladiatorial school, the sounds of swords clanging against shields create a wonderfully enveloping soundstage. Hiss and noise are nonexistent. While not state of the art, the soundtrack serves quite well indeed.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Titus, The Longest Day, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Patton, Last of the Mohicans
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:52s

Extras Review: The only extras are trailers, but there are plenty of those to be found. The four trailers for the feature are essentially identical, except that there is one each in English, French, Spanish and German. All four are anamorphic 2.35:1, except the English one, which oddly enough is 1.85:1. Trailers for five other Fox epics (Titus, The Longest Day, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Patton, Last of the Mohicans) are presented as well, though none of them is anamorphic. Chaptering is decent, and the subtitles are generally accurate transcriptions.

Extras Grade: D
 

Final Comments

One of the more modest epics in scope, Demetrius has some interesting story points, but ultimately gets caught up in its own devotion. The transfer is decent, but not great, and extras are seriously lacking. Worth a look, but don't expect much in the way of combat.

Mark Zimmer 2001-03-02