Plot: What’s it about?
This movie continues the storyline from The Robe, so try to see the prior film before this one, if at all possible. The robe worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion is still the focus of the plot, as Caligula (Jay Robinson) is still determined to own the garment. Although the robe is in safe hands for the time, it seems as though Caligula will stop at nothing to attain it, so Demetrius (Victor Mature) decides to do what he can to prevent that, as the robe has no reason to rest with Caligula. As of the present, Demetrius is sentenced to train as a gladiator, but this present problems for him and then some. As a Christian, he is not allowed to kill another man in cold blood, which he feels would be the base in the arena. But his refusal to battle catches the eye of Messalina (Susan Hayward), who thinks putting him in front of the emperor to fight would be an interesting idea. As time passes and Messalina tempts him, Demetrius breaks down little by little, not helped by the comatose state of a slave girl he has come to like. Can Demetrius fight off Messalina’s advances, Caligula’s madness, his own wavering faith, and the men and beasts who challenge him within the arena?
This epic flick was the sequel to The Robe, but for some odd reason, Fox has chosen to release it before the prior film. But since I am pleased just to own this movie on our beloved format, I won’t complain much, but I do hope we see The Robe soon enough. This isn’t classic cinema by any means, but when movies like Gladiator earn multiple Oscar nominations in the modern, I suppose there’s no room to call this one hokey, as it is no more that than Gladiator is. So don’t expect a rollercoaster ride of emotions here, just look to have fun and soak in some terrific visuals. You can tell this one was expensive, as the production design is excellent and the cast of thousands is also impressive. The visuals do mark this as a real big budget picture, but the storyline seems weak by today’s standards and the acting is well, not that good. But in the spirit of this movie, you can tell the performers know this isn’t serious, so that takes some of the pressure of their wooden performances. If you’re a fan of The Robe or other Roman epics, then by all means, give Demetrius and the Gladiators a rental, I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
He was no great actor, but then again, Victor Mature would be the first to admit he wasn’t always a skilled performer. He was capable of good work and often did turn in good performances, but a lot of times he relied on his beefcake persona, which meant wooden performances. Such is the case in Demetrius and the Gladiators, but I think it works well enough here, given the somewhat self aware nature of the picture. He was much better in The Robe to be sure and more serious also, but his wooden turn here never slows the flick down much. I know some people will blast his turn as weak and unemotional, but come on guys, this is a camp laden Roman epic. Other films with Mature include One Million B.C., Kiss of Death, Million Dollar Mermaid, Samson and Delilah, and My Darling Clementine. The rest of the cast includes Susan Hayward (The Snows of Kilimanjaro), Jay Robinson (Shampoo, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Debra Paget (The Ten Commandments, Tales of Terror), Ernest Borgnine (Bad Day At Black Rock, The Dirty Dozen), and Anne Bancroft (The Elephant Man, G.I. Jane).
Video: How does it look?
Demetrius and the Gladiators is presented in a 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I admit that time has been unkind to this movie, but I still think this presentation is the best looking edition we’ll see. The image shows more grain that I would like and looks a little soft, but there isn’t as much print wear as I had expected. The colors have faded a little, but still look bright and come across well, while flesh tones are natural and consistent also. The contrast is solid too, with well balanced black levels and no signs of visible detail loss at all. So yes, this one looks its age, but all things considered, I think this is about as good as we can expect, without a massive restoration process.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 4.0 track allows for a nice experience, but as is the case with most of these remixes on older flicks, the range is limited. The sound effects and music have a richer texture, but sound hollow and false most of the time, which leads me to believe that once again, we’d be better off with the original mono option here. The dialogue is clean and crisp here though, so not all is lost in this remix effort. I know some people simply can’t live without surround sound, but when the original has a more natural sound, I say leave well enough alone. This disc also includes an English stereo track, French mono option, and subtitles in English & Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes theatrical trailers in English, Spanish, French, and German.