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Demetrius and the Gladiators

Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) starring Victor Mature, Susan Hayward

Synopsis of Demetrius and the Gladiators

The story of Demetrius and the Gladiators picks up at the point where The Robe ends. After the martyrdom of Diana and Marcellus, Christ’s robe is conveyed to Peter for safe-keeping. But the emperor Caligula wants it back to benefit from its powers. Marcellus’ former slave Demetrius seeks to prevent this, and catches the eye of Messalina, wife to Caligula’s uncle Claudius. Messalina tempts Demetrius, he winds up fighting in the arena, and wavers in his faith.

Cast of characters in Demetrius and the Gladiators

  • Demetrius (Victor Moore, The Robe). The Christian potter, who’s captured and forced to serve in the gladiator arena. He’s one of the few who knows the location of the robe of Jesus Christ. After the seeming death of his beloved Lucia, he turns his back on his faith. And he’s taken advantage of by:
  • Messalina (Susan Hayward, I Want to Live!). The young, beautiful, bored wife of Claudius. She wiles away the hours by entertaining Demetrius … personally. Her last-minute change in the final minute of the movie seems very fake. No disrespect to Susan Hayward – that’s the script she was given.
  • The Apostle Peter (Michael Rennie, The Day the Earth Stood Still). A secondary character, but a vital one. He attempts to help Demetrius recover his faith. He eventually succeeds, leading Demetrius to the robe – and a life-changing discovery.
  • Lucia (Debra Paget, The Ten Commandments). Demetrius’ love, who is (seemingly) killed by the other gladiators when she tries to visit him. He calls out to Jesus Christ to save her, but it looks like she dies instead. This causes him to lose his faith – and later kill those gladiators in the arena.
  • Caligula (Jay Robinson, The Robe). The cruel, selfish, evil emperor of Rome. He wants the robe of Jesus Christ, foolishly thinking it will give him the power to raise the dead. He even orders obedient Strabo to murder a prisoner, so that he can test it. Brilliantly acted by Jay Robinson.
  • Claudius (Barry Jones, Brigadoon). Caligula’s uncle, who’s mercilessly taunted by the emperor. And the suffering husband of Messalina. Who actually gets a happy ending!
  • Strabo (Ernest Borgnine, Marty). A secondary role, Caligula’s loyal servant who trains gladiators and kills whomever Caligula sayas.

Editorial review of Demetrius and the Gladiators courtesy of Amazon.com

Amid a cast of all-stars in 1953’s The Robe, Victor Mature made the strongest impression as the Greek slave, Demetrius. It was only natural, then, that Mature should star in this 1954 sequel, in which the newly liberated Demetrius forges an alliance with his Christian brethren to hide the sacred robe of Christ, coveted for its “magic” by the vile emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson, also reprising his role in The Robe). Captured and manipulated into believing his beloved Lucia (Debra Paget) has been killed, Demetrius rejects his pacifist faith, plots vengeance while becoming a rising star in the bloody arena, and falls prey to the scheming senator’s wife Messalina (Susan Hayward), who craves his… affection. It all leads to a crisis of faith that will determine Demetrius’s fate as a noble Christian or downfallen hedonist.

Inheriting The Robe‘s CinemaScope production values, Demetrius and the Gladiators has everything you’d want in a Biblical epic, riding the wave that would crest two years later with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. It’s campy, of course–Robinson is outrageously over-the-top; Mature is too contemporary (preceding the absurdity of Richard Gere’s King David by 30 years); and Hayward seems closer to Rodeo Drive than ancient Rome. Still, there are abundant pleasures here, from the lavish arena battles (a bit cheesy, but still impressive) to a straightforward morality tale that doesn’t compromise its themes of religious loyalty. You don’t watch movies like this for historical accuracy, but for the combination of thrills, passion, and glory that were Hollywood trademarks of 1950s epics, long before the more secular ambition of Gladiator–Jeff Shannon

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