Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #140: The Ancient World (3600 BC-500 AD)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of the Thursday Movie Picks Blogathon, run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is the ancient world. I being a fan of older movies have selected three older movies:

The Sign of the Cross (1932). Cecil B. DeMille's spectacle showing Christian virtue (in the form of Elissa Landi) triumphing over Roman vice (in the form of legionnaire Fredric March). When Richard Barrios appeared on TCM to discuss gay images in cinema a decade or so ago, he mentioned this movie and how DeMille thought the best way to show Christian virtue triumphing over Roman vice was to show lots and lots of Roman vice. (DeMille was not stupid; he knew the audiences would eat it up.) Nero (Charles Laughton) fiddling while Rome burns is mild; we also get Nero's wife (Claudette Colbert) bathing naked in a bath of goats' milk; a torture scene; and a lesbian dance as Joyzelle tries to woo Landi over to the Roman side. And that's all before the gladiatorial combat at the end.

The Egyptian (1954). Based on a popular novel by Finnish author Mika Waltari, this one stars Edmund Pudrom as Sinuhe, a doctor who rises to power in ancient Egypt when he unwittingly saves the life of Pharaoh Akhenaton (Michael Wilding). But what it really does is get him trapped in all the palace intrigue, as there are forces who want to assassinate Akhenaton because he's a monotheist, and having Sinuhe poison him would be just the thing. Sinuhe also gets in a love triangle with a tavern owner (Jean Simmons in a decidedly unglamorous role) and wealthy Bella Darvi. Gene Tierney shows up as Akhenaton's sister. It's in nice Fox Cinemascope and Technicolor, too.

Esther and the King (1960). In this loose telling of the Old Testament book of Esther, and the Jewish Purim story, Joan Collins(!) stars as Esther, the Jewish girl who attracts the attention of Persian King Ahaseurus (Richard Egan), who is looking for a new wife. Esther's Uncle Mordechai (Dennis O'Dea) is one of the King's councillors, but has enemies in the palace. And of course the Jews in general have lots of enemies, and seem to have had them for close to six thousand years now. When it comes to light that there may be a slaughter of Jews afoot, Mordechai wants Esther to user her influence to get the king to stop it. It's not as big as the other biblical epics of the era, but it's entertaining enough, and always fun to see a young Joan Collins for those of us who remember her from her days on Dynasty.


Wendell Ottley said...

Haven't seen any of these. Thanks for giving me some movies to look up.

joel65913 said...

LOVE your picks!!

The Sign of the Cross is so over the top you can tell in an instant that it squeezed its way in just before the Code grew teeth. Claudette really embraces one of her last chances at silky villainy and Laughton always loved the opportunity to chew the scenery.

The Egyptian is rather stately for my tastes but with that cast I'm willing to put up with a bit of drag. Edmund Purdom may not have had the requisite star quality to carry a film but sure was good looking and since he is surrounded by excellent actors he does well enough. I adore Jean Simmons.

I haven't seen Esther and the King in ages so my memory of it is hazy other than that I thought it was decent. With the holidays coming I should dig up a copy.

While we don't match a couple of our picks share either an actor or actress. I'm a big fan of any film that deals with antiquity but my sweet spot is those big showy star laden 50's pageants. Unfortunately I used the apex of those "The Ten Commandments" in a previous week and try never to repeat especially when there are so many others to choose from. So I turned to these three:

Quo Vadis? (1951)-Huge, impressive epic of Nero’s (Peter Ustinov) reign and his persecution of the Christians. Against the broader scale of the story (with amazing sets and a literal cast of thousands) is the tale of Roman general Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) who falls in love with the Christian Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and slowly adopts her religion, a very dangerous decision for the time. Vast in scope with pageantry and a human feel that can’t be replicated by CGI that thanks to the direction and performances, Leo Genn is particularly fine as Marcus’s Uncle Petronius, remains more accessible than many similar films of the period.

Land of the Pharaohs (1955)-Hooty nonsense about the building of the Great Pyramid in ancient Egypt. Packed with quality British actors, including Jack Hawkins, James Robertson Justice and Sydney Chaplin, extravagantly playing to the back row and best of all (well most campily of all anyway) a young and very beautiful Joan Collins vamping it up as the pharaoh’s wife Nellifer. To say she’s good would be a stretch but she sure is entertaining. The usually excellent Howard Hawks doesn’t seem to have a handle on the pace of the story so despite the florid ridiculousness of the picture it occasionally drags.

Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)-Fictional sequel to The Robe picks up where that film ended. The movie follows two stories: faithful Demetrius (Victor Mature) the soldier converted to Christianity in the first picture is pressed into being a gladiator and catches the eye of the salacious Messalina (Susan Hayward) wife of Emperor Caligula’s uncle which causes a crisis of conscience. Meanwhile the mad Caligula pursues Jesus’s robe believing it to have magical powers. Star-studded if improbably cast (i.e. Ernest Borgnine as a Roman centurion) with future stars Anne Bancroft and Julie Newmar appearing briefly. Nicely produced if a bit overblown.

Birgit said...

I hate it when there are 3 older films that I have not seen and these. 3 I have not seen at all. The Sign of the Cross has been on my to watch list for decades and I M always loving a. 1950's-60's religious spectacle. Love your picks and they are all very n my long, long list to see

Brittani Burnham said...

I haven't seen nor heard of any of these, but I'm going to go read about them.

pilch92 15andmeowing said...

Esther and the King sounds good, I wonder if Netflix has it.