The Robe was the first Cinemascope film and has seen a stunning Blu-ray release. Now, Twilight Time, the label responsible for bringing classics to Blu-ray that may not have been released on the format for years (if ever) is releasing its Cinemascope sequel, Demetrious and the Gladiators.
Beginning where The Robe left off, Twentieth Century-Fox has carried on the magnificence of the story in Demetrious and the Gladiators, a CinemaScope production in color by Technicolor. Philip Dunne fashioned an absorbing and often thrilling screen play built around the life of Demetrius, (the Greek slave, who found the Christian faith in The Robe. In this new story, the faith acquired is on trial and how Demetrius rejects and then reaffirms it makes compelling entertainment. Although Demetrious and the Gladiators follows the mood of The Robe, it is a completely different story and shows the length to which the Romans went in the first century to break the faith of the Christians. Demetrius succumbs to the wiles of Messalina, wife of Claudius and called the "wickedest woman in Rome," and through her malevolence is forced to fight as a gladiator before being lured to a life of licentious indulgence. Victor Mature is again seen as Demetrius and Susan Hayward is Messalina, who is credited with having more lovers than Solomon had wives.
Two other characters are carried over from The Robe, Peter, the Big Fisherman, played by Michael Rennie with the same eloquent power he showed in the previous picture, and Caligula, the mad Emperor, in the hands of Jay Robinson. It is through Peter that Demetrius returns to the faith. Debra Paget as Lucia, the Christian girl quietly enamored with Demetrius, and Anne Bancroft, in the role of Paula, an enslaved courtesan from Greece, complete the sextette of stars who give this Frank Ross production much of its quality. There is a huge cast and among the supporting players that must be given kudos for fine performances are Barry James as Claudius, William Marshall as Glycon, the African gladiator, Richard Egan as Dardanius and Finest Borgnine as the master of the gladiators, Strabo. Through the CinemaScope cameras the arena scenes take on elaborate proportions. The straining, fighting gladiators, snarling tigers and the shouting populace come alive in spirited fashion. Victor Mature, of course, is the central figure in these scenes and he wrestles the tigers and vanquishes his gladiator foes. The saturnalia revels that precede these scenes are sensually exciting. Director Delmer Daves kept all the contrasting elements of the story in vivid focus and Producer Ross had given the production the same meticulous care that he bestowed on The Robe, which he also produced.
Cast Of Spectacular 'Robe' Sequel
"Years ago I felt that the full magnificence of the story of 'The Robe' would require two feature length pictures," Producer Frank Ross explained in an on-set interview. "When we had completed the first picture our enthusiasm for it was such that we just had to make plans for the second production. Since 'The Robe' was essentially the story of the acquisition of faith, 'Demetrius and the Gladiators' logically is concerned with the trial of faith acquired." The same production team of Ross and writer Philip Dunne, who translated Lloyd C. Douglas' famous novel to screen form, worked together on the filming of Demetrious and the Gladiators. As Ross explained it, the characters of Demetrius, Messalina and the Emperors Caligula and Claudius, and the temper of Rome in the first century, gave Dunne about as colorful people and settings as literature and history could contribute to a screen story. The first title that was to be given to the film was The Story of Demetrius, which was then changed to The Gladiators.
Studio publicity stills (left click to enlarge)
The story of the making of Demetrious and the Gladiators is almost as fabulous as that of its predecessor. While it did not take eleven years of preparation as The Robe did before it came to the screen, Demetrious and the Gladiators did call for a courageous decision on the part of Darryl F. Zanuck, head of production at Twentieth Century-Fox, and Producer Frank Ross. They had already invested nearly five million dollars in The Robe and it had not yet been released when they decided to bet another huge sum on its sequel. In the light of what had transpired, The Robe had proved to be one of Fox's most valuable motion picture properties at the time.
Studio-released publicity stills (left click to enlarge)
When Producer Ross started preparing The Robe for the screen he felt that the full magnificence of the story would require two full length pictures. He abandoned the idea when the Lloyd C. Douglas novel was finally put into script form. Then CinemaScope convinced him all over again that there should be a second picture. "Like everyone else at Twentieth Century-Fox I was enormously excited about the possibilities, especially since CinemaScope had proved so successful," Ross said. Working with Philip Dunne, who had written the screen play for The Robe, Ross came to another conclusion. Since The Robe was essentially the story of the acquisition of faith, Demetrious and the Gladiators logically should concern itself with the trial of faith acquired.
Dunne describes Demetrious and the Gladiators as a story completely different from The Robe. "Although the characters of Demetrius, Messalina and the Emperors Caligula and are the gladiators of "Demetrius and . . ." There are 50 pulchritudinous ones in the picture, and they all went to Jean Herremans' gladiator school to learn how-to-be . . . The ritual which introduced the gladiators to the crowds in old Rome is a colorful parallel to what preceded the Spanish bullfight of the 1950's. William Marshall, the massive Glycon of the film, had two other great roles, De Lawd in a stage revival of "The Green Pastures" and King Dick in the movie "Lydia Bailey" . . . Barry Jones, Socrates in Broadway's
"Barefoot in Athens," switches from Greek to Roman for "Demetrius." He was also in "Seven Days to Noon" and "Prince Valiant."
The success of The Robe led the studio to rush a sequel into production. Its story elevated the supporting part of Demetrius, a Greek slave played by Victor Mature, into the main character. The last scene in The Robe, showing Marcellus and Diana walking between soldiers after being sentenced to death by Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson), forms the prologue to this story. Caligula charges Claudius (Barry Jones), whose wife is Messalina (Susan Hayward), to retrieve the Robe. At the crypt where Diana and Marcellus have been buried, the Apostle Peter (Michael Rennie) gives the Robe to Demetrius (Victor Mature). Demetrius takes the Robe to the shop of the blind potter for safe keeping. There, he explains to Lucia (Debra Paget), who admires him, the wonders of the garment. When Lucia refuses to reveal the whereabouts of the Robe, she is assaulted. Demetrius all but tears him apart but is overpowered and sentenced to become a gladiator. In the midst of the saturnalia on the eve of combat the gladiator Dardanius tests Demetrius on the Christian maxim of "turn the other cheek." The giant African gladiator, Glycon (William Marshall), interfering, hurls Dardanius against the wall. In the arena Demetrius agrees to fight only when Glycon suggests that they simulate a contest.
The crowd senses the deception and Glycon leaps to real attack. He slips and Demetrius wins, but refuses to kill. But Messalina intervenes and suggests that Demetrius fight two tigers. In a contest of intense fury Demetrius slays the tigers although seriously injured.Messalina gets Demetrius assigned to the Palace Guard where she can work her seductive wiles on him. When he refuses to succumb to her love-making the scorned woman orders him back to the gladiators. Again on the eve of combat the gladiators are feasting with their women. Lucia persuades Paula (Anne Bancroft) to let her join the party. Messalina, expressing her talent for evil, has Demetrius removed from the room, leaving Lucia at the mercy of the other gladiators. Lucia is carried out, thought dead. The next day in the arena Demetrius dispatches the five gladiators, who manhandled Lucia, one by one. Such a gladiatorial feat had never been seen before. He was a hero and after months of ease at Messalina's seaside villa, Demetrius, now a tribune, is visited by Peter. The Greek rejects the Big Fisherman at first but later seeks him at the pottery shop so he can get the Robe to save the lives of thousands of Christians.
For downright sexiness, the siren of the year in Rome had it all over her modern counterpart, according to Charles LeMaire, who designed the costumes worn in Demetrious and the Gladiators. After designing a dozen Roman costumes for Susan Hayward to wear as Messalina, the wickedest woman in Rome in the first century, LeMaire was convinced that the women of that era knew how to display their
figures. "The basis of feminine allure has always been curves, it just depends on the technique of dis-
playing them," he explained on the set during a studio interview. "Consider the seaming, the uplifting, the contriving that ordinarily goes on for clothing the modern figure. "Contrast this with the Right man formula. Here the curves are easy voluptuousness, suggested by the movements of an unconfined
body beneath flowing lines of fabric.
Many of the film's costumes have been preserved
The Roman woman spent many hours making herself attractive, but the idea of 'fittings' as we know them would have driven her mad. "Each costume consisted of three simple garments, a kind of slip, the outer dress which has two lengths of fabric usually tied with
fabric cords about the waist, and the draped 'Stolla,' a length of fabric serving as a sort of wrap. These were richly embroidered and jeweled, but the fitting problem was nil. "Since all fabrics were hand-woven and often of the most clinging gossamer type, the sinuous look was pretty easy." He said the sexiest dress Miss Hayward wears in Demetrious and the Gladiators was made of clinging thin handwoven material of lavender and silver threads, held in at the waist by silver cord and held up at the top by many strands of amethyst colored stones posed over nude-colored net.
Rare materials for the film were hard to find, but I did locate this one original costume drawing
Susan Hayward got her wish when she was cast as' Messalina, the wickedest woman in Rome during the first century. "I have wanted to play a part of this type for a long time," said Miss Hayward. "I'm fed up with playing so many good girls." It was Miss Hayward's flaming red hair, perfect profile from head to toes and her ability to project high frequency sex on the screen that prompted Producer Frank Ross to cast her as the wife of Claudius, who had more lovers than Solomon had wives, according to
historical accounts. Like Jezebel, Messalina's name became a synonym for profligacy. All of this is reflected in Philip Dunne's story although Messalina's love of men is cut down pretty much to Victor Mature. But the way she woman-handles him in the picture makes up for a lack of numbers. Miss Hayward had her own views about Messalina, however, and claimed she was not really a bad woman.
Rare Susan Hayward publicity still
She explained: "In the first place you have to look at people within the framework of their times. Roman women were in revolt and Messalina was just a little more vital in pursuit of what had become to be regarded as permissible pleasure. You can't measure her by the yardstick of modern times. "Men lead women and shape them into the beings they are," she declared. "A woman's instinct is to please men and she adapts herself into what she thinks, perhaps sometimes mistakenly, the most desired person." Susan, whose popularity was attested by the success of her pictures and three Academy Award nominations at the time, was not unduly concerned with her career, and said that when the time came for her to leave the screen she had other interests to absorb her time. "I won't bury myself in the grave of my career," she says, "I'll part from it regretfully as from an old friend going on a journey."
Susan Hayward Glamor shot
In Demetrious and the Gladiators, Victor Mature had one of the most strenuous roles of his movie career. In the course of the story he fights two tigers, numerous gladiators and makes three appearances in the Roman Colosseum, each time fighting for his life. No sooner had Mature finished reading Philip Dunne's script, he started his training. His rigid work to get into physical trim resembled that of a prize fighter. At the Rancho Santa Fe, in San Diego county, he did road work, boxed six rounds a day
with a sparring partner, skipped rope and did calisthenics. He weighed in at the studio for the start of the picture at 195 pounds. Although the star has weighed as much as 230 pounds for other movie roles he considered himself "right" photographically at about 210. For Mature, who said he was the emotional type actor rather than a technician, the fights were doubly strenuous.
The emotionalists, Vic says, imagine themselves living a given role and then enact it by doing what comes naturally. As a gladiator he was the principal figure in the action and at no time was he able to let down. The CinemaScope cameras caught every movement of his action and he really had to fight. There was no faking. "With the new large screen," he explained, "an actor is in the scene all the time. It used to be that if you, yourself, weren't in the fighting or loving, you were not on the screen at all. But now you're on there plenty." Mature was quite sincere in saying that the most pleasant part of his role in Demetrious and the Gladiators was the love scenes he had with Miss Hayward, who has the role of Messalina, the young wife of Claudius. In such scenes the emotional type actor, he explained, has ample opportunity to indulge in his emotions.
Debra Paget was her natural self in Demetrious and the Gladiators. For her role of Lucia, the Christian girl enamored of Demetrius Miss Paget discarded the contact lenses that changed her eyes from blue to brown and had Claudius give a writer just about as colorful people and setting as literature and history affords," Dunne said, "the story could be a modern one if the costumes, props and locale were different. In 'Demetrius and the Gladiators' we have the vital young wife of an old emperor falling in love with a virile young man, who happens to have a conscience. That the story is told in Roman magnificence and
brutality does not alter the fact that it could be a modern triangle." Her hair was restored from raven's wing black to its natural, light brown coloring. Director Delmer Daves ordered the transformation because he wanted her to look softer and more defenseless and he thought the lightened hair and eyes would do the trick. Soft or not, Miss Paget had a demanding role physically. In one sequence in the film she is manhandled by a quintet of Roman gladiators, all powerful men. Among them was Fortune Gordien, holder of the world's record in the discus throw; Jim Winkler, 225 pound tackle of the Los Angeles Rams professional football team; Leon McLaughlin, of the same club, and several highly athletic actors. Mature avenges her treatment by killing the gladiators who treated her roughly, one by one, the next day in the Colosseum.
In the film, Anne Bancroft had the most important role in her young career. It was her fourth starring role since Twentieth Century-Fox signed her on the basis of previous TV work. As Paula, an enslaved woman from Greece, Miss Bancroft displays her beauty and dramatic ability in one of the
most popular scenes in the picture. It is the saturnalia that takes place the night before the gladiators enter the Colisseum to fight for their lives. On this occasion they eat, drink and enjoy the company of the beautiful slave girls.
Not since Orson Welles had Hollywood seen an actor quite as flamboyant as Jay Robinson, the Emperor Caligula of The Robe and its sequel Demetrious and the Gladiators. The critics and the vast audiences all over the world that saw The Robe were unanimous in praise for the 23-year-old actor, so it was inevitable that Producer Frank Ross should ask him to repeat the role in this multi-million dollar successor to the Lloyd C. Douglas story. There is no precedent for Robinson's style of acting and no role better suited to it than that of Caligula. The remarkable command of his body and
voice in spasms of exaltation and rage won for him the highest respect of his professional associates. As Director Delmer Daves said, "If he's not a genius, he'll do until one comes along." Although his role in Demetrious and the Gladiators is only his second in motion pictures he won for himself a long term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox on the strength of his portrayal of the malevolent emperor. In the theater his rise was as swift. He was starred on Broadway at the age of 18, and in the intervening years created great controversy in theatrical circles of New York, not only as an actor, but as a writer, director and producer.
Director Delmer Daves
Delmer Daves, who directed Demetrious and the Gladiators, pointed up the changes that had come over Hollywood since the new process of CinemaScope came into vogue. He directed his remarks
particularly to the players and outlined 10 musts for the actor or actress who would succeed in the new medium. They were:
1 Act better, think harder.
2 Do not depend on doubles. With its life-like continuity and long running scenes CinemaScope keeps the camera on the player constantly so he has to do his own fighting.
3 Stars must watch their figure and face.
4 Watch your walk. There can be no mincing steps across the huge screen.
5 Lovers must be better matched as to height. Tall girls can't slip off their shoes to be shorter than he is.
6 Stars must have better memories. There are no more chopped up scenes when CinemaScope is used.
Director Delmer Daves on the set with Susan Hayward
7 Actors have to learn to sustain long scenes for a CinemaScope production just as actors on the legitimate stage do.
8 Players must act with their bodies as well as their eyes because CinemaScope is watching them all over.
9 -More attention must be given to the voice than heretofore. The stereophonic sound of CinemaScope makes words seem to come from the lips of the actors themselves at the point they are situated on the screen, making it necessary for them to identify themselves by their voice.
10 Lastly, the stars must keep their best acting foot forward at all times because the audience is seeing the extras for the first time and there are some pretty good scene stealers among them.
Pages from the German program book
Franz Waxman (1906-1967) was one of the greatest composers of Hollywood's Golden Age, having fled his native Germany to escape the Nazis. Jerry Goldsmith, no slouch himself, admired Waxman for the great versatility of his accomplishments. For example, Waxman created lasting efforts for horror (The Bride of Frankenstein), biblical epics (Demetrious and the Gladiators), Americana (Peyton Place), biopics (The Nun's Story) and westerns (Cimarron)to say nothing of his back-to-back Oscar wins for Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun. He was a master dramatist and a distinguished, modern composer who pushed the envelope of the symphonic score. One thing that will not be recreated as is was before is the distinctive musical style that so enhanced the grandiose productions of the past. Whether it be Bernstein's The Ten Commandments, Rosza's Ben Hur or Newman's The Greatest Story Ever Told , there was a unifying quality, a sense of period, a wonderful evocation of Biblical times. The 1950's and 60s gave us something individual and valuable and there is an enormous amount of enjoyment to be derived from the work of the great composers who have graced this genre.
Demetrius features a fascinating collaborative situation in which Waxman, who wrote largely an original score, interpolated Alfred Newman's themes from the preceding film. This includes Newman's powerful, awe-inspiring melodies for the Robe itself, for the Apostle Peter, for Diana (briefly), and an adaptation of the crucifixion music for a crucial flashback. Furthermore, Waxman based his central theme, a soldier's march for Demetrius (Victor Mature), on chord progressions from the Robe theme, and utilized staples of the Fox "historical epic" sound like Ken Darby's choir. Waxman wrote all-new music for Demetrius' sizable Roman dimension, including a malevolent march for Caligula and a seductive yet ambiguous theme for Messalina (Susan Hayward). The themes for Caligula and Demetrius double as the fanfares and marches associated with the gladiators' arena, and exotic dance cues accompany the film's baccanal sequences. The aforementioned soldier's march for Demetrius is adapted into a powerful "Gloria in excelsis" for orchestra and choir for the titles.
Music releases containing all or some of Waxman's score
Waxman's score is one of the richest and most subtle of the scores to the many "spears and sandals" epics of the age. It has all the ingredients, a sweeping theme with a spiritual flavor (and a shimmering "vox humana" effect, exotic dance music for scantily clad slave girls, Roman military marches, a love theme, and plenty of action music for the fight scenes in which Demetrius, seized again into slavery, becomes a gladiator. Tight, tense dissonances often are present in the harmonies associated with Rome -- even in the love music and "oriental" dance, and emphasize the sense of oppression and evil associated with the Empire and its crazed Emperor. Opening with 'Prelude/Night in the Palace', this confection incorporates Newman's motifs, giving them a new spin to create something fresh and dynamic and Waxman complemented the other composer's work with clever variations where the story linked back to the characters and incidents from the first film. But the majority of the score is devoted to Waxman's original compositions and there are several brass marches ('Claudius and Messalina', 'Gladiator March') along with moments of religious grandeur ('Return to Faith' in particular, featuring a wonderful burst of fervor adapted from The Robe.)
Demetrious and the Gladiators was one of the earliest CinemaScope recordings at Fox, and time was not been kind to the stereo masters. Although most cues still sound very good on the music stems, some damaged passages were placed at the end of the soundtrack album (the liner notes identify the chronological sequence). Only three cues were completely lost, and the newest release album also includes the film's surviving temporary music.
20th Century Fox put their publicity department to work, and many of the same studio workers devised the promotions for Demetrious and the Gladiators as did The Robe. These are suggestions that the publicity department made to the theaters that were premiering the film. They are taken from a letter from Fox to theater owners. continued below
Alert the Schools
The schools should be alerted to your "Demetrious and the Gladiators" engagement. It furnishes a lively, modern way for teachers to show by example to their students the customs and traditions of an ancient world. Essays can be written on the life of the times depicted as gleaned through the film. This for history classes. Literature and creative writing courses can be interested from the viewpoint of writing a screen play which has origins in a great novel, "The Robe" by Lloyd C. Douglas.
Contact the Libraries
American Library Association, with its 84,000 librarian members, should be marshaled to display scenes from Demetrious and the Gladiators on public and school library bulletin boards, in conjunction with its origin in The Robe. Superintendents of schools always work closely with librarians, to effect mutually co-operative tie-ins.
Church groups of every denomination supported The Robe. The same faithful, dedicated and inspired depiction of the era of Christianity's birth is rendered by Demetrious and the Gladiators. Again you have a source of public service endorsement of a film by leaders of religious groups in your community. (continued below)
Muster the word-of-mouth and activity support of leading organizational groups, who will do for this film what they did for The Robe. Civic, fraternal, religious and veteran outfits will all find it to their liking. Local officers and members of women's clubs, better films councils and various sisterhoods will be impressed, as will the PTA. Civic groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and vet outfits like the American Legion, VFW, etc., all will lend their support.
Bring out the various editions of "The Robe" which still enjoy big, regular sales and spot them in book store window displays, accompanied by art and copy on Demetrious and the Gladiators to the effect that you can continue the powerful story in the new film. "Read the Book . . . Then See What Follows." Prominent playdate credit a "must" with all displays.
Treat "Demetrius and the Gladiators" as you did "The Robe." Full-dress house-front displays must greet this film to underline its importance on a par with its predecessor. Flags and banners should stream from your marquee; door panels should be utilized; sound effects record played; handsome cutouts and still board displays featured; fluorescent accessories for long-distance effect on passersby.
Let old Rome complement modern Rome in a fashion merchandising tie-in with local style-conscious shops. Italy is a fashion center and pace-setter for the world; today's fashions can be adapted to a theme, pointing out the world of difference between the fashions of Susan Hayward in stills from "Demetrius." At the same time, the Hayward creations can be said to "inspire" 1954 styles. Specialty shops which want to hit on a new idea can designate a salute to a color, to be termed "gladiatorial red," and show an array of merchandise in that color.
Dress up three or four local athletes in simulated Roman garb (with improvised togas) and have them walk the main streets of town as a group opening day of your play-date to represent the '"gladiators" of the film's title. These powerful-looking physical specimens will cause lots of comment. Have them carry some fierce looking weapons.
Original lobby cards
Jay Robinson's sensational tour pre-selling Demetrious and the Gladiators tour was a unique way of promoting the picture. The young actor, whose performance as Caligula in "The Robe" established him as an overnight star, repeated his great characterization in Demetrious and the Gladiators, and was known to his audiences by virtue of his impact in "The Robe." Throughout May and June of the release year, Jay Robinson had gone from coast-to-coast in behalf of the new production. In his full costume as Caligula, Robinson made numerous influential appearances in theatres, on radio and television; had addressed school assemblies and parent-teacher associations; and visited newspaper editors, reviewers and feature writers, important civic official and local organizations. He had shown color sides of highlight scenes from "Demetrius," enacted scenes from the films and generally represented Hollywood talent. These appearances paid off in every community Jay Robinson visited, and spread the word among millions of potential ticket-buyers, and in these cities the picture received a bump in attendance. This grassroots level of pre-selling meant invaluable publicity accrued if one's town was serviced by the newspapers and broadcasters. These are the cities in which Jay Robinson made personal appearances: Boston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Des Moines, New York, Washington, Detroit and Omaha.
Three important national promotions had been effected to credit Demetrious and the Gladiators prominently in full-page national magazine ads inserted by the manufacturers involved, and strategically timed to break with first release dates of the film. This meant extra pre-publicity dividends to theaters with no expense or effort.
House of Westmore
House of Westmore sponsored a full-page, full-color ad in LIFE for Susan Hayward's endorsement of their products, with credit line to her starring appearance in Demetrious and the Gladiators.
Lustre-Creme has set a whole national magazine ad campaign for insertions of its Debra Paget testimonial, crediting the film. The full-page, full-color ad is scheduled to run in July and August in LIFE, LOOK. WOMAN'S HOME COMPANION, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, a group of Dell Publications, the TRUE STORY Magazine group; plus the Sunday newspaper supplements, THIS WEEK and AMERICAN WEEKLY, which together blanket dozens of key cities coast to coast.
Original magazine advertisement
Van Heusen Shirts stars Jay Robinson, with credit to the picture, in a full-page, black-and-white ad to appear in a number of important national magazines in August.
Local drug, department and beauty shops (and beauty salons) can be alerted to tie-in with the House of West-more and Lustre-Creme testimonials, for window displays of ad blow-ups combined with stills and playdate credit on the film supplied by you. Similarly, local haberdashers and department stores can go to work on the Jay Robinson tie-up.
Demetrious and the Gladiators was filmed in 35mm 2.55:1 Cinemascope Technicolor using Bausch & Lomb lenses and in 4 track magnetic stereo (released also was mono optical for those theaters without stereo sound). The film was shot entirely on the 20th Century Fox lot with a budget of $4.5 million with a running time of 101 minutes. Filming commenced late 1953 with post-production completed around April 1954. The film premiered in Los Angeles on June 16, 1954 and in New York City on June 18, 1954. The film would then open in France in September and Sweden and West Germany in November, followed by a December release in Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The film would not open until mid 1955 in Austria and Finland. The film had a re-release only once in Portugal in March of 1983.
Upon release, the film would earn $4.2 million in U.S. Rentals, and another 4.9 million overseas, making a profit in the end for 20th Century Fox. The film did its best business overseas in Italy. in August 1966, producer Frank Ross filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Fox and Twentieth Century-Fox TV, alleging that by including Demetrious and the Gladiators in a package of films sold to TV stations at the same price, the studio was undervaluing the picture, thereby "reducing the profits which should have accrued" to Ross. The news item also noted that the film had grossed more than $8,000,000 in theatrical rentals.
The film received decent reviews upon release. Variety said, Demetrious and the Gladiators is 20th-Fox's answer and followup to its tremendously successful The Robe. While Lloyd C. Douglas's fine novel from which 20th-Fox and Frank Ross filmed The Robe springboards this followup, it is a completely new story. Victor Mature again scores with the character of the slave. A mighty man is he battling three huge tigers in the Roman arena to satisfy the mad urges of the crazy Emperor Caligula and the wicked Messalina, dueling to the death with five of Rome's best gladiators, or making love to the same wicked temptress who has temporarily caused him to forget his God. With Mature easily winning top acting honors for his splendidly projected Demetrius, he is pressed by Susan Hayward as the evil Messalina, and Jay Robinson, repeating his mad, effeminate Caligula." Time Magazine said, "While not in the high style of The Robe, Demetrious and the Gladiators scores marks for a character driven story with action and good performances from Victor Mature and Susan Hayward." Boxoffice Magazine wrote, "It all its Cinemascope glory, the film succeeds as a sequel to the original lavish production with a more action feel."
Rare letter to exhibitors from 20th Century Fox about Cinemascope and stereophonic sound as well as informing the theater about Cinemascope shorts to play before the feature
The Blu-ray Transfer
In speaking with Twilight Time's Nick Redman about the transfer of the Cinemascope Production used for the Blu-ray disc, he said that the transfer (restoration) is from 2008, and thought it was the best that can be done with this title. The camera negative is severely deteriorated, so the intermediary elements used here are effectively all that is left to preserve this film. It is certainly an improvement over the existing DVDs, but not comparable to The Robe or The Egyptian--the materials just aren't there. The sound elements are 4.0 stereo, and the isolated score is culled from the 2.0 music masters.
Praise must be given to Twilight Time for releasing these films that might not have seen the light of day on Blu-ray for years to come, and now we can enjoy Demetrious and the Gladiators on Blu-ray in high definition with its original 4-track stereo soundtrack (and an isolated score to boot). It is available from Screen Archives Entertainment in a limited edition pressing of 3,000 copies. While the film was not as successful as The Robe, Demetrious and the Gladiators will always have a place in movie history.
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All materials in this and other Silver Screen columns are copyright their respective studios, Blu-ray.com and the collection of Robert Siegel. Special thanks to the Motion Picture Academy library and Nick Redman of Twilight Time. This edition all artwork, publicity and production photos/drawings original copyright 20th Century Fox.