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The Last Days of Pompeii Movie Review

marcus flavius boy jesus

1935 – Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper –

Marcus (Preston Foster) is a gentle giant of a blacksmith whose top priority is his family. After his wife and infant son are run down in the streets of Pompeii by a reckless chariot driver and die as a result of Marcus' inability to pay for a doctor, obtaining wealth becomes his obsession. He turns to fighting in the arena in order to earn more than he could as a mere blacksmith, and it doesn't take long until Marcus is the champion and the most fearsome adversary of all would-be gladiators in Pompeii.

When Marcus kills in gladiatorial combat the father of a young boy, Flavius (John Wood), his buried allegiance to family (and perhaps some guilt about the fate of his own son) inspires him to adopt the boy. But Marcus ages quickly as a result of his dangerous occupation as gladiator, and soon he is defeated. He turns to slave and horse trading and begins to harbor the ambition of becoming the “head of the arena.” A soothsayer tells Marcus to take his son to see the “greatest man in Judea,” but upon learning that Jesus was born in a stable, Marcus decides that this “greatest man” must be Judea's governor, Pontius Pilate. Flavius does meet Jesus, however, after the boy falls from a horse and is taken to be healed. Years later, Flavius searches his memory trying to recall the man who touched his life in such a special way. Flavius has now grown into a meek and gentle young man who secretly hides escaped slaves in the hopes of helping them find a place where they can live in freedom. His plans miscarry and he and the slaves are captured and forced to fight the newly conquered Britons. During this fight, Mt. Vesuvius erupts and the city is destroyed.

The filmmakers sacrifice some historical accuracy in order to add the religious element to the film. The life and trials of Jesus are woven into the plot that culminates with the Vesuvius eruption in A.D. 79, more than forty years after the crucifixion of Christ. Flavius was healed by Christ as a boy, but he can't be much older than thirty at the time of the eruption. The sensationalizing publicity for the film described Pompeii as “drunk with wealth and power” and “rotten with pagan pleasures,” but little of this sort of decadence is evident in the movie. We are told the story of one man who really isn't all that bad and of his son who is actually good, but aside from the title, there is barely a mention of the fact that a volcano looms over the city. In addition, the action is limited. Some fighting appears in the arena scenes, and some panicking crowds and crumbling buildings create the sense of havoc when the volcano finally erupts. But the film is essentially an hour of dialog and introspection that has little to do with Vesuvius or Pompeii followed by a half hour of special effects (which are fairly good even by today's standards) as the disaster unfolds.

Cast: Preston Foster (Marcus), Alan Hale (Burbix), Basil Rathbone (Pontius Pilate), John Wood (Flavius), Louis Calhern (Prefect), David Holt (Flavius as a boy), Dorothy Wilson (Clodia), Wyrley Birch (Leaster), Gloria Shea (Julia), Frank Conroy (Gaius Tanno), John Davidson (Slave), Murray Kinnell (Judeaean peasant), Henry Kolker (Warder), William V. Mong (Creon), Zeffie Tilbury (Wise Woman) Screenwriter: Melville Baker, James Ashmore Creelman, Boris Ingster, Ruth Rose Cinematographer: Jack Cardiff Composer: Max Steiner, Roy Webb Producer: Merian C. Cooper for RKO Running Time: 96 minutes Format: VHS, LV.

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