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Although DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS ($25) is the sequel to THE ROBE, the only reason I can see for this film to appear on DVD before its predecessor it to capitalize on the notoriety of 2000’s big hit GLADIATOR. While I've always been very fond of DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I still wish that THE ROBE had been released on DVD first. Perhaps Fox will make up for this little oversight by releasing a special edition of THE ROBE that will offer both the CinemaScope version of the movie, as well a the "flat" version that was produced at the same time for theaters that were not equipped to handle the new wide screen process (or in case CinemaScope turned out to be a dud).

While DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS has religious currents running through it, it is less of a religious epic than THE ROBE. In fact, DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS is more or a sword and sandal epic than anything else; although, the film does appeal to both the religious market and a more action oriented audience. In DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, Victor Mature reprises his role of Demetrius, an early Christian, who witnessed Christ's crucifixion and carried away the robe from the foot of the cross. As "the cult of Christianity" gains a foothold in Rome, the mad Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) becomes obsessed with possessing the robe since he thinks that the garment has magical properties that will grant him immortality. After Demetrius tries to stop Roman soldiers from finding the robe, he is sentenced to fight in the arena as a gladiator as punishment. At the gladiatorial school Demetrius catches the eye of Messalina (Susan Hayward), who does everything in her power to corrupt his faith and take him into her bed. DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS features some very good action scenes that still hold up rather well, even against all of the digital special effects wizardry of GLADIATOR.

Victor Mature carries off the leading role quite well, although much of his performance relies upon the actor's physical prowess instead of his acting abilities. Jay Robinson gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the insane Caligula, and it is definitely worth the price of admission just to watch him chew the scenery. Of course, Susan Hayward's beauty makes her an ideal temptress, but it is the intelligence of her performance that makes her character’s manipulations of Caligula plausible. The cast of DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS also features Michael Rennie, Debra Paget, Anne Bancroft, Barry Jones, William Marshall, Richard Egan and Ernest Borgnine.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS is framed very close to the full early CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 and the transfer is the very best I've seen in the home venue. For the most part, the image on the DVD is reasonably crisp and offers fairly good detail. Some shots appear a little soft, but it's never really bothersome. Problems inherent with the early CinemaScope process, such as slight image distortion are occasionally noticeable, but there is nothing that can be done about the imperfections in the original lenses. Color reproduction is a bit variable, with occasional fading cropping up. However, for the most part, colors are strong enough to give one an inkling of what an original IB Technicolor print of DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS might have looked like. Crimson reds and deep purples that appear in the movie still look very impressive, more than 45 years after this film was made. Usually, flesh tones have the pallor that only a Hollywood makeup man could produce; although, in a couple of spots they look a tad pale. Blacks are solid enough; however shadow detail is a little blunted. The film element used for the transfer does display some minor blemishes, but they are never distracting. Film grain is present throughout the presentation, but it is usually mild. Thanks to clean authoring, digital compression artifacts maintain a very low profile.

The Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack ports the film's original 4 track stereo mix quite well to the digital realm. Directional dialogue was part of the original sound design and has been retained here, although the effect can be a bit disconcerting if one has a small screen and wide speaker placement in their home theater. Most audio is relegated to the forward soundstage, which provides good channel separation and big, wide presence. The surround channels see limited use, providing mild ambient and musical fill. Dialogue reproduction is clean and intelligible. Although frequency limitations are inherent in sound recordings of this vintage, Franz Waxman's music still sounds pretty darn good. English Dolby Surround and French monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles. Music underscore the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as theatrical trailers in English, Spanish, French, and German.

DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS is solid entertainment for movie buffs. While the DVD doesn't set any standards for audio or video quality, the presentation is a solid representation of a movie rapidly approaching 50. Personally, I'm glad to have a copy of DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS on DVD and hope that THE ROBE will be making its debut on the format very soon.


Demetrius and the Gladiators



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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