Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on August 31st, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: USA, December, 1952
Director: Chester Erskine
Writers: Chester Erskine (adaptation), Ken Englund (adaptation), George Bernard Shaw (play)
Cast: Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Alan Young, Robert Newton, Maurice Evans, Elsa Lanchester, Reginald Gardiner, Gene Lockhart.
DVD released: September 20th, 2010
Approximate running time: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Fullscreen
Rating: U (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Odeon Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £9.99
Hen-pecked animal lover and unfortunate christian Androcles the tailor (Alan Young) is on the run from the Romans with his nightmarish wife (Elsa Lanchester) when they encounter a lion in the forest. Noticing the beast is lame and being something of an idiot Androcles approaches the lion and removes a thorn from it’s paw thus making a friend for life and naming him Tommy. He’s subsequently caught by the Romans thrown in with the other christians and forced to march to Rome where they will be killed in the colosseum either by combat with the gladiators or simply thrown to the lions. Along the way the christian prisoners, including the beautiful Lavinia (Jean Simmons) and reformed scrapper Ferrovius (Robert Newton), will make something of an impression on their Roman captors and in particular the Captain of the legion (Victor Mature) who falls in love with Lavinia. Will they all be sacrificed for the entertainment of the crowd? Or will they repent against their christianity and be released? One thing’s for sure – Tommy the lion will be making another appearance!
First ever European DVD release of this RKO classic from 1952. Based on the 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw. Produced by Howard Hughes and Shaw’s long-standing friend Gabriel Pascal, taking a backseat here due to still smarting from the box office failure of his previous Shaw adaptation, Caesar and Cleopatra from 1945. Directed by Chester Erskine, a writer and producer mainly with a few infrequent forays into directing and adapted for the screen by Erksine and prolific movie and TV scribe Ken Englund.
It’s not often you see a film featuring a lengthy death march played for laughs but that’s essentially what we have here. The casting of Alan Young, who would go on to become 1960’s TV’s favorite animal lover Wilbur from Mr Ed, as the titular, simple but kind, Androcles pretty much sets the tone for the film, although Harpo Marx was reportedly originally hired for the role then unceremoniously sacked by Howard Hughes a couple weeks into production. This is Jean Simmons American feature film debut and she gives it her all as a long suffering, pure hearted christian slavegirl, almost a dress rehearsal for her eventual role a decade later alongside Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. But unfortunately her scenes here with Victor Mature seem almost out of place as though the couple were inhabiting another slightly more serious flick, in fact Mature might indeed have been under that impression, given that he doesn’t seem to share any scenes with Young at all and seems to be completely absent from the highly comedic finale!
On the right page however we have the inimitable Robert Newton (who will be forever remembered as Treasure Island’s Long John Silver) as Ferrovious; reformed brawler, crazy-eyed nutjob and highly successful christian missionary due to his very effective, wholly unorthodox and scary methods of converting those that are stupid enough to scoff at his religion. The highlight of the film in fact is the carnage caused by Ferrovius in the gladiatorial arena despite his protestations that he is a pacifist and simply will not fight. Along with Androcles final reunion with Tommy in the arena this is one genocidal tale that goes out on a high!
In the end it’s a silly, charming, lightly comic and beautifully filmed production that should delight children with it’s waltzing lion (yes Tommy dances) and entertain adults alike via it’s more satirical humor.
The 1.33.1 fullscreen picture looks to be the same excellent transfer as that found in the Criterion George Bernard Shaw On Film (Eclipse Series 20) set. There is some very minimal print damage/scratches but it features excellent detail and contrast levels with solid blacks. The original mono audio track is clean and clear, with Friedrich Hollaender’s fine score coming through loud and strong balanced well with the dialog.
The only extra is a short photo gallery.