Demetrius and the Gladiators is a sequel to The Robe which had been released the previous year. I have not seen The Robe. I would have watched it had I known that Demetrius was a sequel. But I did not find it difficult to follow even though I had not seen the previous film.
The film begins exactly where The Robe left off with two characters Marcellus and Diana being lead to their execution for believing in Jesus. Before Diana is executed she hands Peter the robe Jesus was wearing when he was crucified.
Caligula, the emperor of Rome, is furious over the fact that Marcellus and Diana were not afraid to die. His uncle Claudius has been looking into Jesus. He reports to his nephew that other philosophers concur that there is no possible way a person can have eternal life as Jesus had promised his followers. Caligula will not listen he wants Christ’s robe thinking it has the power of eternal life. He sends out his guards to look for the robe. He tells the guards to relay to the people that if they know where the robe is they will be given twenty pieces of gold and the penalty for having it is death.
Peter is leaving Rome to preach Jesus’ word in the north. He leaves the robe with Demetrius (Victor Mature) who was one of Christ’s faithful followers. Demetrius returns to his part of the city. Almost as soon as he returns Caligula’s guards enter the town. Demetrius’ friend Lucia was holding the robe when the guards came through and hid it. The guards become rough with Lucia. Demetrius protects her by fighting the guards and they arrest them.
Demetrius is sentenced to be a gladiator. Since he is a Christian he refuses to fight because he cannot take a life. He tries to run away from the gladiator training ground but he is instantly caught. Messalina (Susan Hayward), the wife of Claudius, sees Demetrius’ attempted escape. She is immediately taken with Demetrius. Messalina knows that he refuses to fight because of his religion so she has him put in the arena to see what he will do under pressure. The night before they are all to fight to the death the gladiators are given a big feast with lots of women. One woman named Paula (Anne Bancroft) sits next to Demetrius. Paula is kind to Demetrius, even more so after she finds out he is from Corinth just like her. Soon after Demetrius almost gets into a fight with another gladiator. He refuses to fight the man so another gladiator named Glycon steps in to protect Demetrius. Messalina witnesses this scene and sets up a fight in the arena the next day between Demetrius and Glycon.
Demetrius and Glycon are the last gladiators left standing in the arena. They fight making it look as if they are both so good that they cannot kill each other. When the fight is declared over by Caligula Demetrius has Glycon freed but the emperor wants the Christian killed and has him fight two tigers. Demetrius defeats the tigers but he is injured. Messalina helps to heal Demetrius. Instead of fighting in the arena Messalina has Demetrius become her personal slave. She uses him for her own amusement and tries to tempt him out of his religious ways whenever she can. After some time Demetrius has enough and tells Messalina in so many ways that he refuses her advances. In anger she has him returned to the arena.
Paula finds Lucia and brings her to Demetrius disguised as one of the many women who come to entertain the men. Messalina sees Lucia and Demetrius speaking to each other and becomes jealous. She has him taken away. As soon as Demetrius is taken away Lucia is ravaged by the other gladiators. Demetrius asks God to help her but it his prayers are not heard and Lucia collapses. The following day after his fight, Demetrius denounces his faith in Christianity and tells Caligula that he is the only god.
After some time fooling around with Messalina and living his life without worries Demetrius returns to his religion through a miracle. He and Glycon are made head guards after Caligula is murdered and are free to worship their Christian religion.
The only stand out performance in this film is Susan Hayward. I loved how she was this femme fatale, this temptress. Hayward was not outrageously seductive and sexy it was her attitude and how she said certain things that made her this wonderful temptress. Anne Bancroft had a small role as Paula but she was great. The more films I see of Bancroft’s from her early career I find that no matter how large or small her role is she stands out because of her talent. I actually put effort into seeing this film because I saw that Hayward and Bancroft were in the same film. I was not impressed with the rest of the cast. Victor Mature’s face started to bother me after a while. He was not bad but he was not good either.
Demetrius and the Gladiators is a good film. It is a typical Christian story of how a man was a faithful Christian, then lost his faith, and then he found it again. I am a bit over these stories from all the years I spent going to church and CCD. I did not find it difficult to follow even though I did not see The Robe. I would like to see The Robe so I can get some of the references and more background. I would only recommend seeing Demetrius and the Gladiators if you have seen The Robe or if you like Susan Hayward (which was why I watched it) other than these reasons it is not a must see film.