THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932) B/W 140m dir: Cecil B. DeMille

w/Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Elissa Landi, Charles Laughton, Ian Keith, Joyzelle Joyner

Not DeMille's best but a fine spectacle of decay in the Rome of Nero during the early days of Christianity. Since this film was made before the Production Code went into effect, the scenes of debauchery are surprisingly explicit. Recommended primarily for its historical interest.

From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "Religion triumphant over paganism. And the soul is stronger than the flesh. Religion gets the breaks, even though its followers all get killed in this picture. It's altogether a moral victory.

"For example, the handsome Prefect of Rome (Fredric March) sees that he can't get to first base with the Christian maiden (Elissa Landi), so he calls in the village temptress, Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner), for help. Ancaria is described as the hottest gal in town. 'The most versatile' is the phrase used. She uses her arts on Landi. In the street the other Christian martyrs are marching to their doom, singing hymns bravely as they go. Their chants disrupt and finally drown out the temptress's routine, and she strikes the unmoved Landi in the face. Then, having lost, she walks.

"Besides Ancaria, there is Charles Laughton's expert Nero, who doubles as the degenerate emperor and musical pyromaniac as Rome burns. Most of the last half is taken up with a bloody festival staged by crazy Caesar in the arena.

"Cast is uniformly good, but only one exceptional performance is registered. That's Laughton's. With utmost subtlety and a minimum of effort he manages to get over his queer character before his first appearance is a minute old.

"Colbert [as Poppaea] and Landi and March and Ian Keith [as Tigellinus] are called upon chiefly to look their parts, and they manage. Frequently some badly written and often silly dialog holds them down."

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography (Karl Struss, one of the men responsible for the look of 1927's great SUNRISE).