The story picks up at the point where "The Robe" ends, following the martyrdom of Diana and Marcellus. Christ's robe is conveyed to Peter for safe-keeping, but the emperor Caligula wants it back to benefit from its powers. Marcellus' former slave Demetrius seeks to prevent this, and catches the eye of Messalina, wife to Caligula's uncle Claudius. Messalina tempts Demetrius, he winds up fighting in the arena, and wavers in his faith.
This was a solid and very satisfying sequel to 'The Robe' for me. I have both a soft spot for swords-and-sandals epics of days gone by, and a preferential fondness for films from cinema's studio glory days of the 20's to 60's--not to mention my enjoyment of earlier Daves' classics such as 'The Petrified Forest', 'Dark Passage' and 'Destination Tokyo'--so this was like a fine red wine for me.
This is a place where men are trained to kill each other like animals! Demetrius and the Gladiators is a sequel to The Robe. It's directed by Delmer Daves and stars Victor Mature as Demetrius, a Christian slave made to fight in the Roman arena as a gladiator (and ultimately entering into a bigger fight, that of faith), and Susan Hayward as Messalina. Filling out the support cast are Ernest Borgnine, William Marshall, Michael Rennie, and Jay Robinson as the maniacal emperor Caligula. The screenplay is from Philip Dunne (How Green Was My Valley/The Agony and the Ecstasy) and cinematography comes courtesy of Milton R. Krasner (Academy Award winner Best Color Cinematography for Three Coins in the Fountain 1955). Following straight on from The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators is a safe and enjoyable Biblical picture that doesn't outstay its welcome. Running at just over 100 minutes, the film is far from being epic in its telling. However, and without cramming in, it does contain all the necessary ingredients to make up a sweaty sword and sandals pie. Filmed in CinemaScope it has a persecuted hero, a bonkers villain, a sexy babe, huge sets, colourful costumes and fights, lots of fights. Thankfully the serious dialogue is mostly kept brief, as there a few things worse in this genre of film than bloated discourse on religious beliefs and political dalliances. Just get in there, let us know what is going on, and move on to the next chapter of the story. This is something that Daves' film does very well, it has an eagerness to entertain with dots of gusto and sexual swagger. The acting is mixed, Mature is solid without ever really convincing as the heroic figure of Demetrius, Hayward and Robinson are camping it up and thus entertain royally, while Borgnine and Rennie earn their respective pay. Very much like another Phillip Dunne screenplay genre piece, David And Bathsheba, this one is often overlooked or forgotten in discussion about the sword & sandals genre. That both films are not in the same league as the likes of Ben-Hur and Spartacus is a given, but both have much to offer the discerning cinephile. So this one is recommended Sunday afternoon fare with a flagon of claret and a roast ox dinner. 7/10