In this rather lackluster sequel to The Robe Victor Mature reprises his role in the earlier film as the faithful ex-slave who recovers Jesus’s robe from the foot of the cross and carries it to Rome. In this film he’s in love with Lina, a chaste Christian girl, played by Debra Paget, but separated from her when he assaults a Roman soldier in her defense and is sent to gladiator school.
There, because he’s such a super hunk, he catches the eye of the lascivious Messalina, wife of Claudius, the Emperor Caligula’s uncle. She contrives ways to save his life and throws herself at him sexually. Messalina is played by Susan Hayward, and she is smoking hot in the film. In fact, she gives the picture the only juice it has.
The scenes of gladiatorial combat are clumsily staged, the Christian characters are all drips, and Jay Robinson’s Caligula is such a camp caricature of the mad emperor that he can’t be taken seriously as a villain, though the performance is certainly amusing.
Paget’s Lina is so thoroughly insipid that your heart leaps up when Demetrius loses his faith and decides to commit adultery with Messalina, which sort of subverts the film’s nominal allegiance to Christian virtue. By the same token, when Demetrius gets his faith back and stops boffing Messalina, the picture is essentially over.
The film, like The Robe before it, was a smash hit, but it’s hard to imagine why. The novelty of Cinemascope, in 1954, and Hayward’s carnality must have carried the day with audiences of the time.
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