Demetrius, a 5th level fighter, is given a wizard’s enchanted cloak, but an evil king wants the cloak for its power to create undead. When he fails his saving throw, Demetrius is captured and sent to fight in the arena. Such bloodsports would reduce his karma rating, so he refuses, till his best girl gets broken, then it’s slice and dice time. His skill and ferocity make him a star, since the people can’t watch NFL football. Like all pro-athletes, he takes to living the high life, with lots of alcohol and sleazy married woman. But the wizard’s apprentice wants Demetrius back in their party (possibly to fight off goblins), and he’s got the magic cloak.
A sequel to the not-very-Biblical epic, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators is Christianity as high fantasy. Of course there is a magic item, this time in bright red Technicolor. Like all good fantasy heroes, Demetrius spends most of the movie in sword and sandals, killing for the thrill of it (not his thrill, or those in the coliseum, but for yours), and whoring it up. Think Conan with a cross. There’s plenty of empty Christian lecturing, but as “Be good to your neighbor” makes for a boring film, it is dropped for most of the running time in favor of Saturday afternoon action.
While it merely sidesteps The Bible, it directly confronts history, decides it doesn’t like it much, and creates its own. So, we get to learn exciting new history. Did you know that Emperor Caligula was killed because he condemned a Christian gladiator? You didn’t? Well, no one else did either. And, how about the historic moment when Claudius OK’d Christianity in Rome? Missed that? So did every history book ever written. But what is history when you’ve got sweaty men whapping each other?
Victor Mature was the obvious choice for the lead. With his burly physique, leathery skin, curly black hair, and inability to act, he IS Arnold Schwarzenegger. No one can make a line sound less real, or a situation less relevant than Mature. But he does have muscles and knows how to wear armor with no pants. Susan Hayward is your1950s, family-oriented version of a “loose woman,” that is, she’s wholesome. Jay Robinson, however does know how to play a crazy man. He’s deep into farce, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t entertaining.
Actually, much of the film is entertaining in a “wow, this is stupid” kind of way. It’s bright and cheery with big sets and legions (hey, they were Roman) of extras. The gladiator fights are exciting and it’s all played out to a dramatic soundtrack by Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman. Only the preaching drags things down. Luckily, this is a hypocritical film that wallows in violence, so it’s watchable.