Thursday, December 9, 2021

#2,674. The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)


Two years after they wowed audiences with King Kong, Merian Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack teamed up to bring another grand adventure to the big screen, The Last Days of Pompeii.

Preston Foster stars as Marcus, a kindly Pompeiian blacksmith who, as the result of a personal tragedy, vows that he will never be poor again. Utilizing his natural strength and agility, he becomes a champion gladiator, during which time he adopts a boy named Flavius (David Holt), the newly orphaned son of his most recent kill in the arena.

When he tires of fighting, Marcus dabbles briefly in slave trading before going into business for himself, buying horses from abroad. Eventually, he travels to Judea, where he meets with Pontius Pilate (Basil Rathbone) and has a run-in with Jesus.

The years pass, and Marcus, now managing the arena, is the wealthiest man in all of Pompeii. As for Flavius (played as an adult by John Wood), he cannot forget the “great man” they met in Judea, and works against his father by helping slaves (i.e. - potential gladiators) escape imprisonment.

But with nearby Mt. Vesuvius spewing more smoke than usual, this battle of wills between father and son will soon be the least of everyone's worries.

A title card in the opening seconds of The Last Days of Pompeii informs the audience that the movie’s “characters and plot” have no relation to those in the novel (of the same name) by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Which is a shame, really, because the story is this film’s weakest element; teetering between dull and preachy (the religious angle is more heavy-handed than what you’d find in a Cecil B. DeMille picture), it bogs the film down more than once.

Fortunately, the more spectacular elements: the gladiator fights, the amazing set pieces, and, of course, the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, ultimately save the movie, and are reason enough to see it.
Rating: 6 out of 10

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