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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blogging the Hulu Plus Criterion Collection: Androcles and the Lion

Androcles and the Lion

And we're in Geroge Bernard Shaw territory. I confess I know less about Shaw than I should and I've only ever seen his work as movies, most notably Major Barbara which we'll get to eventually. At first I found it hard to get into Androcles and the Lion but it won me over by the end.

The story follows the famous tale of Androcles who was thrown to the lions. Fortunately it was a lion whom he had helped previously by taking a thorn out of its paw. At first this movie is all over the place. In the beginning it's a lot like other DeMille inspired epics like Quo Vadis, full of piety and short on real history. But then it switches gears to wacky comedy with Alan Young as Androcles. Young would go on to play Wilbur on Mr. Ed and would voice Scrooge McDuck on Duck Tales.

The film also stars Victor Mature who often acts like he's in an entirely different movie.

There's also Thurston Howell III, Jim Backus in this one playing a Roman centurion and the Bride of Frankenstein Elsa Lancaster playing Androcles' shrewish wife. Robert Newton steals the show as he often does. The actor best known for playing Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island was also in Major Barbara and he has a stand out role here.

Jean Simmons rounds out the famous faces as the beautiful Christian who falls for Mature's Roman officer.

At first it seems like this will be another sword and sandal, faith affirming movie like The Ten Commandments but that's not where it ends up. I should have known from Major Barbara but Shaw has some very different ideas when it comes to faith and God. And those get expressed. The Christians aren't all holy martyrs. Simmons' character has some moments of profound doubt about everything she believes in. Robert Newton's character is a holy mad man. He has some great scenes with Young.

The ending has a lot of surprises and some very funny slapstick. It would be a shame to ruin all the surprises. This isn't a great movie. Often it look like a TV set from the 1950s. But writers should have a field day analyzing this script. So many characters and ideas ping pong off each other in the second and third acts. This was a an unexpected bit of fun.

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