Religion triumphant over paganism. And the soul is stronger than the flesh. Religion gets the breaks, even though its followers all get killed in this picture. It’s altogether a moral victory.
For example, the handsome Prefect of Rome (Fredric March) sees that he can’t get to first base with the Christian maiden (Elissa Landi), so he calls in the village temptress, Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner), for help. Ancaria is described as the hottest gal in town. ‘The most versatile’ is the phrase used. She uses her arts on Landi. In the street the other Christian martyrs are marching to their doom, singing hymns bravely as they go. Their chants disrupts and finally drowns out the temptress’ routine, and she strikes the unmoved Landi in the face. Then, having lost, she walks.
Besides Ancaria, there is Charles Laugh- ton’s expert Nero, who doubles as the degenerate emperor and musical pyromaniac as Rome burns. Most of the last half is taken up with a bloody festival staged by crazy Caesar in the arena.
Cast is uniformly good, but only one exceptional performance is registered. That’s Laughton’s. With utmost subtlety and a minimum of effort he manages to get over his queer character before his first appearance is a minute old.
Claudette Colbert [as Poppaea] and Landi and March and Ian Keith [as Tigellinus] are called upon chiefly to look their parts, and they manage. Frequently some badly written and often silly dialog holds them down.
1932/33: Nomination: Best Cinematography