The Sign of the Cross (film)

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The Sign of the Cross
The sign of cross.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by
Based on The Sign of the Cross 
by Wilson Barrett
Starring
Music by Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography Karl Struss
Edited by Anne Bauchens
Production
company
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • November 30, 1932 (1932-11-30) (USA)
Running time 125 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $650,000

The Sign of the Cross (1932) is a pre-Code epic film released by Paramount Pictures, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille from a screenplay by Waldemar Young and Sidney Buchman, and based on the original 1895 play by Wilson Barrett.

Both play and film have a strong resemblance to the novel Quo Vadis, and like the novel, take place in ancient Rome during the reign of Nero. The art direction and costume design were by Mitchell Leisen who also acted as assistant director. Karl Struss was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.[1]

The film stars Fredric March, Elissa Landi, Claudette Colbert, and Charles Laughton, with Ian Keith and Arthur Hohl. The film is the third and last in DeMille's biblical trilogy with The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927). It was filmed in Fresno, California.

Cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

  • The famous scene in which Poppaea (Claudette Colbert) bathes in asses' milk took several days to shoot. DeMille announced to the press that real asses' milk was used; however, it was actually powdered cow's milk. After a few days under the hot lights, the milk turned sour, making it very unpleasant for Colbert to work in the stench.[2][3][4]
  • To save production expense during the Great Depression, existing sets were reused as well as costumes left over from the making of The Ten Commandments.[5] DeMille also attempted to provide out-of-work actors jobs as extras such as the crowd arena scenes.[5]

Editing for reissue after enforcement of the production code[edit]

As with many other Pre-Code films that were reissued after the Production Code was strictly enforced in 1934, this film has a history of censorship. In the original version, Marcus Superbus (Fredric March) is unsuccessful in his desire to seduce Mercia (Elisa Landi), an innocent Christian girl. He then urges Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner) to perform the erotic "Dance of the Naked Moon" that will "warm her into life".[6] This "lesbian dance" was cut from the negative for a 1938 reissue, but was restored by MCA-Universal for its 1993 video release.[7] Some gladiatorial combat footage was also cut for the 1938 reissue, as were arena sequences involving naked women being attacked by crocodiles and a gorilla. These were also restored in 1993.[8]

DeMille himself supervised a new version for its 1944 rerelease. New footage with a World War II setting, featuring actor Stanley Ridges (who did not originally appear in the film) was added to make the film more topical. In the new prologue, a group of planes is seen flying over what was ancient Rome. The conversation of the soldiers in one of the planes leads directly into the film's original opening scene. The last few seconds of the edited version of the film showed the planes flying off into the distance, rather than simply fading out on the original closing scene of the movie.

For many years, this edited version was the only one available. The version now shown on Turner Classic Movies has been restored to the original 125 minute length by the UCLA Film and Television Archive with the help of the DeMille estate and Universal Pictures, which now owns most pre-1950 Paramount sound features.

Catholic Legion of Decency[edit]

The reaction of the Catholic Church in the United States to the content in this film and in Ann Vickers led to the 1934 formation of the Catholic Legion of Decency, an organization dedicated to identifying and combating objectionable content, from the point of view of the Church, in motion pictures.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography
Online sources

External links[edit]