By the Gods!

Yvonne De Carlo, as Mary Magdelene, and Jorge Mistral during the climax of THE SWORD & THE CROSS (1958)

One of the surprising things I found when I became a fan of the PEPLUM genre was how few movies were religious. There are some here and there, and a few have a Christian/Saviour theme to them but most films are remarkably secular in nature. It's even more amazing when you consider that most of these films were made in Roman Catholic Italy. Even this movie, which deals with Mary Magdalene, seems to try to avoid anything to do with Jesus. Except for the ending which is pretty good. Very nice cinematography and set up. The film itself is good and entertaining but a bit on the pulpy, trashy side. This ending makes up for it.

Happy Easter!


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that many of the Italian productions bring in Christians when it isn't necessary such as the 1959 version of The Last Days of Pompeii. There is no Christian theme in the novel. Another example is Messalina with Belinda Lee. The Christian theme in that one is especially superfluous. There is are Christians thrown into several of the Muscleman movies too. Other Sword and Sandal films dealing with Christians are Alone Against Rome, Revolt of the Slaves, and Pontius Pilate.

There are plenty of other religious Italian productions from this era based on the Old Testament: David and Goliath, Joseph and His Brethren, Saul and David, Jacob the Man Who Fought With God, The Great Leaders, Head of a Tyrant, Esther and the King, Sodom and Gomorrah, and The Old Testament.

I got an English language version of Mary Magdalene (Sword and the Cross) recently and I was surprised at how much had been cut compared the the version I have in Italian.

Anonymous said...

The movies based on Greek and Roman mythology (Hercules, The Trojan Horse, Duel of the Titans, et al.) took place B.C.E., and they involved characters who worshiped Olympian gods, making Judaism and Christianity anachronistic and/or irrelevant.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of Biblical epics. The ones with Christian themes (The Robe, Quo Vadis, Ben Hur) often tended to avoid showing Jesus clearly or directly, maybe for fear that Christians would consider it idolatry.

Scott Ochiltree said...


The high point of religious movies in Hollywood was during the first half of the 1950s.

Once Comrade Stalin got the A-bomb Americans put their faith in renewed Christianity (Billy Graham), Ike, and the B-52 bombers of Strategic Air Command. J. Edgar hoover was relied upon to keep the evil godless commies under control on the home front.

The Sputnik shock of October 1957 produced panic about the state of US education, science and technology. However, it not lead to a new religious revival.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and BEN HUR were as much about spectacle as religious devotion.
The poor reception of KING OF KINGS was pretty much Hollywood's last effort to make a "Bibloscreen" film with an impressive cast and big budget.

At age 73 I can remember all this pretty clearly.

Scott Ochiltree said...

I was wrong!

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) was actually Hollywood's last big budget religious film. It was released several years after KING OF KINGS.

It had distracting cameo appearances by just about every actor and actress in the business. John Wayne's cameo appearance at the foot of the cross was especially ridiculous in view of his jarring accent.