The Last Days of Pompeii (film, 1935)

The Last Days of Pompeii (original title: The Last Days of Pompeii ) is an American film made in 1935 by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper .


In the days of Jesus Christ, blacksmith Marcus ( Preston Foster ) is pleased with his life with his beautiful wife Julia ( Gloria Shea ) and her six-month-old son. However, when Julia and their child are jostled by a tank in the streets of Pompeii, Marcus spends the little money he has to pay the doctor. Needing more, in desperation, he becomes a gladiator . He wins his fight, but to no avail, his wife and child die.

Blaming his poverty and embittered by life, he becomes a professional gladiator and becomes richer after each victory. After a fight, he kills his Gallic opponent and discovers that he orphaned a young boy named Flavius ( David Holt ). Full of remorse, he adopts the boy and buys a Greek slave, Leaster ( Wyrley Birch ), to become his guardian. However, the extra responsibility makes him too cautious in the arena , he is defeated and hurt. The injury ends his second career.

When Cleon ( William V. Mong ), a slave trader, offers him a job. Marcus is at first scornful but finally agrees. He organizes raids in African villages to capture slaves. But wanting to earn more, he decides to start his own business.

One day, Marcus saves a fortuneteller, who, to thank him, predicts that Flavius will meet the greatest man the world has brought to Judea . Marcus Flavius, who has to go to Judea to find horses for circus games, decides to leave with his son. In an inn along the way, a man tells him that the greatest man is here: in the stable (similar to the one in which he was born). But Marcus does not believe him, he thinks that the great man that his son must meet is Ponce Pilate ( Basil Rathbone ), the governor of Judea.

Upon learning that Marcus was once a great gladiator, Pilate secretly employs him to lead a band of assassins out of jails for a raid on the leader of the Ammonites . Marcus has the duty to keep all his catches: horses and treasure. But when he finds his son, he learns that he has a fall from his horse and is close to death. Marcus learns that a great man can save his son, and in the absence of doctors around, he decides to introduce his son. It is Jesus who is present, surrounded by his disciples, he saves the life of Flavius. When Marcus reports his share of the treasure to Pontius Pilate, Pilate is condemning Christ to death but death in his soul. Pilate is consumed by remorse and guilt for the conviction of

Marcus leaves the city quickly with his horses and his treasure. But passing on the way of the cross, one of the apostles recognizes him and begs him to save Jesus, as he had sworn to do when he saved his son, but Marcus refuses. As Marcus and Flavius emerge from Jerusalem, they see three crosses on Calvary behind them.

The years go by. Marcus became the rich leader of the arena in Pompeii. Flavius (played adult by David Holt ) is now a young man (in fact, assuming that Flavius was about seven years old at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, he would have been well over fifty at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius). One day, Marcus welcomes Pontius Pilate as a guest in his sumptuous house. When Flavius mentions his childhood memories, a man talking about love and compassion, Marcus assures him (as he has always insisted in the past) that there was no such person. Pilate replies, “Do not lie to him, Marcus, there was such a man.” Flavius asks, “What happened to him?” Pilate’s remorseful response: “IIt is then that the memory of the three crosses on the hill returns to Flavius.

Unbeknownst to Marcus, Flavius secretly helps the slaves and his lover to escape certain death in his father’s arena. However, he is arrested with a group of runaways and sentenced to die in the arena. When he finds out what happened, Marcus tries to free Flavius by bribing the jailer, but to no avail. Flavius is sent into the arena with the others. Marcus renews his request to the new prefect for whom the games are offered, new refusal. But when the fighting starts, Vesuviuserupts. Marcus wanders stunned through the streets in search of his son as the population is panicked. He finds the jailer, taken under rubble, who refused to release Flavius. The dying man asks Marcus for mercy for his son. Marcus angrily refuses, but remembering his words to Jesus asking for healing for Flavius, he saves the boy. Marcus finds Burbix his faithful servant ( Alan Hale) leading a group of slaves carrying his treasure on litters. He orders that litter be used to rescue the wounded. When they arrive at his ship, Marcus finds his son Flavius and offers a prayer of thanksgiving. At the same time as one embarks on the boat, the new prefect and his men try to get the boat for themselves and the gold of Rome. But Marcus refuses to open the door, giving the boat enough time to go out at the cost of his life. He has a vision of Christ just before he dies.

Technical sheet

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  • Preston Foster : Marcus
  • Alan Hale : Burbix
  • Basil Rathbone : Pontius Pilate
  • John Wood : Flavius as an adult
  • Louis Calhern : Prefect Allus Martius
  • David Holt : Flavius child
  • Dorothy Wilson : Clodia
  • Wyrley Birch : Leaster
  • Gloria Shea : Julia
  • Frank Conroy : Gaius Tanno
  • William V. Mong : Cleon, the slave seller
  • Murray Kinnell : Simon, a peasant of Judea
  • Henry Kolker : A guard
  • Edward Van Sloan : Calvus
  • Zeffie Tilbury : The wise woman
  • John Davidson : Phoebus, a fleeing slave
  • Marie Osborne : Extra
Uncredited Actors
  • Betty Allen : Woman
  • Reginald Barlow : The gatekeeper of the slave market
  • Maurice Black : The Guardian of the Gladiator Training Room
  • Ward Bond : Murmex of Carthage, a Gladiator
  • Tom Brower : Slave Escape
  • Curley Dresden : Cato, a gladiator
  • Helen Freeman : Martha
  • Winston Hibler : Marcellus
  • Thomas E. Jackson : The lanista 1
  • Bruce King : A prisoner of the Scythians
  • Marc Loebell : Lucius
  • Michael Mark : Noble Man of Pompeii
  • Edwin Maxwell : An official of Pompeii
  • Margaret McWade : Calvus Woman
  • Jack Mulhall : Inhabitant of Pompeii
  • John T. Murray : Pilate’s servant
  • Ole M. Ness : Drusus, a fleeing slave
  • Jason Robards Sr .: The Tax Collector
  • Jim Thorpe : Spectator Throwing Coins

Technical sheet

  • Music: Roy Webb
  • Duration: 96 minutes
  • Exit : 
  • Artistic Director: Van Nest Polglase
  • Costume: Aline Bernstein
  • Photo: J. Roy Hunt , Jack Cardiff
  • Editing: Archie F. Marshek
  • Producer: Merian C. Cooper
  • Production: RKO
  • Distribution: RKO
  • Format: Black and white film
  • Duration: 96 minutes
  • National exit:
    •  United States :
    •  France :
  • Language: English
  • Country: United States

To note

  • Cooper wanted to shoot this film in color. Finally, he finally realized it in black and white with Ernest Schoedsack. The film is best known for its exploding volcano scene (special effects by Willis O’Brien )

Notes and references

  1. ↑ The one who trained gladiators in combat and taught them the art of combat

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