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Pompeii, a handful of decades after the birth of Christ: Marcus
(Preston Foster) is a modest but happy blacksmith with the courage, talent
and strength of a gladiator, but he prefers to care for his family. Then
though his wife and child are run over by a chariot racing through the
street, and lacking the money to pay the doctor to cure them, he sees them
both die. He hardens and becomes a gladiator, fighting solely to make
money and more money ... until he bumps into little Flavius (David Holt),
a boy whose dad he has killed in the arena, and overcome by sympathy, he
decides to take the boy in and raise him as his own. The responsibility of
having to take care of the boy takes the edge out of his fight, and in a
few months, he is an arena has-been.
Marcus becomes a horsedealer, but
earns hardly enough for himself and his son - until he hears the prophecy
of a clairvoyant to go to Judea to meet the greatest man on earth.
Naturally, Marcus thinks the clairvoyant is talking about Pontius Pilate
(Basil Rathbone), and once there he actually gets to speat to Pilate who
makes him the leader of a raid of his fiercest rivals in the region - and
Marcus succeeds, too, and the raid makes him a very rich man, but then
Flavius falls ill, and it's only good luck that Jesus is actually around
to heal him.
Marcus makes his farewell visit to Pontius Pilate right
after he saw himself forced to condemn Jesus to death, which leaves him
kind of a broken man, and later Marcus ditches the opportunity to help
Jesus while he is carrying his cross to return to Pompeii with his wealth
Pompeii, 79 AD, approximately 15 years after Marcus's Judea
adventure (which is of course historically entirely unaccurately, but
that's how it is): Marcus is now one of the richest men of Pompeii and the
head of the arena he has once fought in. He is presently collecting slaves
to have them fight in the arena to please the new prefect (Louis Calhern),
an unlikeable upstart, but slaves condemned to the arena escape their
captors in alarming numbers.
Flavius meanwhile has grown into a young
man (played by John Wood) who does everything in his power to help the
escaped slaves and help them leave the Roman empire for good - whithout
his father or anyone else knowing of course. He has only a fading memory
of his encounter with Jesus, and his father insists that it must have been
nothing but a dream - yet the boy still bases his idea of saving the
slaves on Jesus's teachings. It's only when Pontius Pilate stops by for a
friendly visit that he learns that there was actually such a man, the
memory of whom still haunts Pilate.
Eventually though. Flavius' freed
slaves are found in their cave they are hiding in, arrested and thrown
into the arena, and Flavius with them. Upon realizing that, Marcus does
everything in his power to save his son, who actually wants to die with
the others rather than survive on his father's favours, but even though
Marcus is the head of the arena, there is nothing he can do. When the
slaughter begins though, Mount Vesuvius errupts burying the whole city.
Marcus manages to save his son though and put him onto the last boat
leaving Pompeii, then he helps others who are wounded and the like to make
it out of the city, before defending the leaving ship against the prefect
and his soldiers who want to confiscate the ship to save the city
treasure. Marcus loses his own life doing so, but at least this last noble
act has led him back onto the path of righteousness, and dying, he thinks
he sees Jesus, who has come to take him with him.
disregarding the many historical inaccuracies of the film (e.g. there were
some 4 decades between the death of Jesus and the outbreak of Mount
Vesuvius), the film still isn't too great. Basically, it tries way too
hard to make its point, to bring its message across, and by doing so lacks
action during vast stretches of screentime. That the way the message is
transported isn't exactly subtle or clichée-free doesn't help much
either. It's only in the finale that the film actually kicks into gear,
and the scenes of the destruction of Pompeii are pretty impressive - yet
that's too little too late.