The Sign of the Cross (film)

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The Sign of the Cross
The sign of cross.jpg
original theatrical poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by
Starring
Music by
Cinematography Karl Struss
Editing by Anne Bauchens
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates November 30, 1932
Running time 125 min
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 (in credits order)

Production notes

  • 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.234
  • 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

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

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

In Popular Culture

The Sign of The Cross appears in "Nor'easter", the third episode of the second season of the television series American Horror Story. In the episode, the film is shown to the residents of Briarcliff Mental Institution to distract them from a violent storm. Clips from the film are actually seen within the episode. As Briarcliff is a Catholic-run institution in the series, its inclusion in the episode runs counter to its Catholic censorship history; However, its use provides ironic counterpoint to several of the series' characters.

See also

References

Bibliography
Online sources

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