The Crimson Playgoer
Charles Laughton makes a Superb Nero in the Latest de Mille Spectacle Now at the University
In "The Sign of the Cross," the current feature offering at the University, Cecille de Mille again exhibits his technique as the master of the spectacle. Thirty tame, toothless lions, many fine Roman matrous dressed in the best 1932 drapery, flashing chariots, and tons of Roman cutlery, not to mention several yards of early Christian beards, exciting pagan dancing, and several guileless babes to add the pathetic note, go into the production of a piece that rivals "Ben Hur" in intensity of action and elaborateness. Fredric March, as Marcus Superbus, prefect of Rome, who goes to death in the arena because of his love for Mercia (Elissa Landi), one of the persecuted Christians, and Claudette Colbert, who plays Nero's wife, Poppaea, do very well, but Charles Laughton, as the fat, indolent Nero, gives the picture its life blood. See him reclining after a heavy night of delicious debauchery while he puffs for breath as slaves manicure him, listen to him say "go away now," watch his eyes as he wildly strums the lyre as Rome burns and you will be convinced that he is one of the best actors that have gone to Hollywood without being robbed of their dramatic talent. He is much better than in "Devil and the Deep," where he played a more active role.
The companion picture, "Luxury Liner," is one of the worst melodramatic atrocities attempting to picture a cross section of life after the "Grand Hotel" manner that has yet appeared on the screen.