Story: After the death of his former master Marcellus, Demetrius (Victor Mature) finds himself once again at Peter’s side, protecting the legendary robe of Jesus Christ. But someone else wants that robe as well, as Caligula (Jay Robinson) believes that if he can acquire the relic, he will be granted eternal life, safe even from threats within his own guard detail. Meanwhile, Demetrius winds up on the wrong side of the law when he fights off a Roman soldier who tries to assault his beloved girlfriend. His punishment is to be sent to the gladiator pits, though he is determined not to give in to the violence, as per his newfound faith and religion. Will he be able to stay true to his values and survive the arena, or will he rediscover the violent side of his persona?
Entertainment Value: This sequel to The Robe picks up where that picture left off, with returning cast members and direct continuation of the narrative. I think this is a more than suitable follow up to the original, as it has the same look and atmosphere of The Robe, while switching tracks to Demetrius now that Marcellus is gone. I also think this is one of the rare sequels that holds it own with the original, though it does differ in many ways as well. Demetrius and the Gladiators ups the ante on the action and includes more frequent and more involved gladiator sequences, which makes the movie feel more kinetic and brisk. The movie runs about half an hour shorter as well, so the pace runs quicker, though the story remains effective and doesn’t feel rushed. The Robe benefited from Richard Burton’s strong lead and the great arc of Marcellus, so I would give the nod to that film when it comes to story, but Demetrius makes up the difference in other ways. In any event, this is a well made, entertaining epic that does justice to The Robe, while also earning its own keep as its own movie.
I was pleased to see several central cast members return from The Robe, though this movie doesn’t have that one standout effort, like Richard Burton’s in that previous picture. Victor Mature steps into the lead role and he handles it well, especially with the focus easing off the intense character work and more into the action elements. Mature can easily keep up in terms of dramatic work, but it was a wise choice to broaden the lead’s fight scenes here, I think. I also love that Ernest Borgnine has a small role as a gladiator trainer and as always, he makes the most of his screen time. Jay Robinson returns as Caligula and is wisely given more screen time, which he uses to once again give us a manic, memorable turn as the mad emperor of Rome. The cast also includes William Marshall, Michael Rennie, Anne Bancroft, Debra Paget, and Susan Hayward.