The Cecil B. DeMille Collection (Cleopatra/ The Crusades/ Four Frightened People/ Sign of the Cross/ Union Pacific)
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The Sign of the Cross (1932) is quintessential De Mille, now famous for its pre-Code (i.e. pre-censorship) scene of peep-show nudity as Claudette Colbert (playing Poppaea, wife of Charles Laughton's Roman emperor Nero) takes a tantalizing bath in goat's milk, daring DVD viewers to freeze-frame "the naughty bits" while Roman prefect Marcus (Frederic March) struggles to reconcile his loyalty to Rome with his forbidden love for the Christian maiden Mercia (Elissa Landi), who's destined for the lion's den. Full of outrageous spectacle (including dwarves in the Roman arena), this blood-and-guts epic is pure De Mille compared to the more conventionally formulaic adventure of Four Frightened People (1934), also starring Colbert as one of the four titular characters shipwrecked on a remote Malay island (filmed at Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, in Hawaii) and forced to fend for themselves. It's a stodgy but frequently amusing adventure, with Colbert's uptight schoolmarm growing sexier and less inhibited with each passing scene. Colbert returns (De Mille obviously adored her) in the title role of Cleopatra (1934), easily seducing Marc Antony (played by De Mille favorite Henry Wilcoxon) in a film as lavishly appointed as it is melodramatically extreme. Wilcoxon pairs with Loretta Young in The Crusades (1935) with De Mille once again mixing piety with prurience in a religious epic that promises plenty of sex but, in classic De Mille fashion, remains steadfastly chaste. Union Pacific (from Hollywood's golden year of 1939) is a grandly entertaining Western that mangles history (specifically, events surrounding construction of the transcontinental railroad) while casting gunslingers Joel McCrea and Robert Preston in a contest for Barbara Stanwyck's affections.
Choosing a favorite among these five films is purely a matter of personal taste, but for all of his weaknesses as a director (not the least being a condescending and self-righteous arrogance toward his audience), De Mille was never, ever boring. These films helped to make Paramount the most profitable studio of the 1930s, and they hold up remarkably well. Despite the complete absence of bonus features (Universal once again taking the low-cost option with no-frills packaging), each film is presented in pristine or near-pristine condition, ripe for first-time viewing or nostalgic rediscovery by vintage film buffs everywhere.--Jeff Shannon
Top Customer Reviews
Universal's THE CECIL B. DeMILLE COLLECTION contains no less than four grandly entertaining and gorgeously photographed masterworks--THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932, Paramount), CLEOPATRA (1934, Paramount), THE CRUSADES (1935, Paramount), and his masterpiece UNION PACIFIC (1939, Paramount). Only the badly written and ludicrously acted FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934, Universal) is a dud. DeMille's actors in SIGN OF THE CROSS include Claudette Colbert as an evil empress, Charles Laughton as Nero, Fredric March as a Roman officer, and Elissa Landi as the Christian girl whom March will sacrifice his life for. Watch for Colbert bathing in asses' milk, which two kittens lick. This is the uncut roadshow version.
Two years later, Colbert is Cleopatra and her leading men are Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon. I can never remember which is Julius Caesar and which is Marc Antony. This visual feast won a Cinematography Oscar for Victor Milner, who would work frequently with Mr. DeMille. The Interior Decoration should have won also. This 1934 production, running a tight 102 minutes, is light years more entertaining than the four hour 1963 epic.
THE CRUSADES has Henry Wilcoxon again, this time as Richard the Lionhearted. We are in 1200 A.D., where the Christians are fighting for control of Jerusalem.Read more ›
De Mille was a larger than life figure and he was drawn to showing larger than life figures Colbert plays both Cleopatra and Nero's amoral wife covorting in mikl baths with passers by in "Sign of the Cross." The Crusades, while not historically accurate has hosts of memorable scenes. Union Pacific features Barbara Stanwyck in an adventerous role.
This is an excellent collection of De Mille's films and I am looking forward to others being released on DVD in the future
For me the highlight of the collection is Claudette Colbert. She is so much fun to watch in both CLEOPATRA and SIGN OF THE CROSS. She is truly magnficent!!! And you can see why she was such a popular star. She may have won her Oscar for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, but her all-knowing performance as Cleopatra probably help cinch the award for her.
De Mille's Cleopatra is much more fun than you'd expect, played as much for deliberately camp comedy as for spectacle and a lot pacier at 104 minutes than the Elizabeth Taylor version. Warren William plays Caesar as De Mille himself, Henry Wilcoxen plays Anthony as an oaf and Claudette Colbert takes centerstage as the kind of vixen who knows which side of the Roman Empire her bread is buttered. At times De Mille's tongue is firmly in his cheek - not least a wonderfully drawn out death scene from Leonard Mudie that wouldn't look out of place in Carry On Cleo or Cleo's spectacular seduction of Tony on that fabled barge - but there's some fine filmmaking here too, not least a great battle montage padded out with footage from the silent Ten Commandments and a fine bit of censor baiting as a foreground hand ostensibly playing the harp seems to almost paw at Colbert's body. It ain't history but it is fun. Nice score from Rudolph Kopp too.
De Mille's The Crusades isn't history either, but it's certainly a lot more fun than its reputation implies. Wilcoxen reprises his macho oaf routine as Richard the Lionheart, but despite the film being best remembered for failing to make him the major star De Mille thought he could be, he's a surprisingly confident and rather likeable oaf: Wilcoxen was always a better actor than he was ever given credit for, even if his sword has a better part in the movie than he does. Loretta Young is the gushing God-botherer Berengaria and many of De Mille's regulars pop up - Ian Keith, C.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have always loved the grandeur of his films. Love this as a set.Published 4 months ago by Catherine J Matteson-Davis
Who is writing these rave reviews??? All these movies have some merit and interest but with the exception of Union Pacific are almost unfathomable from the modern perspective. Read morePublished 6 months ago by jfd213
The transfer on these films is amazing and gives them an unexpected immediacy. Maybe because of that, the surprisingly contemporary looking Sign of the Cross has horrific arena... Read morePublished 9 months ago by R. S. Kern
|Topic||From this Discussion|
|Jack Palance: TV series "Bronk"||
The full series is now showing on Warner Archive streaming service.
Jan 5, 2014 by C. Steward | See all 7 posts
|No bonuses on Universal DVD boxed sets||
The Cecil B. DeMille collection is deposited at BYU in Provo, UT. All kinds of wonderful material is found in that marvelous collection. The head of the collection offered to provide fascinating material for the DVD collection but Universal declined. Too bad as this would have greatly enhanced... Read More
16 days ago by E. Hunter Hale | See all 3 posts
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