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The onscreen title card reads: "Gabriel Pascal presents Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion." Although Shaw's play is set in 150 A.D., during the reign of Antoninus Pious, the film is set in 161 A.D., "during the reign of Antoninus," the year that Antoninus Pious died and was succeeded by his nephew, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Marcus Aurelius. It is not clear which Antoninus is depicted in the film. According to biographical sources, in the mid-1930s, British dramatist George Bernard Shaw entrusted producer-director Gabriel Pascal with the filming of his plays. Prior to making Androcles and the Lion, Pascal had brought three other Shaw plays to the screen-Pygmalion (1939), Major Barbara (1941) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)-all shot in England. Shaw died in 1950, before filming on Androcles and the Lion had started.
As noted by a July 1951 New York Times item, "in the closing years of the playwright's life, Mr. Pascal says he succeeded in convincing him to provide supplementary dialogue and changes in plot construction which would make his plays more appropriate to the pictorial medium." After Shaw's death, however, Shaw's trustees decreed that no more than ten percent of his original text could be altered for the screen. Because the stage version of Androcles and Lion was only two acts, Pascal felt compelled to lengthen the piece and therefore had to secure permission from the trustees to change twenty-five percent of the text, according to an October 1951 Time article. As noted by Time, Pascal expanded the play with "lines borrowed from Shaw's own preface." Reviews state that other changes included the addition of the character "Cato," who was not in the play. The Time article also claims that the terms of Shaw's will required that he be billed onscreen as "Bernard Shaw," not "George Bernard Shaw," as he was known in the theatrical world.
In November 1949, Hollywood Reporter announced that Pascal had halted plans to co-direct Androcles and the Lion with production designer Harry Horner because of financial troubles. According to a December 1949 Hollywood Reporter item, Pascal then went to Mexico City to put together a deal to shoot the story in Mexico, with Deborah Kerr, who had appeared in a similar role in M-G-M's Quo Vadis, in the lead. In January 1951, after RKO became involved in the project, Hollywood Reporter reported that Pascal had been considering English star Rex Harrison for one of the lead roles. Principal photography began on February 9, 1951, with H. C. Potter directing. James Donald was cast opposite Jean Simmons, who made her American screen debut in the picture, and George Sanders was cast as "Caesar." Frank Planer was Potter's director of photography, Ralph Dawson his editor, and Frank Sarver his sound man. Although Hollywood Reporter announced on February 2, 1951 that RKO was negotiating with Paramount to borrow television star Alan Young for the role of "Androcles," the part had yet to be cast by the start of principal photography.
After three days of shooting, filming on the production was halted. According to a February 5, 1951 Hollywood Reporter item, Simmons' contract with RKO stipulated that photography would stop after one day, followed by a rehearsal period. During the shut-down, Potter left the production. According to a February 15, 1951 Hollywood Reporter item, RKO issued no official explanation for his departure, but noted that he had been reassigned to another production, High Frontier, a project that was never made. Potter did not direct another film until the 1955 Columbia release Three for the Show . On February 16, 1951, Hollywood Reporter reported that Nicholas Ray was taking over as director; however, Chester Erskine, who co-wrote the screen adaptation, eventually got the job.
Following Potter's exit, production on Androcles and the Lion shut down for almost seven months. Early March 1951 Hollywood Reporter items claim that the delay was due to RKO head Howard Hughes's difficulty in casting "Androcles." However, Young was officially cast in mid-March 1951, according to Hollywood Reporter. Because of the delay, both Donald and Sanders had to be replaced. Various actors were considered for leading roles, including Jos Ferrer, Eddie Bracken, Harpo Marx and Barry Fitzgerald. Los Angeles Examiner announced on March 5, 1951 that Charles Chaplin had lunched with Hughes to discuss the possibility of being cast in the picture. In mid-June 1951, Victor Mature was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the role of "Captain." Sir Cedric Hardwicke was cast in the picture in late July 1951 but did not appear in the final film. According to a July 1951 New York Times item, Angela Lansbury snagged the role of "Megaera," the part played by Elsa Lanchester. Charles Irwin, who was cast as "Centurian" and appears in Hollywood Reporter production charts in September 1951, was eventually replaced by Jim Backus.
he following actors were announced as cast members in Hollywood Reporter: Bobette Bentley, Margaret Farrell, Jean Ransome, Carol Brooks, Beth Hartman, Josephine Parra and Doris Barton. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a mid-September 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Blythe Barrymore, "the daughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello," was to make her screen debut in the picture. Barrymore and Costello did not have a daughter named Blythe, but it is possible that the news item refers to Dolores Ethel Barrymore, who would have been twenty-one at the time of the production. Her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
In August 1952, Nicholas Ray was brought in to direct an added "Vestal Virgin" bathing scene. As noted in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen strongly objected to the scene and cautioned that the picture might be deemed unacceptable if it were used. The final film includes only a few, brief shots of the Vestal Virgins. Prior to principal photography, Breen advised Pascal to submit the script to Monsignor John J. Devlin, whom filmmakers often used as a technical advisor, for approval. In a September 25, 1951 letter to Pascal, Devlin stated that the film was generally acceptable, but suggested that a "short foreword to the effect that any resemblance to the lives of early Christian Martyrs is purely coincidental." No such foreword was used in the film, however. Although Hollywood Reporter stated that Leigh Harline had been assigned to write the film's score, Frederick Hollander is credited onscreen with the score. According to a October 14, 1952 Daily Variety item, the film's world premiere in Los Angeles was booked suddenly to comply with a stipulation of the Shaw estate that the film be screened publicly by 30 October 1951.
On October 14, 1956, as part of its Omnibus series, the ABC television network broadcast a production of Shaw's play, starring Bert Lahr. The NBC network broadcast a musical adaptation of the play, with songs by Richard Rodgers, on November 27, 1967. Joe Layton directed Nol Coward, Norman Wisdom and Ed Ames in the musical version, which was also titled Androcles and the Lion.