Cast & Crew
In Rome, during the reign of Antoninus, known as Caesar, Cato, the head of the secret police, conveys orders to the army to capture one hundred Christians per week for sacrifice at the imperial circus. When soldiers arrive in Syracuse, Androcles, a meek Christian tailor, and his shrewish wife Megaera abandon their home to avoid arrest. While fleeing through a forest, Androcles and Megaera encounter a lion, whose roar causes Megaera to faint with terror. The animal-loving Androcles, however, notices that the lion has a large thorn stuck in its paw and gently removes it. Androcles and the grateful lion, whom Androcles names Tommy, are cuddling and playing with each other when two soldiers approach and recognize Androcles. A revived Megaera escapes into the woods, but Androcles is captured and labeled a sorcerer because of his seemingly unnatural rapport with the lion. Later, Cato warns a captain who is escorting Androcles and other Christians to Rome to maintain a tight reign on his prisoners, as they are known to be effective persuaders. When the Captain notices the beautiful, devout Lavinia tending to a wound on one of his soldiers, he dutifully reprimands her, even though he is attracted to her. Lavinia, who has befriended Androcles, laughs at the Captain's threats, pointing out that either way, she is doomed. Soon after, a wagon topples onto a soldier, pinning his leg. Without hesitation, the chained prisoner Ferrovius uses his great strength to lift the wagon. In gratitude, the Captain orders Ferrovius' chains removed, ignoring warnings about his ferocious temper and uncanny ability to convert people. While camped that night, the Captain flirts with Lavinia and offers to save her, but she resists his help. When the hymn-singing group arrives in Rome, Lentulus, one of Caesar's supporters, decides to test the Christian philosophy by slapping Ferrovius' face to see if he will "turn the other cheek." Ferrovius controls his anger, but insists on performing the same test on Lentulus. Preaching wildly, Ferrovius hits Lentulus, who is too terrified to strike back and faints. The prisoners then are escorted to the Colosseum, where the men are to battle Roman gladiators and the women are to be devoured by lions. At Caesar's palace, meanwhile, the emperor discusses the Christian problem with Editor, the circus' overseer. Although Editor complains that the Christian sacrifices ruin the circus, Caesar declares that it is his destiny to make martyrs of the zealots. Caesar then informs the traitorous Spintho, a crony who has secretly converted to Christianity while stealing from the Roman temples, that his "sickness" will soon be cured. Spintho is arrested and thrown in with the other Christians at the Colosseum. On the eve of their circus appearance, Ferrovius wonders if he can be "faithful till the end," while Lavinia reasserts her faith and once again declines the Captain's offer of help. Confident in the promise of the hereafter, Lavinia and Androcles both refuse to burn incense at goddess Diana's temple, a symbolic act that would save their lives. The cowardly Spintho, however, runs to the temple to denounce Christianity, but is eaten by a lion instead. When the circus finally begins, Ferrovius grabs a sword and, in front of the blood-thirsty crowd, fights the gladiators. While Ferrovius downs man after man, the Captain makes a final plea to Lavinia, begging her to marry him. Noting that she is not dying for her religion but for something greater, Lavinia turns down the Captain. Caesar is so impressed by Ferrovius' fortitude that he declares that all of his subjects should convert to Christianity and orders that only one prisoner be thrown to the lions. Because of his reputation as a sorcerer, Androcles is selected, but to the surprise of the crowd, the lion, Tommy, recognizes Androcles and starts to dance with him. Caesar corners the pair inside the arena, and Androcles shows the emperor how to befriend the lion. Once Caesar has Tommy in an embrace, he calls to the others and announces that he has "tamed" the lion. Ferrovius then accepts a position as an imperial guard, while Lavinia and the Captain look forward to a happy future together. Granted their freedom, Androcles and Tommy stroll merrily away.
Woody W. Strode
Aldo Tomassini Barbarossa
Albert S. D'agostino
Charles F. Pyke
Lewis J. Rachmil
Sir Arthur Sullivan
George Bernard Shaw on Film: Eclipse Series 20
Shaw is renowned for turning his plays into freewheeling social debates, and 1941's Major Barbara examines the nature of organized charity, satirizing its effect on a very imperfect London. Fresh from Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller has a standout role as the highly motivated and charismatic Salvation Army Major Barbara Britomart. Barbara finds an acolyte and husband in Adophus Cusins, a penniless scholar of Greek surprised to discover that Barbara comes from a wealthy family. The play's conflict and much of its humor are provided by Barbara's estranged father Andrew (a hilarious Robert Morley). He's a big wheel in the munitions game -- a highly profitable business in conflict with Barbara's Christian philosophy. The fun comes when the "devilish" Andrew sets out to prove to his daughter that money, not morality, is the key to human happiness. Barbara must resist temptation while simultaneously winning the soul of Bill Walker (Robert Newton), a belligerent Cockney ne'er-do-well who fights tooth and nail to avoid enlistment in the Salvation Army's legion of believers. In for extra fun is the very young Deborah Kerr, in her first film role.
Bernard Shaw adapted Major Barbara personally, and although the text has been shortened his characteristic complexities are untouched. The play takes several unpredictable turns, foiling attempts to predict the direction Shaw's impish "debate" will take. Just when we expect Barbara to triumph, surprises follow at the rate of one every three minutes. After throwing our preconceptions about charity, progress and happiness into a spin, Shaw endorses a radical new kind of humanist "faith": instead of winning souls by feeding the hungry, Barbara should first work for an equitable society and bring faith to the masses afterwards.
We're told that Major Barbara was filmed as bombs fell during the London Blitz. It's still a filmed play but director Pascal and his topnotch art directors Vincent Korda and John Bryan see to it that the visuals are stunning. The Salvation Army Mission is in a run-down lot near the docks and Andrew Underschaft's massive armaments factory / worker's city of the future is like something out of Things to Come. But the colorful characters are what we cherish, from Rex Harrison's likeable scholar to the Mission's "saved" freeloaders. They invent disadvantaged backgrounds so that, when they find God, the charity workers can feel more accomplished. The mischievous wink of author Shaw is evident in every scene: when Barbara suddenly feels the bitterness of disillusion, Bill Walker is right there to twist the knife: "What price salvation now, sister?"
1945's Caesar and Cleopatra is Gabriel Pascal's massive attempt to trump the Yankees in the Technicolor epic stakes. Despite its commercial failure it now plays as an intelligent, funny and charming antidote to overblown and pompous Hollywood treatments of similar material. George Bernard Shaw's 1898 play has been opened up with massive sets and location filming -- in Egypt, before the finish of the war -- but retains Shaw's refreshingly cynical views on political and military power. Although one of the main characters is Brittanus (Cecil Parker), an opinionated Celtic advisor from a certain backward isle to the West, Shaw's agenda includes a sly comparison of Rome's corrupt empire and that of modern England.
The cast is ideal. Claude Rains has one of his best roles ever as Julius Caesar, a clever conqueror who befriends his enemies and conceals his moral convictions behind a cynical front. Vivien Leigh, perhaps the most in-demand actress of the time, plays Cleopatra as a teenaged contradiction, alternating between childish antics and destructive willfulness. Cleopatra meets Caesar under a sphinx at night and is immediately captivated by the Roman's playfulness, wisdom and natural authority. She allows Caesar to occupy part of Alexandria while Egypt's leaders (including Francis L. Sullivan's imposing Pothinus) scheme to put Cleo's brother Ptolemy (Anthony Harvey) on the throne. The confusion allows Caesar's few soldiers to hold the palace and keep Pothinus a prisoner for months. Adding to the fun are Apollodorus, a Sicilian merchant to the queen (Stewart Granger, costumed like a sword 'n' sandal hero), and Caesar's faithful "sidekick" general, Rufio (Basil Sydney).
Shaw's expanded play indulges an almost slapstick feel in some scenes, as when Cleopatra hides in a carpet to smuggle herself to Caesar's battle lines at the Pharos lighthouse. The author gets in some choice digs at conquerors when the legendary Library of Alexandria goes up in flames: Caesar allows the old scholar Theodotus (Ernest Thesiger, as fruity as ever) to fight the fire, but only because doing so fits into his battle strategy.
The relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar begins in a comedic vein but soon becomes more complex. Cleo looks upon Caesar as an infallible guardian yet is determined to assert her newfound authority as Queen. She threatens the lives of her slaves, ignoring Caesar's teachings to the contrary; he enjoys the loyalty of all yet threatens nobody directly. The relationship finally turns on Cleopatra's pride, when she commands her personal handmaiden Ftatateeta (Flora Robson, magnificently savage) to murder a man who has called the Queen a liar. Cleopatra doesn't realize that this act will destabilize all that Caesar has worked to achieve. Only the Roman's customary brilliance saves them all from death at the hands of a mob.
Openly playing with familiar historical facts, Shaw dutifully returns Caesar to his fate in Rome (which he seems to fully predict) and opens the door for the return of the next man in the short life of the Egyptian queen, Mark Antony. Sometimes verging on farce, Caesar and Cleopatra has an uncommonly witty perspective on those who presume to rule over their fellows. Ftatateeta is Shaw's spokesperson on this point: she considers herself suitable to lead not because she's so smart, but because everyone else is so stupid.
Vivien Leigh skips, dances and slinks her way through this eccentric epic. Her royal costumes are dazzling, even when she can't maintain the pageantry and reverts to adolescent silliness. Claude Rains is equally fascinating as a leader who responds to imminent disaster as just another opportunity for a brilliant strategic maneuver. When Cleo fails to heed his advice, he delivers a stern rebuke, a defense of his personal leadership style that could profit any of us. Shaw encourages us to think about the ideas within his entertainments -- behind the sarcastic wit is a teacher of moral lessons.
Wartime problems and unavoidable delays inflated Caesar and Cleopatra's budget, and the film's cool reception put a damper on Gabriel Pascal's career. He would collaborate with the aged George Bernard Shaw only once more, and under diminished circumstances. 1952's Androcles and the Lion was made in Hollywood at RKO on a tight budget, with Shaw's 1912 play adapted and directed by Chester Erskine (producer of The Wonderful Country). The play's deeper critique of Christian principles was pared away and more slapstick added, making Androcles less faithful to its source but still a bright entertainment. It was once a staple on television, where children could ignore what was left of Shaw's satire and laugh themselves silly. In the film's mirthful arena scene, Androcles (Alan Young of The Time Machine) waltzes with the lion that just a moment before was preparing to devour him.
When the Romans round up Christians to serve as an intermission amusement at the Emperor's circus, the milquetoast Androcles takes the opportunity to try to escape his nagging wife Megaera (Elsa Lanchester). After his legendary thorn-removing appointment with a lion, Androcles is captured and marched to Rome with other semi-willing martyrs. Chief among them is the gorgeous Lavinia (Jean Simmons, trying out the toga she'd use eight years later in Spartacus. Lavinia catches the eye of a handsome Roman Captain (Victor Mature). The former warrior and now reborn Christian Ferrovius (Robert Newton, gaily hamming it up) has forsworn violence, and cannot be tempted into fighting by the Roman guards.
Shaw's play is still a charming diversion, even in this condensed, somewhat disordered form. Gene Lockhart, Alan Mowbray, John Hoyt and Jim Backus approach their comic roles with varying success, but apparently nobody told Victor Mature that he was filming a comedy. Although quite striking, Mature is just as serious as he is in the next year's The Robe. The various gags and character bits are quite funny, especially Robert Newton's attempts to restrain his natural urge to slaughter. Sent into the arena, Ferrovius swears that he'll use his courage to die a noble martyr's death, but we all know that's not going to happen. As Caesar, Maurice Evans (Planet of the Apes) provides some jolly comments on the frustration of being an absolute dictator, changing his mind about who will and who won't become a show-time snack for the hungry cats. The magic comes full circle when Androcles has his surprise reunion with his furry friend -- neither the visible tethers on the real lion nor an obvious lion costume diminish the fun. I've seen kids jump for joy at this finish, applauding; never was an Aesop's Fable adapted so amiably.
All three titles in Eclipse's George Bernard Shaw on Film set are in fine shape, with clean film transfers. The Technicolor-sourced Caesar and Cleopatra is rich and vibrant in nighttime scenes and sometimes a little light during day exteriors, but not by much. Clear audio tracks showcase Shaw's rich dialogue as voiced by so many fine actors. The three films also sport excellent scores by famed composers: William Walton, Georges Auric and Frederick Hollander. Bruce Eder provides concise and informative liner notes.
For more information about George Bernard Shaw on Film, visit Eclipse. To order George Bernard Shaw on Film, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
George Bernard Shaw on Film: Eclipse Series 20
Stock footage from the 1935 RKO film The Last Days of Pompeii was used in shots of the crowds filing into the Colosseum.
Harpo Marx was considered for the part of Androcles at one time.
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 José 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 Noël Coward, Norman Wisdom and Ed Ames in the musical version, which was also titled Androcles and the Lion.