Sign of the Pagan


1h 32m 1954

Brief Synopsis

Roman centurion Marcian is captured by Attila the Hun en route to Constantinople, but escapes. On arrival, he finds the eastern Roman emperor Theodosius plotting with Attila to look the other way while the latter marches against Rome. But Marcian gains the favor of Pulcheria, lovely sister of Theodosius, who favors a united Empire. As Attila marches, things look bleak for the weakened imperial forces. But the conqueror has an awe of the power of the Christians' God...

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 23 Dec 1954
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Synopsis

During the fifth century, the Roman Empire is divided into two sections, one with its capital in Rome, run by Emperor Valentinian, and one with its capital in Constantinople, run by Emperor Theodosius. The weakened state is under attack by the head of the Barbarians, Attila, who captures Imperial guard Marcian, who is carrying a mesage from Valentinian warning Theodosius against the Huns. Impressed by Marcian's honesty and courage, Attila carves out the arrow that has been shot into his leg, causing Marcian to pass out. Over the next few days, Attila keeps Marcian in the hopes of learning more about the Romans' plans. One day, the Huns capture a local king's family and Attila orders them killed, except for the daughter, Ilduco, whom he takes as his wife. Later, when Attila's rough daughter, Kubra, shows off her father's prize stallion, Marcian steals it and flees to Constantinople. There, he is befriended by General Paulinus, who confides that Theodosius is planning to join forces with the Huns against Valentinian. This is confirmed when Marcian brings his emperor's message to Theodosius, who throws him out. His sister, however, Princess Pulcheria, has seen Marcian and calls him into her chambers. There, she admits that she loves Rome, but is kept prisoner within the palace walls. Soon after, she names Marcian the captain of her guard, asking him to protect her from Theodosius' mutiny. That night, Theodosius holds a feast to welcome the Hun leaders. Although Attila has not been invited, he arrives to command the allegiance of all other Barbarians, and easily defeats the strongest man in Constantinople. Frightened, Theodosius offers him furs and jewels, but Attila demands only that Marcian teach the Huns how to use Roman weapons. Although Kubra is the first to practice with the weapons, Marcian deposits her in the harem bathing pool. Later, Pulcheria sends for Attila. She asks him to release Marcian from his duties, but Attila kisses her roughly and then leaves to meet Theodosius, who agrees to pay each month in return for Attila's promise not to attack. Later, Marcian also approaches the Hun, warning him that because Rome is Christian, it will never fall. Attila merely laughs at him, but when Kubra visits the church the next day, she is awed by the portrait of Mary and longs for the peace she feels there. She tries to refuse to leave, but Attila forces her to accompany the Huns out of the city. The next night, he gathers the Barbarian leaders and announces that they will attack Rome immediately. As soon as his soothsayer announces that the signs are positive, a bolt of lightning strikes a tree that falls on him. Although this concerns the Huns, Attila names it a good omen. Soon after, his men bring two captured monks to him, and Attila, who does not dare anger the Christian god, orders the soldiers killed. The monks then beg him not to kill the soldiers, baffling Attila. As the Huns gather outside Rome, Marcian, finding no help for Valentinian with Theodosius, prepares to flee the palace, but is captured upon stopping to bid Pulcheria goodbye. While Attila's new seer, whom he calls Persian, relates a vision of Marcian as emperor, Paulinus releases Marcian from the dungeon and the two sneak into Pulcheria's. Together, they decide to gather the army against Theodosius and install Pulcheria to the throne. After Theodosius is forced to abdicate, Pulcheria names Marcian her top admiral and announces her plans to travel to Rome with him and their army to help guard its walls. Meanwhile, Persian is plagued by visions of God and martyrs in the clouds calling for Attila's death, and Attila remembers an image his childhood nurse saw in which he died under the shadow of a cross. Though fearful, he continues to disregard the signs. When Marcian reaches Rome, he finds Valentinian leaving, but retains two battalions to add to his own to protect the city. That night, Attila orders the attack, but stops when Pope Leo I arrives to name Rome the temple of God and forsee Attila's downfall, as portended by the lightning strike. Afterward, Attila realizes that Kubra must have told the Pope about the lightning, and, though he is heartbroken, kills her for betraying him. In his sleep that night, he sees a vision of the martyrs marching against him and, crazed, orders the Huns to retreat. Marcian hears and immediately plans to ambush Attila when he reaches the nearest city. The surprise attack demolishes the Huns, who soon fall. Marcian finds Attila and duels with him, but it is Ilduco, who has spent the last months overflowing with rage, who drives the fatal dagger into his chest. As prophesied, Attila dies with the sword's handle forming the shadow of a cross on the ground. Days later, Pulcheria reunites the halfs of the empire and names Marcian emperor, to the delight of the Roman people.

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 23 Dec 1954
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening cast credits end with the following line: "And statesmen, citizens, soldiers of the Armies of the Roman Empire and the fields of Attila." Attila was king of the Huns from 434 to 453. He and his brother Bleda shared dominion until Attila killed Bleda in 445. As depicted in the film, the Huns launched a series of attacks on the Roman Empire, alternating battles with negotiations with, and large payments from, Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II. Attila's advance upon Rome was forestalled by a visit from Pope Leo I, who was said to have impressed Attila with his majesty. Unlike the film's portrayal, however, Theodosius was not ousted from rule but rather died, after which Marcian ruled over only the Eastern Empire and made a merely nominal marriage to Theodosius' sister Pulcheria. In addition, while in the film Marcian kills Attila, the Hun leader died in his sleep prior to a planned attack on Rome.
       In a modern interview, director Douglas Sirk remarked that Jeff Chandler was originally offered the role of Attila, but refused to play a villain. The role subsequently catapulted Jack Palance to greater fame. The November 1954 Hollywood Reporter review mistakenly identifies director of photography Russell Metty as Russell Lawson. Onscreen credits misspell Moroni Olsen's name as "Maroni." According to the Variety and Los Angeles Examiner reviews, the voice of French ballerina Ludmilla Tcherina, who made her American debut in the film, was dubbed because of her thick accent. The December 1954 Los Angeles Times review states that a novel entitled Sign of the Pagan was written from the film's script and published after the picture's release. In a modern source, Sirk called the film "one of my worst," citing the difficulties of shooting simultaneously in CinemaScope and standard format. Allison Hayes made her feature-film debut in the picture.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in England January 10, 1955

Released in United States December 1954

Released in United States Winter December 1954

Began shooting December 1953.

Completed shooting February 1954.

Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Epic: A Monumental Movie Marathon) March 4-21, 1980.

c Technicolor

CinemaScope

Released in United States December 1954

Released in United States Winter December 1954