In Rome in the year 161 A.D. Cato (John Hoyt) from Caesar’s secret police is assigned the task of rounding up Christians for the games in the Coliseum. He is sent off to Syracuse to begin his duties. One of the citizens of Syracuse is a tailor named Androcles (Alan Young). Androcles is a mild man who loves animals. His wife is Megaera (Elsa Lanchester). Megaera is a nag. When the Roman soldiers descend on Syracuse Megaera hustles her husband out the back door. They head for the hills.
While out in the forest they come upon a wild lion. Megaera faints. Androcles notices that the lion has a limp. Looking closer he sees a huge thorn in the lions paw. Being a friend to animals Androcles talks softly to the beast and gently extracts the thorn from its paw. When his wife comes to she runs off into the forest. Androcles and the lion have by now become friends and he names the lion Tommy.
When Roman soldiers come upon Androcles and the lion they believe he is a sorcerer. Androcles is added to the group of Christians being taken to Rome for execution. Among the other Christians are a beautiful woman named Lavinia (Jean Simmons) and a huge man named Ferrovius (Robert Newton). Ferrovius has a violent temper that he barely keeps in check through prayer and is in a constant state of verbal self flagellation for not being able to control his bursts of violence. The whole group is being marched to Rome by Cato and the Captain of the Guard (Victor Mature). The Captain and Lavinia become attracted to each other while on the march. He spends half his time trying to understand Christianity and the other half trying to talk Lavinia out of being a Christian.
Once they get to Rome they send all the Christians into the arena to battle gladiators except Lavinia and Androcles because she is a lady of means and he is reportedly a sorcerer. The rest are just regular Christians. Ferrovius ends up losing his temper and killing six gladiators. Caesar is so impressed he frees the Christians. Still they need at least one to send to the lion since it’s on the schedule. Androcles volunteers. He hesitantly goes out into the arena where he is once again face to face with Tommy.
“Androcles and the Lion” was released in 1952 and was directed by Chester Erskine. It is a sword and sandal film based on the 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw.
It is the American feature film debut for Jean Simmons. The marble bust among the ruins in the opening credits is that of writer George Bernard Shaw.
Stock footage from the RKO film “The Last Days of Pompeii” 1935 was used as shots of the crowds filing into the Coliseum as well as a fifteen-second clip from Cecil B. De Mille's 1932 epic "The Sign Of The Cross".
Harpo Marx was originally signed to play Androcles and had been involved in the first five weeks of shooting. Producer Gabriel Pascal was happy with the results. Howard Hughes on the other hand had seen Alan Young on Television and decided he wanted him for the lead. Harpo was replaced by Young. If Harpo had remained in the film it would have been the first and only speaking role of his career. At least we assume he was going to speak. As of yet I could find no clips of Harpo’s performance before he was replaced and there is no guarantee that any exist.
The lion Tommy was played by Woody Strode. Woody was an American athlete and an actor. He was one of the first black American players in the National Football League. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in “Spartacus” 1960. For a time he was a wrestler and a decathlete. Later he was reported to say that playing the lion in “Androcles” was the toughest job he ever had.
As for the movie, I have serious reservations about it. It is basically a comedy/drama whatever that is supposed to be. I’m not sure the film really knows what it is supposed to be either. Simmons and Mature take their work seriously and it shows on film. Young as Androcles is more of a moron than a comedic actor. There are serious moments and then there are just plain stupid moments such as when Androcles dances with a lion. Literally dances. There were a few humorous moments but for the most part the comedy was juvenile. That’s not necessarily a problem except it is in stark contrast to the serious parts of the film. It made the film seem very discordant. Some of the humor was satirical in nature which did put the film more on the plus side but it’s that damn dancing lion that made my eyes roll.