Last Day [1975]

Fresh off their monumental success with King Kong, producer Merian Cooper and director Ernest Schoedsack teamed again on The Last Days of Pompeii, another big-scale offering with a special-effects emphasis. Nominally based on the Bulwer-Lytton book, the film invents a new storyline much in the spirit of the Cecil B. DeMille religioso-melodrama school. Preston Foster plays a pacifist blacksmith whose life is ruined by fate; he turns his fighting skills to the gladiatorial arena and raises a foster son. A cameo appearance by Jesus Christ affects the boy but not the man, and it all comes a-cropper years later when Mount Vesuvius gets restless outside Pompeii's city limits. Fond childhood memories of the volcano's eruption should be tempered by the fact that the effects (designed by Kong man Willis O'Brien) are limited to the final 20 minutes of the film, and that the preceding 75 minutes are a slow ride indeed. This film's creakiness makes you appreciate how good DeMille was at whipping up entertainment out of historical yarns. One definite bright spot: Basil Rathbone, bringing his equine deliberation to the role of Pontius Pilate. --Robert Horton

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