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Intellect

It's Romans vs. Christians in DeMille classic "The Sign of the Cross" April 15 at BYU

Part of Special Collections Motion Picture Archive Film Series

It’s the Romans versus the Christians during the reign of the Emperor Nero when the Special Collections Motion Picture Archive Film Series at Brigham Young University presents a rare showing of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film "The Sign of the Cross" on Friday, April 14, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Harold B. Lee Library.

The film will be introduced by James V. D’Arc, curator of the Motion Picture Archive, where the Cecil B. DeMille Papers are preserved. Doors open at 6:30. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Early arrival is encouraged. Children ages 8 years and older are welcome. No food or drink is permitted in the auditorium.

"The Sign of the Cross" stars Fredric March as Marcus, the Prefect of Rome who falls in love with Mercia, a young Christian maid, played by Elissa Landi. Claudette Colbert appears as Poppaea, wife of Nero (Charles Laughton in his first American film), who is jealous of Marcus’ conquest. As Christians are rounded up by Nero to be fed to the lions in the Coliseum, Marcus’s love for Mercia reaches a crisis point.

DeMille conceived of the film as the final installment of a tryptic--the Giving of the Law dramatized in DeMille’s first version of "The Ten Commandments" (1923); the Interpretation of the Law as seen in "The King of Kings" (1927), and the Preservation of the Law represented in "The Sign of the Cross," which highlighting the sacrifices of Christian converts in remaining true to the Gospel.

Released in the depths of the Great Depression in 1932, "The Sign of the Cross" was one of the year’s biggest moneymakers as it seemed to mirror the necessity of weathering bad times.

"Moviegoers paid with I.O.U.s scribbled on paper that, according to DeMille, were repaid once the Bank Holiday, mandated by Franklin Roosevelt, ended and money once again flowed into bank accounts," said D'Arc.

"The Sign of the Cross" is filled with the action, romance and drama that came to be identified as DeMille-type entertainment: Nero’s burning of Rome, the pagan temptress Poppaea and Christians being fed to the lions. Colbert even bathes in what DeMille claimed was genuine ass’s milk, he said.

The Special Collections Motion Picture Archives Film Series is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Harold B Lee Library and Dennis & Linda Gibson. A complete season schedule is available online at: sc.lib.byu.edu.

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