Home > Reviews > DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS – Franz Waxman

DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS – Franz Waxman

demetriusandthegladiatorsMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Demetrius and the Gladiators was the sequel to the first CinemaScope picture, “The Robe”. Twentieth Century Fox chief, Darryl F. Zanuck, decided that there was money to be made with the new revolutionary format and so production was already under way as “The Robe” premiered. Of the original cast, Victor Mature (Demetrius), Michael Rennie (Peter), and Jay Robinson (Caligula) returned to reprise their roles and were joined by newcomers Susan Hayward (Messalina) and Debra Paget (Lucia). The story unfolds as a classic tale of faith and personal redemption. Demetrius, the guardian of the Robe of Christ loses his faith when his love Lucia, is ravaged by Roman gladiators and apparently dies. When his fervent prayers fail to revive her he becomes bitter and angry with God. Demetrius abandons his faith and embarks upon a life of violence, indulgence and lust. But when he later discovers that Lucia had not died due to the grace of God he regains his faith and lives to see the day of the emperor Caligula’s death, when the long suffering Praetorian Guard at last turns on him. This sequel outperformed The Robe and was both a commercial and critical success.

Alfred Newman was not available to take on this sequel and so selected Franz Waxman who seemed by all accounts to be at the heights of his powers following successive Oscar wins for Sunset Boulevard (1950) and A Place in the Sun (1951). Waxman, upon accepting the assignment, which marked his first effort in this genre, decided to construct his score using Newman’s original themes as the foundation. This masterstroke correctly established a most welcome continuity of the saga’s soundscape, and provided him with a solid platform from which his music could unfold. Upon listening to this score it quickly becomes apparent of the stylistic contrast between the two composers by virtue of Waxman’s more modernist sensibilities. Before we begin our journey, may I suggest that, to better understand and appreciate the beauty of Waxman’s effort, you first explore my review of The Robe here at MMUK and listen to its music. The first of Newman’s themes used is the Christ Theme, a stirring religioso statement carried by refulgent strings solenne. Given the story’s spiritual narrative, it reprises often. The elegiac Redemption Theme, which is often emoted by solo trumpet, speaks to the transforming and liberating power of love and forgiveness. There is the A Phrase of the original tri-phasic Love Theme carried by tender strings, which inform us of the dead lovers. The Resurrection Theme resonates with a spiritual power and tranquility that is very moving. Lastly, we have Caligula’s Theme, which was originally emoted by Newman as a classic marcia pomposa, but is now transformed by Waxman into multiple renderings that are instead darker, menacing and more sinister. In regards to Waxman’s effort, four original primary themes are provided. First we have Demetrius’ Theme, a major modal horn rich identity emblematic of our hero. Next is the Love Theme, a tender and intimate construct, which speaks to the love of Demetrius and Lucia. Third is Messalina’s Theme, a serpentine, softly-hewn woodwind carried theme, which carries the allure of the seductress. Lastly, there is the Imperial March, a dissonant and menacing marcia bellicoso that is kindred to Caligula’s March, and which supports regal pageantry.

We begin with a reprise of “The Robe’s” dramatic opening with ethereal chorus and refulgent strings as the 20th Century Logo displays. “Prelude”, is a stunning opening cue that displays the final scene of “The Robe” where Caligula condemns Marcellus and Diana to death. It features interplay of several of Newman’s original themes including the Redemption Theme on solo trumpet, the Love Theme on lush strings and the Christ Theme on refulgent strings. At 1:22 a Waxman introduces his triumphant Demetrius Theme on horns nobile as the opening credits roll, leading us powerfully into the next chapter of this tale. A concluding statement of the Christ Theme brings us to the start of the film. At 2:38 we segue into “Night in the Palace”, an unsettling peace carried by pizzicato strings and dissonant horns as Caligula seeks out his uncle Claudius. We conclude on a woodwind carried variant of Caligula’s Theme as he marches through the palace. In ‘’Messalina” Caligula storms into her bedchamber demanding Claudius. A variant of Caligula’s Theme entwines with disquieting woodwinds to emote Messalina’s horror of this maniacal boy king. In “Claudius”, Claudius explains to Caligula who holds a sword to his heart, the Christian concept of eternal life, the key to understanding why they do not fear death. Waxman provides us with masterful interplay of the Christ Theme and Redemption Theme, a martial Caligula’s Theme and ominous horns as Caligula raves at the irony of his absolute power and lack of immortality. The scene concludes atop strings doloroso with Messalina reproaching Claudius for his cowardice.

“The Catacombs” has a subtle beauty and is well conceived. The scene reveals Peter providing an eulogy to Demetrius and his flock of the redemptive power of Christ’s love as he hands Demetrius the Robe of Jesus to safeguard. We open with the dead lovers Love Theme, which unfolds with mournful wordless chorus and strings. The cue culminates atop the Redemption Theme, which Waxman adapts with stirring effect and entwines with a solemn rendering of the Christ Theme. “The Slave Market” reveals Demetrius carrying the Robe to visit his girl, Lucia. We bear witness to a delightful line carried by solo oboe and kindred woodwinds. Waxman introduces his Love Theme, in tender and gentile form. A subtle rendering of the Redemption and Christ Themes is heard as Lucia holds and speaks of the Robe. The intimacy of the moment is shattered in “Roman Police” as soldiers march into the town square. Waxman provides a menacing and militaristic Imperial March to support the scene. As soldiers prepare to search her home for the Robe in “Lucia”, she flees to give Demetrius time to hide it. Frantic flight music carries her diversion.

After Demetrius assaults a Tribune that is manhandling Lucia, he is tried and sentenced to join the ranks of gladiators. As he is oriented to the school in “Claudius and Messalina” the royal couple comes to visit. Waxman emotes their arrival with a grim and dissonant rendering of the Imperial March. In “Wait” Demetrius tries to escape and is captured. He rebuffs a lustful Messalina and asserts that men are not animals to be killed for sport. Seductive strings with sharp horn counters support the encounter and interplay with the Resurrection Theme. She orders him to fight or die in the arena tomorrow for Caligula’s birthday. In “Torch Dancers/ Egyptian Dancers” we see Demetrius eating his final meal. A scheming and diabolical Messalina orders that his friend and defender Glycon be paired to the death with him to make the fight “more sporting”. Waxman creates an exotic dance-like soundscape with ethnic richness that unobtrusively supports the scene.

“Caligula Enters” reveals Caligula leading his entourage to the imperial arena to view his birthday present – gladiatorial death matches. Waxman informs us of his implacable evil with a dark rendering of the Imperial March in all its brutal and horrific glory. In “Gladiator March” the gladiators are brought in to the arena to a heavily percussive, dissonant and dour marcia orrobile, which perfectly emotes the planned macabre spectacle. “The Victors” is a composite cue that was used for multiple scenes; it provides us with pompous fanfare as the musical troupe leaves the arena after Caligula opens the games, and then by announcing Demetrius’ entry into the arena. “After the Fight” unfolds as the aftermath of the brutal contest. Messalina and physicians attend to Demetrius who has lost significant blood fighting three tigers. A subdued rendering of his theme, reflective of his weakened state supports the scene.

In “Messalina at Home”, we see Demetrius brought to her home where Claudius and her query him regarding the location of the Robe, and his faith. Waxman introduces her alluring theme on woodwinds as her efforts at seduction are on full display. Demetrius remains true to himself and Waxman informs of this by a noble statement of his theme. This thematic interplay is very nicely done. “Temptation” is a fragment cue. It reveals Messalina in her bedchamber fully intent on seducing Demetrius who she summons. In the film we are treated to an extended rendering of her theme, which flows in serpentine fashion as she seeks to entice Demetrius and elicit a sexual response. A brief statement of the Redemption Theme plays as Demetrius resists and asserts the tenets of his faith. The cue only offers the scene’s end as harsh strident horn fare sound as Messalina is summoned by Caligula. In “At the Pottery” we see Messalina go to the pottery shop, curious of Lucia’s hold on Demetrius. Her serpentine theme on woodwinds emotes her presence. As she queries Lucia about Demetrius the Love Theme unfolds, providing a stark contrast between the women. At 1:29 we segue into “The Gladiator’s Party” where we see the gladiators celebrating the night before they are to fight in the arena. Waxman uses a wonderful array of instruments to create an exotic dance-like and ethnically rich ambience that succeeds on all counts. “The Kiss” is a fragment cue. In the film it reveals Lucia, who has snuck in with the prostitutes, joining Demetrius before his fight in the arena. As they confess their love Waxman supports the moment with a tender and extended expression of their Love Theme. The cue only features the harsh aftermath as Demetrius believes Lucia has been killed.

“Fanfare for Gladiator’s Entrance” traditional fanfare announces the grand entry of the gladiators and Demetrius in particular who is now in a blood lust against the gladiators whom he believes killed Lucia. “Victory” is a wonderful cue for horn lovers as it provides fanfare for the Demetrius’ astounding victory. “Temple of Isis” reveals Demetrius, who has renounced his faith due to Lucia’s apparent death, alone with Messalina in her temple. He completes his fall from faith by at last responding to her seduction and taking her. Waxman creates an exotic and distinctly modernist temple soundscape replete with wordless female choir from which Messalina’s Theme wanders in serpentine fashion. “Claudius and Caligula” is expressed as a mono source and reveals an increasingly mad Caligula revealing to Claudius, Messalina’s infidelity with Demetrius. Eerie strings and dark woodwinds intone Caligula’s Theme with a palpable and fearful lethality. “Messalina and Demetrius” displays Messalina and Demetrius enjoying a dinner party at her seaside villa. Waxman employs ethnic woodwind rich dance music, which perfectly emotes the exotic and festive ambiance.

“Peter’s Return” is a score highlight and a powerful scene. Peter has returned and his presence unleashes a fiery confrontation from Demetrius who stridently rejects him and his faith. A secondary confrontation with his manservant Glycon crystallizes Demetrius’ inner conflict when this great warrior professes his conversion and regret in supporting Demetrius’ killing rampage in the arena. Dark low register strings emote Demetrius’ rage and are juxtaposed by a high register rendering of a refulgent Redemption Theme – thus reflecting his inner conflict. A diminuendo leads to a dark quotation of his theme as supporting woodwinds doloroso usher in forceful explosions on timpani as Demetrius exits in rage. Wow, this music is perfectly attenuated to the scene and evidence of Waxman’s mastery of his craft. In “Caligula’s Rage” muted trumpets usher in a dark and malignant rendering of Caligula’s Theme, which slowly swells into a horrific statement, thus reflecting his rage at news of city wide desecration of his statues. When Messalina informs him of Peter’s presence in Rome he snaps, threatens to kill every tenth Praetorian Guard and orders Peter and the Robe’s capture by sundown. As Demetrius leads the guards into the city Caligula’s Theme mutates into a horrific marcia dall’inferno.

“Return to Faith” is the film’s pivotal scene and a score highlight. Demetrius demands the Robe from Peter who directs him inside. Demetrius discovers Lucia is alive with the Robe draped over her in bed. Plaintive strings pine their Love Theme as she lies in a trance. Slowly and briefly, the Love Theme blossoms in concert with the Redemption Theme in sublime fashion as Demetrius begs God for her to awaken. Crying, and with his head on her lap/Robe we segue back in time to the crucifixion scene where Demetrius, holding the Robe, hears Christ state “Father Forgive Theme, for they know not what they do.” Ethereal harp and wordless chorus supports the imagery of Calvary. Amidst thunder the music then crescendos into a powerful and transcendent rendering of the Christ Theme as Jesus passes unto death. As Demetrius asks God for forgiveness, Lucia awakens and the Love Theme ascends gloriously. The theme informs us of their restored love as well as his regaining of his faith. Bravo! In “The Dungeon” Caligula’s implacable evil is exposed in all its horror. He takes the Robe that Demetrius has provided, orders a prisoner in the dungeon murdered, dons the Robe and then commands as a god for the dead man to rise. Waxman provides frenetic and dazzling woodwinds with discordant horns to support the crazed Caligula’s descent into the dungeon. A grotesque and discordant Redemption Theme informs us of Caligula’s failure. After Demetrius is condemned to death in “Glycon” Glycon picks up off the floor the discarded Robe and we hear a sad quote of the Christ Theme.

In “Caligula’s Death” Waxman provides a powerhouse of modernist scoring. The Praetorian Guard finally turns on Caligula after his order to murder Demetrius, one of their own. As a spear impales Caligula, dissonant chattering horns burst forth to mark the tyrant’s death. The horn line coalesces into a marcia di trionfo as Claudius is crowned by the Guard and proclaimed Emperor. As we shift to the throne room, solemn horns declare a new reign under Claudius. Mournful woodwinds support Messalina’s public contrition and recommitment to Claudius. This is nicely done. “Gloria” concludes the film in grand fashion as we see Demetrius, Glycon and Peter departing the palace with the Robe. Waxman elevates the moment by joining a triumphant Demetrius Theme in wondrous communion with a choral rendering of the hymn Gloria. This is perfectly conceived!

I must thank Bruce Kimmel, Nick Redman and Kritzerland for a long overdue full digital restoration of Waxman’s Demetrius and the Gladiators. The state-of-the-art audio technology employed provides us an astounding 96k 24bit resolution. Although three cues were degraded beyond their ability to repair (“Kneel to Your God”, “Temptation” and “The Kiss”), and one cue “Claudius and Caligula” could only find a monaural version, the rest of the score is triumph of restoration and a gift for collectors. This effort by Waxman is a classic example of an outstanding Golden Age score. He expertly integrated Newman’s original themes with his own to provide continuity not only to the story telling but the franchise’s soundscape. His more modernist and dissonant sensibilities created a fresh and more edgy expression of the psychology and torrent of emotions expressed in this film. This score provides you with a fine array of marches, fanfare, love themes, seduction and stirring religioso themes. I believe this is an essential score for not only Waxman enthusiasts and lovers of the Golden Age, but also film score collectors in general. I highly recommend it for purchase.

Buy the Demetrius and the Gladiators soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (2:48)
  • Night in the Palace (1:42)
  • Messalina (0:45)
  • Claudius (1:40)
  • The Catacombs (3:09)
  • The Slave Market/Roman Police (2:39)
  • Lucia (0:55)
  • Claudius and Messalina (1:05)
  • Wait (1:26)
  • Torch Dancers/Egyptian Dancers (3:40)
  • Caligula Enters (0:49)
  • Gladiator March (2:07)
  • The Victors (1:23)
  • After the Fight (1:22)
  • Messalina at Home (3:42)
  • Temptation (Excerpt) (0:40)
  • At the Pottery/The Gladiator’s Party (4:30)
  • The Kiss (Excerpt)/Fanfare for Gladiator’s Entrance (1:29)
  • Victory (0:45)
  • Temple of Isis (2:10)
  • Claudius and Caligula (Mono Source) (1:47)
  • Messalina and Demetrius (2:00)
  • Peter’s Return (2:32)
  • Caligula’s Rage (0:56)
  • Return to Faith (4:47)
  • The Dungeon – Glycon (1:39)
  • Caligula’s Death (2:09)
  • Gloria (0:57)
  • Temporary Dance Track [BONUS] (2:18)
  • Temporary Fanfares [BONUS] (1:01)
  • Arena Fanfare [BONUS] (0:22)
  • Caligula’s Death (Unused Percussion) [BONUS] (0:24)
  • Claudius and Caligula (Stereo – Damaged) [BONUS] (1:48)
  • Temptation (excerpt with Sound Effects) [BONUS] (1:12)
  • Gloria (Orchestra Only) [BONUS] (0:53)

Running Time: 63 minutes 12 seconds

Kritzerland KR-20027-6 (1954/2014)

Music composed and conducted by Franz Waxman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell and Leonid Raab. Theme from The Robe by Alfred Newman. Score produced by Franz Waxman. Album produced by Bruce Kimmel and Nick Redman.

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