AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Androcles and the Lion
Alternate Title: Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion
Director: Chester Erskine (Dir)
Release Date:   9 Jan 1953
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Los Angeles: 30 Oct 1952
Production Date:   early Sep--21 Nov 1951; addl scenes Aug 1952
Duration (in mins):   98
Duration (in feet):   8,788
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Jean Simmons (Lavinia)  
    Victor Mature (Captain)  
    Robert Newton (Ferrovius)  
    Maurice Evans (Antoninus, known as Caesar)  
  and Alan Young (Androcles)  
    Elsa Lanchester (Megaera)  
    Reginald Gardiner (Lentulus)  
    Gene Lockhart (Menagerie keeper)  
    Alan Mowbray (Editor)  
    Noel Willman (Spintho)  
    John Hoyt (Cato)  
    Jim Backus (Centurian)  
    Lowell Gilmore (Metellus)  
    Don Garrett (Officer)  
    Alex Sharp (Officer)  
    John Merton (Officer)  
    Dennis Dengate (Officer)  
    Jack Shea (Officer)  
    Clark Howatt (Officer)  
    Harry Lauter (Officer)  
    Robert Counsell (Bucinator)  
    Lillian Clayes (Old Christian)  
    Larry Johns (Old Christian)  
    Sara Taft (Old Christian)  
    Midge Ware (Christian)  
    Mary MacLaren (Christian)  
    Frank O'Connor (Christian)  
    Millard Sherwood (Christian)  
    Bob Foulk (Soldier)  
    John Pickard (Soldier)  
    Harry Cording (Soldier)  
    Gaylord Pendleton (Soldier)  
    Strother Martin (Soldier)  
    Ray Hyke (Soldier)  
    Jackson Halliday (Soldier)  
    Bobby Rose (Slave)  
    George Sherwood (Guard)  
    William Slack (Guard)  
    John McGuire (Stricken soldier)  
    Woody W. Strode (The lion, Tommy)  
    Chet Marshall (Call boy)  
    Richard Reeves (Secutor)  
    Michael Road (Retiarius)  
    Dick Elliott (Ox cart driver)  
    Charles Hall (Town crier)  
    Larry McGrath (Vendro)  
    Clint Dorrington (Officer in forest)  
    Stubby Krueger (Officer in forest)  

Summary: In Rome, during the reign of Antoninus, known as Caesar, Cato, the head of the secret police, conveys orders to the army to capture one hundred Christians per week for sacrifice at the imperial circus. When soldiers arrive in Syracuse, Androcles, a meek Christian tailor, and his shrewish wife Megaera abandon their home to avoid arrest. While fleeing through a forest, Androcles and Megaera encounter a lion, whose roar causes Megaera to faint with terror. The animal-loving Androcles, however, notices that the lion has a large thorn stuck in its paw and gently removes it. Androcles and the grateful lion, whom Androcles names Tommy, are cuddling and playing with each other when two soldiers approach and recognize Androcles. A revived Megaera escapes into the woods, but Androcles is captured and labeled a sorcerer because of his seemingly unnatural rapport with the lion. Later, Cato warns a captain who is escorting Androcles and other Christians to Rome to maintain a tight reign on his prisoners, as they are known to be effective persuaders. When the Captain notices the beautiful, devout Lavinia tending to a wound on one of his soldiers, he dutifully reprimands her, even though he is attracted to her. Lavinia, who has befriended Androcles, laughs at the Captain's threats, pointing out that either way, she is doomed. Soon after, a wagon topples onto a soldier, pinning his leg. Without hesitation, the chained prisoner Ferrovius uses his great strength to lift the wagon. In gratitude, the Captain orders Ferrovius' chains removed, ignoring warnings about his ferocious temper and uncanny ability to convert people. While camped that night, the Captain flirts with Lavinia and offers to save her, but she resists his help. When the hymn-singing group arrives in Rome, Lentulus, one of Caesar's supporters, decides to test the Christian philosophy by slapping Ferrovius' face to see if he will "turn the other cheek." Ferrovius controls his anger, but insists on performing the same test on Lentulus. Preaching wildly, Ferrovius hits Lentulus, who is too terrified to strike back and faints. The prisoners then are escorted to the Colosseum, where the men are to battle Roman gladiators and the women are to be devoured by lions. At Caesar's palace, meanwhile, the emperor discusses the Christian problem with Editor, the circus' overseer. Although Editor complains that the Christian sacrifices ruin the circus, Caesar declares that it is his destiny to make martyrs of the zealots. Caesar then informs the traitorous Spintho, a crony who has secretly converted to Christianity while stealing from the Roman temples, that his "sickness" will soon be cured. Spintho is arrested and thrown in with the other Christians at the Colosseum. On the eve of their circus appearance, Ferrovius wonders if he can be "faithful till the end," while Lavinia reasserts her faith and once again declines the Captain's offer of help. Confident in the promise of the hereafter, Lavinia and Androcles both refuse to burn incense at goddess Diana's temple, a symbolic act that would save their lives. The cowardly Spintho, however, runs to the temple to denounce Christianity, but is eaten by a lion instead. When the circus finally begins, Ferrovius grabs a sword and, in front of the blood-thirsty crowd, fights the gladiators. While Ferrovius downs man after man, the Captain makes a final plea to Lavinia, begging her to marry him. Noting that she is not dying for her religion but for something greater, Lavinia turns down the Captain. Caesar is so impressed by Ferrovius' fortitude that he declares that all of his subjects should convert to Christianity and orders that only one prisoner be thrown to the lions. Because of his reputation as a sorcerer, Androcles is selected, but to the surprise of the crowd, the lion, Tommy, recognizes Androcles and starts to dance with him. Caesar corners the pair inside the arena, and Androcles shows the emperor how to befriend the lion. Once Caesar has Tommy in an embrace, he calls to the others and announces that he has "tamed" the lion. Ferrovius then accepts a position as an imperial guard, while Lavinia and the Captain look forward to a happy future together. Granted their freedom, Androcles and Tommy stroll merrily away. 

Production Company: G. P. Productions, Inc.  
  RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Chester Erskine (Dir)
  Nicholas Ray (Dir of addl scenes)
  Lloyd Richards (Asst dir)
Producer: Gabriel Pascal (Pres)
  Gabriel Pascal (Prod)
  Lewis J. Rachmil (Assoc prod)
Writer: Chester Erskine (Scr adpt)
  Ken Englund (Scr adpt)
  Noël Langley (Scr adpt)
Photography: Harry Stradling (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Harry Horner (Prod des)
  Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Charles F. Pyke (Art dir)
Film Editor: Roland Gross (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Al Orenbach (Set dec)
Costumes: Emile Santiago (Cost)
Music: Frederick Hollander (Mus)
  C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
Sound: John Cass (Sd)
  Clem Portman (Sd)
Special Effects: Linwood Dunn (Spec photog eff)
  Dick Henschel (Spec eff)
Make Up: Mel Berns (Makeup artist)
  Larry Germain (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Aldo Tomassini Barbarossa (Tech adv)
  Edward Killy (Prod mgr)
  Jus Addiss (Dial dir)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "Onward Christian Soldiers," music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, lyrics by Sabine Baring-Gould.
Composer: Sabine Baring-Gould
  Sir Arthur Sullivan
Source Text: Based on the play Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw (Berlin, 25 Nov 1912), which was based on a fable by Aulus Gellius in Attic Nights (ca. 150 A.D.).
Authors: Aulus Gellius
  George Bernard Shaw

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 30/10/1952 dd/mm/yyyy LP2176

PCA NO: 15147
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  b&w:

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Christianity
  Faith
  Lions
  Officers (Military)
  Religious persecution
  Rome--Ancient history
 
Subjects (Minor): Coloseum (Rome)
  Conversion (Religious)
  Gladiators
  Gratitude
  Henpecked husbands
  Human sacrifice
  Hymns
  Proposals (Marital)
  Romance
  Shrews
  Soldiers
  Tailors
  Temper
  Tests of character
  Traitors
  Wounds and injuries

Note: The onscreen title card reads: "Gabriel Pascal presents Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion ." Although Shaw's play is set in 150 A.D., during the reign of Antoninus Pious, the film is set in 161 A.D., "during the reign of Antoninus," the year that Antoninus Pious died and was succeeded by his nephew, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Marcus Aurelius. It is not clear which Antoninus is depicted in the film. According to biographical sources, in the mid-1930s, British dramatist George Bernard Shaw entrusted producer-director Gabriel Pascal with the filming of his plays. Prior to making Androcles and the Lion , Pascal had brought three other Shaw plays to the screen-- Pygmalion (1939), Major Barbara (1941) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)--all shot in England. Shaw died in 1950, before filming on Androcles and the Lion had started.
       As noted by a Jul 1951 NYT item, "in the closing years of the playwright's life, Mr. Pascal says he succeeded in convincing him to provide supplementary dialogue and changes in plot construction which would make his plays more appropriate to the pictorial medium." After Shaw's death, however, Shaw's trustees decreed that no more than ten percent of his original text could be altered for the screen. Because the stage version of Androcles and Lion was only two acts, Pascal felt compelled to lengthen the piece and therefore had to secure permission from the trustees to change twenty-five percent of the text, according to an Oct 1951 Time article. As noted by Time , Pascal expanded the play with "lines borrowed from Shaw's own preface." Reviews state that other changes included the addition of the character "Cato," who was not in the play. The Time article also claims that the terms of Shaw's will required that he be billed onscreen as "Bernard Shaw," not "George Bernard Shaw," as he was known in the theatrical world.
       In Nov 1949, HR announced that Pascal had halted plans to co-direct Androcles and the Lion with production designer Harry Horner because of financial troubles. According to a Dec 1949 HR item, Pascal then went to Mexico City to put together a deal to shoot the story in Mexico, with Deborah Kerr, who had appeared in a similar role in M-G-M's Quo Vadis , in the lead. In Jan 1951, after RKO became involved in the project, HR reported that Pascal had been considering English star Rex Harrison for one of the lead roles. Principal photography began on 9 Feb 1951, with H. C. Potter directing. James Donald was cast opposite Jean Simmons, who made her American screen debut in the picture, and George Sanders was cast as "Caesar." Frank Planer was Potter's director of photography, Ralph Dawson his editor, and Frank Sarver his sound man. Although HR announced on 2 Feb 1951 that RKO was negotiating with Paramount to borrow television star Alan Young for the role of "Androcles," the part had yet to be cast by the start of principal photography.
       After three days of shooting, filming on the production was halted. According to a 5 Feb 1951 HR item, Simmons' contract with RKO stipulated that photography would stop after one day, followed by a rehearsal period. During the shut-down, Potter left the production. According to a 15 Feb 1951 HR item, RKO issued no official explanation for his departure, but noted that he had been reassigned to another production, High Frontier , a project that was never made. Potter did not direct another film until the 1955 Columbia release Three for the Show (see entry below). On 16 Feb 1951, HR reported that Nicholas Ray was taking over as director; however, Chester Erskine, who co-wrote the screen adaptation, eventually got the job.
       Following Potter's exit, production on Androcles and the Lion shut down for almost seven months. Early Mar 1951 HR items claim that the delay was due to RKO head Howard Hughes's difficulty in casting "Androcles." However, Young was officially cast in mid-Mar 1951, according to HR . Because of the delay, both Donald and Sanders had to be replaced. Various actors were considered for leading roles, including José Ferrer, Eddie Bracken, Harpo Marx and Barry Fitzgerald. LAEx announced on 5 Mar 1951 that Charles Chaplin had lunched with Hughes to discuss the possibility of being cast in the picture. In mid-Jun 1951, Victor Mature was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the role of "Captain." Sir Cedric Hardwicke was cast in the picture in late Jul 1951 but did not appear in the final film. According to a Jul 1951 NYT item, Angela Lansbury snagged the role of "Megaera," the part played by Elsa Lanchester. Charles Irwin, who was cast as "Centurian" and appears in HR production charts in Sep 1951, was eventually replaced by Jim Backus.
       he following actors were announced as cast members in HR : Bobette Bentley, Margaret Farrell, Jean Ransome, Carol Brooks, Beth Hartman, Josephine Parra and Doris Barton. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a mid-Sep 1951 HR news item, Blythe Barrymore, "the daughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello," was to make her screen debut in the picture. Barrymore and Costello did not have a daughter named Blythe, but it is possible that the news item refers to Dolores Ethel Barrymore, who would have been twenty-one at the time of the production. Her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
       In Aug 1952, Nicholas Ray was brought in to direct an added "Vestal Virgin" bathing scene. As noted in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen strongly objected to the scene and cautioned that the picture might be deemed unacceptable if it were used. The final film includes only a few, brief shots of the Vestal Virgins. Prior to principal photography, Breen advised Pascal to submit the script to Monsignor John J. Devlin, whom filmmakers often used as a technical advisor, for approval. In a 25 Sep 1951 letter to Pascal, Devlin stated that the film was generally acceptable, but suggested that a "short foreword to the effect that any resemblance to the lives of early Christian Martyrs is purely coincidental." No such foreword was used in the film, however. Although HR stated that Leigh Harline had been assigned to write the film's score, Frederick Hollander is credited onscreen with the score. According to a 14 Oct 1952 DV item, the film's world premiere in Los Angeles was booked suddenly to comply with a stipulation of the Shaw estate that the film be screened publicly by 30 Oct 1951.
       On 14 Oct 1956, as part of its Omnibus series, the ABC television network broadcast a production of Shaw's play, starring Bert Lahr. The NBC network broadcast a musical adaptation of the play, with songs by Richard Rodgers, on 27 Nov 1967. Joe Layton directed Noël Coward, Norman Wisdom and Ed Ames in the musical version, which was also titled Androcles and the Lion

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   8 Nov 1952.   
Daily Variety   14 Oct 52   p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety   29 Oct 52   p. 3.
Film Daily   29 Oct 52   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Nov 1949.   
Hollywood Reporter   8 Dec 1949.   
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jan 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 51   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Feb 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Feb 51   p. 2, 7.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 51   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Feb 51   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Feb 51   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Feb 51   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Feb 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Feb 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Mar 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Mar 51   p. 1, 8.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Mar 51   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Mar 51   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jun 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jul 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Aug 51   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Sep 51   p. 11, 16.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Sep 51   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Oct 51   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Oct 51   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Nov 51   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Nov 51   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Nov 51   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Oct 52   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   5 Mar 1951.   
Los Angeles Examiner   31 Oct 1952.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   22 Nov 52   p. 1614.
New York Times   15 Jul 1951.   
New York Times   15 Jan 52   p. 23.
Time   15 Oct 1951.   
Time   12 Jan 1953.   
Variety   29 Oct 1952.   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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