The Last Days of Pompeii, 1908

Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei
R: Luigi Maggi. B: Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton (novel). K: Roberto Omegna, Giovanni Vitrotti. D: Umberto Mozzato, Lydia De Roberti, Luigi Maggi, Ernesto Vaser, Mirra Principi. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio, Torino. It 1908
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino / EYE
Engl. subtitles

“Set in Pompeii, based on the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. A young Greek, Glaucus, falls in love with the beautiful Ione who, together with her brother Apaecides, is under the guardianship of the Egyptian High Priest of Isis, Arbaces. When Glaucus sees the local inn-keeper beating a blind slave-girl, Nydia, he offers to buy her, an act of kindness that causes Nydia to fall in love with him. Arbaces attempts to seduce Ione but Glaucus arrives in time to save her. Arbaces produces a potion causing insanity, which Nydia gives to Glaucus believing it to be a love potion. Arbaces murders Apaedices, who has converted to Christianity and threatens to reveal the fraudulent nature of his religion, and frames Glaucus for the murder. Glaucus is thrown to the lions but, before they can attack him, Vesuvius erupts. During the panic, Arbaces is killed, while Nydia leads Glaucus and Ione to safety. Unable to live without Glaucus, she drowns herself allowing them to live happily together.”

“The first film version was the British short film The Last Days of Pompeii (1900), directed by Walter R. Booth. Eight years later followed Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei/The Last Days of Pompeii (Arturo Ambrosio, Luigi Maggi, 1908). In 1913 followed two more Italian silent film versions, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei/The Last Days of Pompeii (Mario Caserini, 1913), and Jone ovvero gli ultimi giorni di Pompei/Jone or the Last Days of Pompeii (Giovanni Enrico Vidali, Ubaldo Maria Del Colle, 1913).
The first sound version was the Hollywood production The Last Days of Pompeii (Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper, 1935), with Preston Foster and Basil Rathbone. It carried a disclaimer that, although the movie used the novel’s description of Pompei, it did not use its plot or characters. The film was a moderate success on its initial release, but made an overall loss of $237,000.”
Paul van Yperen

“(…) the feature-length Ancient World cinematic epic was born in 1908 when The Last Days of Pompeii was produced in Italy. It was Italy which took the lead in crafting these early epics, directors drawing on the native tradition of staging grand opera but, by shooting on location, constructing massive sets and deploying thousands of extras, establishing the visual parameters of the new cinematic genre. The choice of the early nineteenth century British novel by Bulwer-Lytton, already adapted three times for the stage in England, as the basis of the first great epic underlines the continuity with the existing literary and theatrical tradition. Two new film versions of Lytton’s novel were produced in Italy in 1913 and they were joined in the cinemas by adaption of Sienkiewicz’s ‘Quo vadis’ (1912), Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Salammbo’ (filmed as Salambo, 1914), and Cardinal Wiseman’s ‘Fabiola’, 1916.”
Jeffrey Richards: Hollywood’s Ancient Worlds. A&C Black 2008, p. 25

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