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Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

From: Arethusa
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2008
pp. 157-183 | 10.1353/are.2008.0004



Several Hollywood films produced during the Depression years 1932-1935 utilized stereotypical images of Rome and Romans to address and to exploit anxieties precipitated by this economic catastrophe. Of these, two box-office hits, The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Roman Scandals (1933), employ the standard trope of Romans as the decadent oppressors of a virtuous, innocent, but ultimately triumphant people, but each figures its corrupt Romans in ways that spoke differently to Depression audiences. Each film's representation of Rome draws on the genre conventions to which the film belongs, historical epic and comedy. Cecil B. DeMille's "sword and sandal" epic, The Sign of the Cross, focused on the Roman persecution of Christians and offered spectators both an uplifting message of spiritual redemption and vicarious enjoyment of Roman wealth and decadence. By contrast, in Samuel Goldwyn's musical comedy, Roman Scandals, ancient Rome and Depression America mirror each other; renewal and relief result from a cleansing of graft and corruption from the Roman, and hence also the American, political systems.