review for The Last Days of Pompeii on AllMovie

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)
by Craig Butler review

The last moments of The Last Days of Pompeii are thrilling, but the road getting there is long and bumpy. Pompeii is one of those "historical" epics that plays fast and loose with history -- such as moving the destruction of the title city ahead by three or four decades. That wouldn't matter so much if the story surrounding the history were better, but Pompeii feels like a warmed-over Ben-Hur rehash. While the lead character of Marcus could be potentially interesting, saddled as he is with some unattractive traits (e.g., greed, vengeance, etc.), the screenwriters don't really delve deeply -- or with sufficient originality -- into the character. They do somewhat better with Pontius Pilate, helped no doubt by Basil Rathbone's sly performance, but the rest of the characters are mostly made of cardboard. There are one or two action sequences before the climax that also provide diversion, but for the most part Pompeii's screenplay just marks time with filler. When the climactic destruction arrives, Willis O'Brien's special effects make the viewer sit up and take notice. O'Brien's work is not as seamless as modern CGI, but it's still enormously effective. As Marcus, Preston S. Foster goes through the motions with all the right feelings but without any flair or charisma. Rathbone steals any scene he is in, and Louis Calhern has a few decent moments.