The Sign of the Cross (1914)

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Synopsis by Janiss Garza

There's a certain irony about the silent version of Wilson Barrett's religious play. It was made by Famous Players, Adolph Zukor's company, which would later on join forces with producer Jesse Lasky's company. The head director for Lasky (Oscar Apfel notwithstanding) was Cecil B. DeMille, who would make the sound version in 1932 -- his first box office hit in the post-silent era. Of course, in 1914, DeMille hadn't yet realized the box office value of religious spectacles -- he had been directing for only a year and had recently completed The Girl of the Golden West around the time this picture was released. But perhaps it success -- it was a Christmas release, which helped -- gave him some ideas which he filed away for later. William Farnum plays Roman Prefect Marcus Superbus, who lusts after the Christian maiden, Mercia (Rosina Henley). Mercia is one of a group of Christians living in Rome who are being persecuted and tortured. Because he honestly loves Mercia, Marcus turns against Nero (Sheridan Block) and his country. He converts to Christianity and both he and Mercia are thrown to the lions.