Cinema: The New Pictures: Oct. 28, 1935

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Marcus (Preston Foster) becomes a gladiator when the death of his wife and small son for lack of medical attention impresses on him the fact that money has advantages. In short order, he becomes the Joe Louis of Pompeii, adopts the son of an opponent he has killed in the arena, retires from the ring, goes into horse dealing. On a voyage to Judea, he meets both Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. The former brings his small ward out of a coma. The latter puts Marcus in a fair way to make his fortune by a robbery.

Back in Pompeii again, Marcus finds himself on top of the social pile. He has a fine house, a private galley-landing and free seats at the arena, which he supplies with slaves. The only kink in his arrangements is supplied by his young Flavius (John Wood) who, remembering the experience of his childhood, has grown up to be a Christian. Flavius does his best to free slaves condemned to the arena, a capital offense at which the prefect of Pompeii catches him.

The destruction of Pompeii (79 A.D.) rescues Flavius and Marcus from their dilemma. Flavius has just been tossed into the arena when the walls begin to fall. He and a pretty captive girl escape from the slave pit. Poor old Marcus, convinced finally that crime does not pay, sacrifices his life to help them get away in a galley.

As entertainment, The Last Days of Pompeii is exciting, spectacular and ennobling in a matter-of-fact fashion. As an actor's Roman holiday, it is particularly satisfactory for razor-nosed Basil Rathbone. Though deprived of the peg-topped trousers which have so often added to the elegance of his impersonations, he makes his Pontius a brilliant prototype of a world-weary and sardonic early empire politician. The most exciting moment in The Last Days of Pompeii is not the eruption of Vesuvius but a quiet scene on Marcus' front porch when Flavius asks Pontius, back from his procuratorship, whether there was a faith-healer in the province who used to preach the Brotherhood of Man and, if so, what became of him. Says Pontius Pilate: "There was. I crucified him."

It's in the Air (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) is a lowdown, occasionally hilarious comedy about a pair of grafters poaching on the sports world for a living. Jack Benny is a gambler. Ted Healy is his stooge. After a catalog of petty rackets, the story straightens out into the semblance of a plot. Benny is trying to get away from a Federal officer (Nat Pendleton), out to jail him on income tax charges. To elude the detective and arrive at a resort where his estranged wife (Una Merkel) works as tennis instructor, Benny procures an airplane by explaining to a manufacturer that he wants to "find a site for a stratosphere flight."

This situation reaches its climax in the picture's funniest sequence, in the gondola of a balloon. After shedding the Treasury agent in a parachute, Benny tries to maintain a broadcast while coping with a blizzard, a thunderstorm, his stooge's spells of unconsciousness, and his wife's anxiety coming in by radio. Good shot: Healy confronted with evidence that he has paid his hotel bill in a check written in ink which becomes invisible when dry.

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