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SIGN OF THE PAGAN (director: Douglas Sirk; screenwriters: Oscar Brodney/from the story by Oscar Brodney/Barre Lyndon; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Al Clark; music: Hans J. Salter/Frank Skinner; cast: Jeff Chandler (Marcian), Jack Palance (Attila), Ludmilla Tcherina (Princess Pulcheria), Rita Gam (Kubra), Jeff Morrow (Paulinus), George Dolenz (Theodosius), Eduard Franz (Astrologer), Allison Hayes (Ildico, Roman slave wife of Attila), Alexander Scourby (Chrysaphius), Walter Coy (Emperor Valentinian III); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert J. Cohen; Universal Pictures; 1954)
Too uneven, dramatically clumsy, chatty and overblown to satisfy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A muscular fifth-century tale about Attila the Hun’s attempt to destroy the Roman Empire that’s too uneven, dramatically clumsy, chatty and overblown to satisfy. After a promising start it quickly turns crass and forgoes a historical perspective to instead rely on movie magic to do the trick, as studio influence dictated that it follow along the lines of the usual predictable dull epics of the day. Douglas Sirk (“All That Heaven Allows”/”A Scandal in Paris”/”Imitation of Life”) tries to keep it literate and gets in his usual melodramatic hysterical licks against his trapped in a bad situation protagonist, but can’t sabotage the studio’s sabotage efforts. It’s based on the story by Oscar Brodney and written by Barre Lyndon.

It’s set some 1,500 years ago when a weakened Rome was divided by two emperors, Theodosius (George Dolenz) in Constantinople and Valentinian (Walter Coy) in Rome. The barbarians were attacking the empire, only to be bought off by secret treaties forged with Theodosius. The ruthless pagan Attila the Hun (Jack Palance), representing evil, rides down from the north with his long-suffering daughter Kubra (Rita Gam) in tow to unite the barbarians to attack Rome and then Constantinople. Jeff Chandler is Marcian, the good brave Christian centurion captain, later made a general by the smitten sister of Theodosius, Princess Pulcheria (Ludmilla Tcherina, the famous ballerina’s voice was dubbed by an unknown American actress). The stalwart Marcian, Rome’s Christian defender, will fight and defeat Attila’s advancing hordes, someone he knew well since he was earlier his captive. Attila will neurotically blame his defeat on the Christian God. Marcian will rise from the son of a sandal maker to marry Princess Pulcheria and become emperor as the seers prophesized

The technicolor and wide-screen spectacle looks cheap, even though a big-budget went for such things as wardrobe, extras and armor. Palance steals the pic from star Chandler with his sweeping portrayal of a crazed warrior with modern ailments, but the overall acting was nothing to brag about.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”