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The Cecil B. DeMille Collection [5 Discs] [DVD]

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$49.99
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Overview

Special Features

  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

The Crusades
The Holy Wars are given the usual overblown Cecil B. DeMille treatment in The Crusades. It all begins in the 12th-century AD, when Jerusalem falls into the hands of the Saracens, and the Christians are slaughtered or sold into slavery. A holy man known as The Hermit (C. Aubrey Smith) rallies the rulers of England and Europe to launch a Crusade to reclaim Jerusalem in the name of Christianity. Among those embarking upon this massive undertaking is England's King Richard the Lion-Hearted (played as a swaggering roughneck by Henry Wilcoxon), who finances his knights by marrying wealthy French princess Berengaria (Loretta Young) sight unseen. Saladin (Ian Keith), the elegant and well-spoken ruler of the Saracens, attempts to stave off the crusaders by kidnapping Berengaria and holding her hostage. Sensing that he can never win against so formidable a collection of foes, Saladin eventually opens the gates of Jerusalem to all but Richard the Lion-Hearted, with whom he has a personal score to settle. In the film's most memorable scene, the fundamental difference between the boorish Richard and the cultured Saladin is demonstrated when the Saracen ruler delicately cleaves Berengaria's silk scarf in twain with his gleaming sword. It took a great deal of nerve to depict the film's hero as a thuggish brute and the nominal villain as the most sympathetic character in the story, but DeMille gets away with it in The Crusades, and still has time left over to deliver his usual quota of thrills, pageantry, convoluted history and campy dialogue. And yes, that is Ann Sheridan as a Christian captive in the opening scenes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cleopatra
Film historian William K. Everson once observed that the secret to the success of Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 Cleopatra is that DeMille subtly reshaped the known historical events into a contemporary "gold-digger makes good" scenario. Exhibiting the same determination with which Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top in 1933's Baby Face, Queen Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) uses her feminine wiles to become sole ruler of Egypt. By turns kittenish and cold-blooded, Cleopatra wraps such otherwise responsible Roman worthies as Julius Caesar (Warren William, who wittily plays his role like one of his standard ruthless business executives) and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) around her well-manicured little finger. To emphasize the "contemporary" nature of the film, DeMille adds little modernistic touches throughout: The architecture of Egypt and Rome has a distinctly art-deco look; a matron at a social gathering clucks "Poor Calpurnia...well, the wife is always the last to know"; and, after Caesar's funeral, Mark Anthony is chided by an associate for "all that 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' business!" Cleopatra's barge scene and her suicide from the bite of a snake marked two of the most memorable sequences in DeMille's career. Remarkably, for all the enormous sets and elaborate costumes, Cleopatra came in at a budget of $750,000 -- almost $40 million less than the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor remake. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Sign of the Cross
Director Cecil B. DeMille returned to Paramount Pictures for this typically epic production, which became his first box office hit after the close of the silent era. Fredric March stars as Roman Prefect Marcus Superbus, a noble military leader of the year 64 A.D. Emperor Nero (Charles Laughton) has just burned down the city and blamed the conflagration on Christians, which has exacerbated anti-Christian sentiment. Marcus encounters a beautiful young Christian woman, Mercia (Elissa Landi), pleading with soldiers over the arrest of her beloved stepfather Titus (Arthur Hohl). The Prefect intervenes on her behalf, hoping for romance. Mercia rebuffs him, however, so Marcus attempts to humiliate her by sentencing her to live with a lesbian (Joyzelle Joiner), who has even less luck seducing the chaste Mercia. The Empress Poppaea (Claudette Colbert) desires Marcus for her own bed and becomes jealous of Mercia. When Nero orders that Christians are to be fed to the lions in the arena, Poppaea seizes the opportunity to get rid of her romantic rival, though Marcus pleads in vain with Nero to spare her life. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

Four Frightened People
Cecil B. DeMille's least characteristic sound feature, Four Frightened People is a character study about a quartet of castaways whose fates are permanently altered by spectacular circumstances. Four coastal steamer passengers jump ship when a deadly bubonic plague breaks out. They steal a lifeboat and land on a remote Malayan island. The frightened people are a wealthy, married rubber chemist (Herbert Marshall), a mousy schoolteacher (Claudette Colbert, with requisite eyeglasses), a tough news correspondent (William Gargan) and the supercilious wife of a British official (Mary Boland). As the four adapt themselves to the rigors of jungle life, the lady teacher sheds her glasses and becomes more attractive by the day--and is subsequently fought over by the two men in the party. Their native guide (Leo Carrillo) dead, the castaways are captured by hostile Islanders. The newsman dies, the chemist and the teacher are thrust together in peril, and the official's wife becomes the unofficial queen of the island thanks to her diplomatic skills. Upon rescue, the married chemist nobly parts with the schoolteacher, but eventually escapes his loveless marriage and is reunited with his new love--even as her young pupils look on in adolescent fascination. As entertaining as any of DeMille's "big" pictures, Four Frightened People did disappointing business, prompting DeMille to return to historical spectacles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Union Pacific
Cecil B. DeMille takes us back to the 1860s, then rebuilds the first intercontinental railroad in Union Pacific. The real-life spectacle is occasionally interrupted by the fictional adventures of railroad overseer Joel McCrea, postmistress Barbara Stanwyck (with an incredible Irish brogue), and McCrea's best pal Robert Preston. Unfortunately Preston has fallen in with Brian Donlevy, who is dedicated to destroying the Union Pacific railroad on behalf of a crooked political cartel. During an Indian attack, McCrea and Preston fight side by side to save Stanwyck, prompting Preston to turn honest. On the day in 1869 that the "Golden Spike" is to be driven at Promontory Point, Preston is killed saving McCrea from Donlevy's bullets. Union Pacific owes a great deal to John Ford's 1924 film on the same subject, The Iron Horse, even restaging one or two major action sequences from the earlier film. This DeMille spectacular was a big hit with audiences of 1939, who craved a booster shot of flag-waving now and again. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Loretta Young
    Loretta Young - Berengaria
  • Henry Wilcoxon
    Henry Wilcoxon - Richard I the Lionheart
  • Ian Keith
    Ian Keith - Saladin
  • C. Aubrey Smith
    C. Aubrey Smith - The Hermit
  • Katherine de Mille
    Katherine de Mille - Alice of France
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