The most successful of Joe E. Brown's post-Warner Bros. efforts, The Gladiator finds cavern-mouthed Brown winning a cash prize at a movie theatre, then using his windfall to attend college. The son of a legendary athlete, clumsy Brown is unable to live up to his dad's reputation. Genially batty scientist Lucien Littlefield injects Brown with a strength serum that turns Our Hero into a star football player. When he balks at joining the team, the coach sends pretty June Travis, the girlfriend of campus jock Robert Kent, to flatter Brown into suiting up. At first considering Brown a twerp, Travis grows to genuinely love him, especially after he is publicly humiliated by Kent. The climax finds Brown wrestling against Man Mountain Dean, with virtually everyone at the college betting their bankroll on Brown. Trouble is, the serum begins to wear off at the most inopportune moment. Despite his milquetoast characterization, Joe E. Brown was in fact a champion-level athlete; he used no doubles in the wrestling scenes, and as a result landed in the hospital with a double hernia. The Gladiator is a lighthearted adaptation of the satirical novel by Philip Wylie, which was reportedly also the inspiration for the Superman comic strip. … More
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