Dangerous Mission (1954), one of RKO's inexpensive offerings, came next. Filmed in 3-D on location at Montana's Glacier National Park, it is the account of a sensitive girl (Piper Laurie) who has witnessed a big city murder. She flees west, with the villain (Vincent Price) and a New York policeman (Victor) hot in pursuit. The scenery received the best notices in this celluloid offering, which concluded his RKO obligations. (He had been scheduled to go to RKO for the Dick Powell-directed Split Second (1953), but work on The Glory Brigade prevented the loanout.)
Although he was now the successful owner of a chain of television stores in southern California, Victor was glum over his artistically low-keyed acting career and rented a house for two months at Rancho Santa Fe, California, near San Diego, close to what is considered to be one of the best golf courses in the West. Golfing had developed into a major love of his life when he had been recuperating from a leg injury in which most of the ligaments had been torn. Mature had not been at the rented house for a week when fourteen telephone calls came from Twentieth asking that he return to Hollywood at once to re-assume the role of Demetrius in Frank Ross' sequel to The Robe. A writer for Silver Screen Magazine proclaimed, "Vic galloped back faster than you can say $5,000 a week."
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), also in CinemaScope, began with the final scene from The Robe, showing Burton and Miss Simmons (both unbilled) walking to their martyred deaths. As a prisoner of the Romans, Demetrius is drafted to serve at the school for gladiators, headed by the brutal Strabo (Ernest Borgnine). He is severely abused and kicked about, until he encounters ravishing, titian-haired Messalina (Susan Hayward), the wife of Emperor Claudius (Barry Jones). She takes the sensitive brute to her hide-away villa, where they engage in 1954-style tempestuous abandon. Eventually, Demetrius mends his errant ways, but apparently too soon, for this sequel grossed only $4.25 million in distributors' domestic rentals.
Zanuck was so impressed by the new boxoffice potential of the historical epic, that he lavished a reported five-million-dollar budget on the screen version of Mika Waltari's The Egyptian (1954). To play the title role of Sinuhe, director Michael Curtiz brought in Britain's Edmund Purdom, a comparative newcomer to the screen. It is doubtful whether Marlon Brando, originally cast as Sinuhe (he walked out on the production), could have done much better than Purdom with the ill-conceived role; the Philip Dunne-Case Robinson screenplay told an uneven and drifting story. Much public and private discussion revolved around Zanuck's "discovery," Bella Darvi, who was assigned the pivotal, demanding role of Nefer the Babylonian courtesan, and the fact that Gene Tierney, in a sort of miniature film comeback, was portraying the regal Baketamon. There was also talk that Victor, as Horemheb, lifelong friend of the ruler (Michael Wilding), has "a chance to show his knees again." (New York Post)
Set fourteen centuries before the birth of Christ, the film, despite its eye-catching and gaudy sets, costumes and hordes of extras, "has an almost unavoidable remoteness that prevents the viewer from identifying himself from the characters involved." (New York Herald-Tribune) At heart, the lead characters were not a very engaging lot: starry-eyed Wilding engulfed by his passion for a one-god religious system; spiteful Tierney eager to revenge Purdom's rejection of her by cavorting with virile, opportunistic Mature; Simmons, a pure peasant girl, whose devotion to Purdom almost leads her astray from her religious pursuits (she ends up dying when her religious sect is suppressed); young doctor Purdom who trifles with courtesan Darvi and regal Tierney, but actually loves Simmons; aggrandizing Mature who aims to take the throne away from epileptic Pharoah Wilding; and Peter Ustinov as a scalawag and one-time slave, now a servant of Purdom.
Mature appreciated his stepped-up salary at Fox, but he could hardly take The Egyptian seriously. He jokingly announced that the role of Horemheb was "the greatest switcheroo of my recent career," explaining that in both The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators he was a "man who put God above country," while in The Egyptian he puts "country above God." When not engaged in the film's action sequences--one of the highlights was the Mature-Purdom lion hunting expedition as they careened over the terrain in their chariot--Victor had Riviera golf pro Willie Hunter on the set for some extracurricular sports coaching. In fact, on one Sunday off during the filming of The Egyptian, Mature won the pro-amateur golf championship at the Long Beach municipal golf course.
When The Egyptian produced distributors' domestic rentals of only $4.25 million, Zanuck abandoned plans to film Egypt by Three, which would have continued the exploits of Mature and Tierney on the Egyptian throne.
On loan to MGM, Victor's next film was Betrayed (1954), much of which was filmed on location in Holland. In a rather absurd way, it relates the story of Dutch resistance fighters during the German occupation of 1943, whose leader is known as "The Scarf" (Victor). The London authorities assign a radio operator (brunette Lana Turner) to "The Scarf," to establish closer Allied coordination. "Tell London to go coordinate their cockroaches," he says defiantly. Disguised as a Nazi officer, he takes Lana, who happens to be a former German collaborator, to his headquarters, where he consistently calls her "dear." "If you don't trust anyone, they can never betray you," he informs her before dashing off to visit his mother (Nora Swinburne). He is angered at finding his mama with her head shaved, the price paid for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. When he discovers that she was unjustly charged and punished, he sends word to London, "Tell them I'll fight like I've never fought before," and becomes a spy for the Third Reich. When Lana informs a Dutch intelligence officer (Clark Gable) of the switch in allegiance, he and a guard shoot "The Scarf." Betrayed was as outmoded in its entertainment values as the lack lustre pairing of the once sparkling Turner-Gable love team (which first surfaced in Honky Tonk, MGM, 1941.)
Victor had definitely passed out of his Biblical film phase, but he was still to appear in costume pictures. He was loaned to Universal-International as Chief Crazy Horse (1955). On viewing the product, Bosley Crowther (New York Times) observed, "Mr. Mature stalks grimly and grandly, with his head up and nostrils flanged, looking less like a flesh-and-blood Indian than like one of a cigar-store tribe." A prediction within the Dakota-Sioux tribe was that one of their youths would grow up to become a great chief and win a stunning victory over the ever-expanding white man. Throughout the tale, Crazy Horse believes he is that person, and sure enough, he defeats Yellow Hair Custer at Little Big Horn. Later, he is done in by his own tribesman, Little Big Man (Ray Danton).