Saturday 25 November 2023

Movie Review: Quo Vadis (1951)

Genre: Historical Epic
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov, Leo Genn
Running Time: 171 minutes

Synopsis: In Rome circa 62 AD, victorious military commander Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) returns from a successful campaign to find Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov) increasingly unstable. Marcus falls in love with the initially reluctant hostage Lygia (Deborah Kerr), and she introduces him to Christian teachings being spread by disciples Paul (Abraham Sofaer) and Peter (Finlay Currie). Marcus' Uncle Petronius (Leo Genn) is within Nero's inner circle, but the Emperor's second wife Poppaea (Patricia Laffan) also exerts influence. When Nero burns Rome for artistic inspiration and then blames the Christians, Marcus and Lygia are caught in the violent consequences.

What Works Well: Massive crowd scenes, lavish sets and costumes, an ambitious scope encompassing Christianity's early days, strong-willed characters, an ardent romance, and a mammoth running time combine to create a grand spectacle. Director Mervyn LeRoy demonstrates agility and control over all the narrative threads and achieves some legendary highlights: the burning of Rome features impressive destruction and large-scale panic, while the scenes of Christians being fed to the lions and burned at the cross are potent and painful. Towering over all the dramatic sprawl is Peter Ustinov's performance as a ridiculous, pathetic, and unforgettable Nero.

What Does Not Work As Well: The opening hour is slow, some of the speechifying is self-consciously solemn, and Robert Taylor only rarely finds the necessary tones.

Conclusion: A fine feast of Hollywoodized history. 

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