What MGM and Mervyn LeRoy did in 1951 for two and a half hours, the Italian cinema did in 60% of the time, tell the tale of the Henryk Sienkiewicz novel Quo Vadis. For those of you who have seen the MGM classic with Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr you'll recognize quite a few scenes and lines.
This is an Italian production with a mostly Italian cast of names the American cinema viewer won't recognize. However it got some financing from the Germans and they got a co-director and a leading man for their contributions.
Unlike the American version where the story concentrates on the romance between centurion Marcus Vinicius and Lygia the Christian girl, this version has the Emperor Nero in the lead. That's a name you'll recognize, Emil Jannings of the German cinema soon to go to America and win the first Oscar for Best Actor.
It's a performance that dominates the film. You'll see bits of what both Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov took, but Jannings makes the role all his own. Laughton was epicene, Ustinov narcissistic, but Jannings is positively mad.
The producer Gabriello D'Annunzio son of Gabriel D'Annunzio, Italian writer and adventurer created sets as opulent as any that D.W. Griffith or Cecil B. DeMille ever created in Hollywood. The Roman orgy scenes were pure DeMilleian. D'Annunzio even got his father's mistress Elena Sangro to play Poppaea, the courtesan Empress.
This silent Quo Vadis stands up well against MGM's Quo Vadis or DeMille's Sign Of The Cross. I recommend you see it to see how Jannings as Nero stacks up against Laughton and Ustinov.
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