During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion against foreigners in China, U.S. Marine Major Matt Lewis, aided by British Consul Sir Arthur Robertson, devises a strategy to keep the rebels at bay until an international military relief force arrives.
A knight in the service of a duke goes to a coastal villiage where an earlier attempt to build a defensive castle has failed. He begins to rebuild the duke's authority in the face of the ... See full summary »
Franklin J. Schaffner
Action-packed look at the beginnings of the fall of the Roman Empire. Here is the glory, the greed and grandeur that was Rome. Here is the story of personal lust for power, and the shattering effects of that power's loss. Here is the tale of the plight of a people living on the brink of a political abyss. Written by
FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is one of the last big budgeted Sandal epics of which started in the 1950s (QUO VADIS, THE ROBE) and lasted a good 15 years before dying a quick death. 1964 seems to be the year when the genre died, whether in the big Biblical style or the pulpy Sword & Sandal genre. And it's not surprising FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE failed so miserably. It's not a bad movie. It's a meticulously well mounted film based on a dire script. The actual historical events were too complex to cover in one film, even in a 3 hour film, but the script for FOTRE is so bad that it was almost impossible for anyone to make something palatable out of it.
In the first 45 minutes, we watch Alec Guiness, as Marcus Aurelius, dying. That's it. What a dreary and long start. And then for the next 2 hours we see everyone debating the end of Rome. Again, fun viewing. I love serious movies but the screenplay and direction was ill-conceived here: who wants to watch an old man dying for the first 45 minutes of a 3 hour film, only to be followed by more moaning and groaning? The length of the movie already demanded a lot from viewers and the dour, dark tone of the movie was too much for them to sustain interest. After the first deathly dull 45 minutes, the film never recovered afterwards.
Other things like miscast actors: no one and I mean no one seems to be related. Alec is Sophia's father? Sophia and Christopher Plummer are siblings? Stephen Boyd was a befuddled looking actor. Boyd and Sophia have no chemistry whatsoever. There's a certain amount of predictability to everything, certainly in regards to the James Mason character and what happens with the Barbarians. If a film is predictable in its direction and it's 3 hours long, the film suddenly feels like 5 hours. And as a fan of big scores, the music in FOTRE is not memorable at all and this is during one of the best decades for film scores. All these elements create a film that falls resolutely flat. It's unfortunate because the resources were there. The sets in Rome are stunning and there is one good battle scene. The tone, certainly at the end, is effectively Apocalyptic but it's too little, too late. The passion seen at the end should have been present from the start.
There's no doubt that Ridley Scott was, eh, "inspired" by this film when he made the overrated GLADIATOR. The whole beginning of GLADIATOR is almost a scene by scene copy of the beginning in FOTRE. Though more visually pleasing than the dreary FOTRE, GLADIATOR is kid's stuff compared to the Anthony Mann film. The 1964 film respected the intelligence of its audience while the Russell Crowe flick is mere junk food. Oscar winning junk food that is.
All in all, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is a somewhat fascinating misfire. It could also be called THE FALL OF THE ROMAN INSPIRED MOVIES. It's sad that this film killed the Sword & Sandal genre back in the 1960s.
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