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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
the philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness) summons the leaders of the Empire to the northern Frontier. he plans to announce his desire to place his power in the hands of his loyal star general (Boyd), rather than to his wild, unpredictable son Commodus (Plummer). He is killed before doing so and the Empire crumbles under Commodus.
"The Fall of the Roman Empire" was the nail in its genre's coffin. Ponderous, expensive, it bombed and put the swords'n'sandals epic in a coma for a good 34 years, until the arrival of "Gladiator", with which it shares quite a few story similarities. But where Ridley Scott's film is lean and mean, Anthony Mann's is slow, stately and overly in love with its production design. It also has undeniable weaknesses. Stephen Boyd is bland and uninteresting, Sophia Lauren is painfully bad in many scenes, and the haughty tone is often overbearing, as if the film were too important to bother with simple, human emotions (though whenever it does, it fails, as the calamitous romantic scenes prove). It never helps that the music is ghastly beyond words.
This epic does have its supporters, however, and a few very precise elements are the cause of that: the sets are indeed sumptuous, John Mason keeps his dignity and his scenes with Alec Guiness are a pleasure to watch. The hero to worship here is Christopher Plummer. Plummer can do dark and ambitious, but he is unnervingly charming and dangerous as Commodus.
So in fewer words: not a complete waste of your time. A film that could have been better with different actors as its romantic leads.
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