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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First of all, just for the record, Marcus Aurelius DID want his son
Commodus to be his successor. He elevated his only surviving son to
co-regent shortly before his death. Marcus was not murdered; he died of
natural causes. Secondly, Commodus did not die in a single-handed
combat with an army general. He was drugged and strangled at his diner
"The Fall of the Roman Empire" boasted historian Will Durant as the historical consultant. The historically inaccurate script caused him deep embarrassment. In his history of Rome, "Caesar and Christ," (1944), Durant had already printed the real story.
Outside of that, this 70mm color epic is, as one reviewer put it, "eye Candy." As usual for these types of productions, the behind-the-camera professionals did a splendid job. The movie is breathtaking. Just sit back and enjoy the cinematography, especially of the luscious Sophia Loren. The script isn't half-bad; Christopher Plummer works very hard on the character of Commodus, even though he is too old in the beginning: Commodus was only 19 when he became Emperor.
The producer built an exact replica of the Roman Forum in Spain and it is spectacular; it was afterwards used by historians for research purposes.
I will single out one actor: Finlay Currie. From "Ivanhoe", to "Quo Vadis"; "Ben-Hur" to this film, he always landed a wonderful, commanding and lovely presence to the epic-type of film. Here he is on-screen for far too short a time; luckily, James Mason is around to take up the slack.
It's particularly interesting to compare this movie with Gladiator (2000),
as both take the same historical event as a starting point. While the fight
scenes are more exciting in Gladiator, and while Gladiator is probably the
superior film overall, this film does have three distinct
First of all, the armies and crowds are better here - it's real people and not computer generated icons. Some of the marching scenes were a bit lengthy for my tastes, but the soldiers, the horses, the armor, the swords and spears, all of it, were very authentic and impressive. Second, as the armies look more realistic, so do the sets. We do not see the coliseum in this film, but we do see the palaces, pools, forts and throne rooms. Very exciting. Third, and perhaps most importantly, this film has superior acting. Christopher Plummer is probably the best thing here - his Commodus is at once more dastardly and more likeable than that of Gladiator; again, this means more realistic. James Mason is also in top form, here; for once, he does not play a slippery philanderer.
There is something flawed about this film that I can't quite put my finger on. It does not reach the heights of other 50s and 60s epics such as The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur. Still, it is a dramatic and at times moving film. It does convey the gravity (some might say tragedy) of the Empire's fall and the pax romana that never was.
In the year 180 A.D., the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who led his Roman
legions against the Germanic tribes along the Danube frontier, has been
at war for 17 years and lived under very difficult conditions
Now he invited every governor, every consul and every prince in the whole empire for one particular purpose All responded to his call coming from the deserts of Egypt, from the mountains of Armenia, from the forest of Gaul and the prairies of Spain
Marcus Aurelius greets them as friends, and tells them that in the whole world, only two small frontiers are still hostile to Rome One, here in the north which separates the Roman Empire from those who are called barbarians, the other, in the east of Persia Only on these two borders Rome is finding walls, palisades, forts and hatred But these are not the frontiers he wants He wants and needs human frontiers, the vision of a family of nations
For the great emperor time is short, and there is a decision which he can no longer delay He has sacrificed the love of his son as Commodus will never be his heir His wish is that Livius, the commander of the northern army, should succeed him, and he intends to present him to the leaders of the empire openly as his successor... He has hope that the position and responsibilities would make his son grow up as Commodus is interested only in games and gladiators...
Guiness' ailing Marcus Aurelius had hope that his daughter would not have a marriage without love And he knows better than anyone what a marriage without love can mean But his fears for the empire are reasonable The east is where the danger lies He must make an alliance that will show the whole world what value Rome place on her eastern frontier An alliance with Armenia
Boyd's weary Galius Livius saw suddenly his world has become strange He's not sure where he is He knows only the ways of war He would not know how to make allies out of the barbarians But if he has to choose between being Caesar's heir or Lucilla's love, he chooses her love
Loren's lovely Lucilla makes it hard for her father to take leave of this life She knows that her father loves her, but how could her life mean anything without love? It is out of love that she dared so much
Plummer's slimy Commodus pushes the eastern provinces to rebellion in smashing and destroying everything his father did He makes it clear to his sister that he refused to give her anymore chances to prop against him
Mason's genteel Timonides has been a slave, but he's not accustomed to pain He is a philosopher and he is weak
Ferrer's treacherous Cleander knows that Caesar will accept fruit from him He also knows that his blade carries a deadly poison
Quayle's gladiator Verulus snores, in the moment of truth, a deep family secret
Sharif's king Sohamus hopes for a lovely part of Rome
With a cast of thousands, massive battle sequences, exciting chariot races, brutal hand to hand combat, gorgeous scenery, impressive set design, Anthony Mann's motion picture is a long ride of epic proportions not designed only to entertain but to expose how gold and corruption can undermine the biggest empire the world has ever known
This is one of those gorgeous Ultra Panavision 70 Epics that no current director is capable of making. Seen in pristine form, this film is eye candy of the highest form. Unlike the blurry stupid comic book mess made by the hack scott, this film has a very intelligent script, incomparable sets, historically acurate costuming and a more realistic plot. This film is long by the standards set by the MTV flashcut video generation. It also might lack action for some of the testosterone challenged. If you have an open mind and enough education, you might appreciate the nuances of the Dmitri Tiomkin score, the carefully framed visuals, the retrained performances, the delicately played mood, and the sheer spectacle of it. This is huge piece of filmmaking. It is definitely a must see for the Cinema Literate. Of the films about the ancient world this is one of a very few that capture an environment so richly concieved and beautifully rendered. Production values this detailed are totally unthinkable today. It was filmed in a film format that was the state of the art in its time. It would be nice to see it again, mastered in high def, remixed and restored to its original glory.
The inspiration and source material for GLADIATOR in case you hadn't
noticed. This particular historical romp coming very late in the epic cycle
in the 60's was a masterpiece of script, direction and set construction. You
may have thought the Colosseum in GLADIATOR was impressive - digitised
though it was, but compare it to the jaw-dropping scenes in Commodus' Rome -
and they BUILT those! Ridley Scott used LESS than 50 people in his
Colosseum scenes - every ONE of the thousands of Roman citizens you see, are
there! To film this today with the same realism would cost $600-800,000
perhaps one billion plus!
Other scenes, such as the funeral of Aurelius are simply spinal-tap if you have the slightest understanding of what you are seeing. Most people didn't - leaving the theater (even in the 60's) feeling they'd just sat through a history seminar rather than an entertaining movie. I suppose it comes down to WHAT exactly "entertains" you? Master director Martin Scorcese (an extremely literate man himself) singled this movie out as one to study for those interested in the history of American Film...I wonder why?
Curiously the role of Marcus Aurelius was the highlight (acting wise) of both THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and GLADIATOR. Sir Alec Guinness gave us a totally masterful and benevolent emperor here in just the same way that the late Richard Harris dominated GLADIATOR during his on-screen moments. The film was one to LISTEN to, to reflect on...not too munch popcorn and watch the big men fly! James Mason as Timonides, gave one of his most enduring and touching roles....he was actually injured during that scene with the lance and was unable to film for a few days.
Comments that Boyd was "wooden" and Plummer "over the top," irritate me also. Livius was a noble man of integrity - that's how Boyd portrayed him, these weren't times for off-the-cuff humor. Similarly, evidence exists that Commodus himself was not the "thinking man's choice" of emperor - cruel, vengeful and way left-field of normal! Plummer brought all this out rather well I thought. It doesn't matter a whole lot to me OR Anthony Mann I suppose, what YOU thought about it! Sophia Loren? Not your average "legally blonde" Romanic bimbo either. The epitome of poise and elegance...way too "wooden" for the new millennium!
I believe the FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is right up there with BEN HUR and Stanley Kubrick's SPARTACUS. Most any intelligent and perceptive person would agree! I would happily have watched it for 280 minutes!
I saw another reviewer remark that he regretted the fact that films
like this are not made today. In today's dollars the salaries of all
the name actors who appeared in The Fall of the Roman Empire might
retire the debt of some third world country. Then again, I think that
was part of the message this film was trying to convey.
All roads lead to Rome was certainly a popular saying way back in the day. The legions by 180 have conquered a big chunk of Europe and a lot of Asia Minor, but it's becoming too big to police. Emperor Marcus Aurelius has it in mind that there must be a better way of securing peace than having a big Roman military industrial complex on the empire payroll. Answer, make the outlying provinces all Roman citizens and equalize the distribution of economic goods. Back then all those Roman roads gradually became one way streets.
Unfortunately some folks who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, do in Marcus. He's succeeded by his son Commodus and the film is the story of Commodus who has a more traditional political view and those who want to bring about the ideal world that Marcus Aurelius envisioned.
In a role that cried out for either Kirk Douglas or Charlton Heston, we got Stephen Boyd instead. Boyd in a blonde dye job, just doesn't come across well as the hero Livius. He's so much better as villains in films like The Bravados, Ben-Hur, and Shalako.
But Commodus may very well have been Christopher Plummer's finest performance on screen. The film is not the real story of Commodus's reign, but Plummer does capture the heart and soul of the emperor who ran things from 180 to 192.
Holding up the view of a free and equal world are a couple of classic performances by Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius and James Mason as the Greek slave Timonides who counsels Marcus in his changing world view.
And any film is worth watching with Sophia Loren's pulchritude on prominent display.
I'm no expert in ancient history, but this may have been the first time that someone like Marcus Aurelius took a global view of things other than what I can plunder out of my conquests. What's not told in this story is that Christianity is invisible here. Marcus didn't like them at all, thought they were way too exclusive in THEIR view of things.
Nevertheless The Fall of the Roman Empire and the issues it raises from the ancient world are still being thrashed out today. Hoperfully it will all be resolved in the future.
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.
The movie deals with the great emperor of Rome , Marco Aurelio (Alec
Guinness) , of the dynasty of Antoninos , formed by : Nerva , Trajano ,
Adriano , Antonino Pio , Marco Aurelio and Commodo (Christopher Plummer
though Richard Harris was originally cast and he withdrew because of
artistic differences with the director) . After that , there happens
many riots and coups d'etat until Diocleciano , who imposed peace and
order with the tetrarchy . Being dead Marco Aurelio, succeeded his son
Commodo , a nutty gladiator emperor , he'll take on his sister Drusilla
(Sophia Loren) and Livio (Stephen Boyd replaced Charlton Heston and he
blamed the massive commercial failure for ruining his career) . They'll
have to fight against German barbarians (commanded by John Ireland) and
Persians (ruled by Omar Shariff).
In the picture there are struggles , epic events , a love history and is very interesting , in spite of the fact that the runtime is overlong : two hours and half . Budgeted at about $20 million, this was Paramount's biggest flop of 1964 , its failure cost producer Samuel Bronston his Spanish production facility . Alec Guinness as a stoic and thoughtful philosopher emperor and craving the ¨pax Roman¨ is top-notch . Christopher Plummer's interpretation as the nut-head son is first rate , he was 33 at the time of filming , although his character Commodus became Emperor at the age of 19 , while Stephen Boyd and Sophia Loren are a bit wooden . James Mason as the broody and good Marco Aurelio's adviser is excellent . The film was originally intended to be made after El Cid and to reunite Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren . The set for the Forum Romanum was actually being built when Heston rejected the script but expressed an interest in '55 Days at Peking' instead . Samuel Bronston immediately ordered that the work on the Forum be stopped and the landscaping and foundation work be adapted for the Peking set . After filming, the Peking set was torn down and replaced by the Forum , if you look carefully, both sets share a very similar topography . Colosanti and John Moore production design is breathtaking . Battles staged by Yakima Canutt are incredible and impressive . Scenarios are overwhelming : the Roman Forum , Roman Capitol , the temples...the sets are spellbound . Colorful cinematography by Robert Krasker is awesome , similar to Dimitri Tiomkin's fascinating and romantic musical score . Anthony Mann's direction in his last film is spectacular and outstanding . The motion picture didn't obtain success at the box office , it was a real flop and collapsed Samuel Bronston's empire . Rating : Well worth Watching . Very Good.
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.
This film really should be seen on a big screen, in Panavision. The
spectacle is breathtaking, immensely aided by Robert Krasker's superb
photography, ranging from the misty forests and snowscapes of Northern
Europe to the brilliant sunlit colours of Rome.
But the actors aren't outdone. Alec Guinness and James Mason lend the production a touch of class, whilst Christopher Plummer's dissolute emperor is a splendidly monstrous figure. Watch out too for old Finlay Currie, Magwitch in "Great Expectations", as an aged Senator.
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