Returning to Rome after three years in the field, General Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) meets Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and falls in love with her, though as a Christian, she wants nothing to do with a warrior. Though she grew up Roman, the adopted daughter of a retired General, Lygia is technically a hostage of Rome. Marcus gets Emperor Nero (Sir Peter Ustinov) to give her to him for services rendered, but finds himself succumbing gradually to her Christian faith.Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Quo Vadis, based on the late nineteenth century novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, has been filmed many times in many lands for the cinema and for television. It was done as a Broadway play at the turn of the last century. But this is the version that most people remember and talk about.
It's also the first of the big budget sand and scandal epics that the movies made to try and compete with that little home entertainment machine that was popping up in more and more homes. MGM built the magnificent sets the film was done on and sent Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and the whole cast over to Italy to shoot it. Those sets later popped up in Ben-Hur, The Fall of the Roman Empire and dozens of Italian gladiator films. Supposedly somewhere in the cast of thousands both Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren appeared as extras. Spot them if you can.
Another extra was Lia DiLeo and gossip about her and Robert Taylor led to the break up of the Robert Taylor-Barbara Stanwyck marriage.
The story is about Robert Taylor as Marcus Vinicius, Roman soldier and his lust then love for Christian girl Lygia played by Deborah Kerr. Their story is set against the background of the early Christian church in Rome and the persecution of it by the Emperor Nero.
Taylor and Kerr are fine in the leads, but in this case the supporting cast really overshadowed the stars. Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as Petronius were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor of 1951, but lost to Karl Malden in Streetcar Named Desire.
Peter Ustinov got a once in a lifetime part as Nero. It's the kind of role that one can overact outrageously and still convey all the sinister impulses that this villain possessed. Ustinov was compared with Charles Laughton as Nero in The Sign of the Cross and I wouldn't dare say who was better.
My favorite part in this film has always been Leo Genn as Gaius Petronius. He's the only actor in the film who's holding his own with Ustinov. He's a pretty smart guy this Petronius, keeping his place at the court by flattery and guile. It's a bitter pill for him to swallow when after Nero burns Rome, the Rome he loves and has dedicated his life to. He could have prevented it by taking a righteous stand against the tyrant. But instead he played the cynic once too often and decides what he deems to be the only course of action open to him.
Finlay Currie is a strong and hearty, but aged St. Peter. My conception of St. Peter has always been that of Finlay Currie and in his youth that of Howard Keel in The Big Fisherman. Peter's a hands on kind of pastor used to hard work. After all he was a fisherman in his younger days and that certainly is outdoor work.
Whether people are confirmed Christians or not will depend on how they take this film. We all can certainly admire the spectacle and the talent of the players. And nobody questions the atrocities committed by Emperor Nero against the early Christians.
But at one point after Taylor realizes his love for Kerr, he makes what I consider a quite reasonable offer to allow her to continue in her faith and he'll even put up whatever kind of chapel on the house grounds for that purpose. Not so says Kerr, it's going to be all or nothing. That all or nothing attitude today has got a few people upset with organized religion for various reasons. But that's in the distant future from the First Century AD.
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