|The grandeur that was Rome courtesy of MGM|
Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) fights for the glory of Rome and its emperor, Nero (Peter Ustinov). He meets a woman named Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and the attraction is instant. Unfortunately, Lygia is a Christian and can't forget Vinicius' cruel soldier ways. Marcus then decides to enact an old Roman law that has Lygia forcibly taken away from her adoptive parents and brought to Nero's harem, where Marcus knows Nero has agreed to make a gift of her for him. But when Nero decides to blame the Christians for the burning of Rome, Marcus must decide on whose side he is really on, and if love will out. You can certainly quibble about certain aspects of Qvo Vadis, but as simple good story-telling and adept movie making, the picture is really a wonder to behold. Robert Surtees' cinematography is excellent, as are the scenic design, costuming, and matte paintings that make Rome seem even larger than it is. Miklos Rozsa also contributed an evocative score. As for the acting, Peter Ustinov gets the highest honors for his fascinating portrait of the petulant and often child-like, highly neurotic Nero. Kerr comes next, with her usual sensitive thesping, and even Robert Taylor, although certainly not on the level of those two, gives a good performance as Marcus. Leo Genn is fine as Marcus' uncle, although he is too perfunctory during his suicide scene. There are other notable performances from Patricia Laffan [Devil Girl from Mars] as Nero's nasty wife, Poppaea; Abraham Sofaer [Captain Sindbad] as Paul; Rosalie Crutchley [Blood from the Mummy's Tomb] as Acte, who loves Nero and runs his harem for him; Marina Berti as Eunice, a slave who adores her master, Marcus' uncle (the two have a moving death scene together); little Peter Miles [Roseanna McCoy] as young Nazarius, whose mother is killed when Rome burns to the ground; among others. Highlights of the well-directed film are the aforementioned burning of Rome; and the horrifying scenes of Christians being fed to the lions. There is a pre-Ben-Hur chariot battle, as well. Historians are still arguing over how accurate the assessments of Nero have been, so this picture must be taken with a grain of salt on that score.
Verdict: Almost as magnificent as Rome itself, and with its flaws as well, but this is splendid movie-making. ****.