Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). Director: Anthony Mann.

A dying Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness), great Caesar of the Roman empire, must make a choice of who will replace him, and chooses not his son, Commodus (Christopher Plummer), but Commodus' friend, the leader of the Roman army, Livius (Stephen Boyd). Obviously this does not sit well with Commodus, and before you can say "Ben-Hur" -- this film's obvious model -- the two men are caught in a lifelong love-hate rivalry. The emperor's daughter, Lucilla (Sophia Loren), who is in love with Livius and vice versa, is also not happy that she is forced to marry another man, Sohamus (an unrecognizable Omar Sharif). Livius hopes to unite the barbarians who are ill-treated by Rome and periodically try to seize the city, while an uncaring Commodus -- who becomes emperor only due to his father's untimely death -- basically wants to turn everyone in the outlying areas into slaves. Whatever historical accuracy this movie does or does not possess, it is well-made and quite entertaining even if nearly three hours long (with an intermission). It lacks the great story of Ben-Hur, but Mann's direction is good, the pace never flags, and the performances are mostly expert, with Guinness, Boyd, and especially Plummer [Dracula 2000] at the top of their game. Loren is also fine, and there is notable work from James Mason (especially during a harrowing torture scene, although, oddly, he seems to recover from the ordeal much too quickly), Anthony Quayle, Mel Ferrer [Born to be Bad] , and others. Naturally there's a fairly well-done battle between the two major antagonists on the expected chariots, and the climactic duel between the two men in an arena is the film's highlight. There is some stunning scenic design, an excellent score by Dimitri Tiomkin, and some striking widescreen photography by Robert Krasker.

Verdict: Essentially a Roman soap opera, but quite entertaining on that level. ***.


angelman66 said...

Must see this one, finally, this is a genre that I really love but (embarrassed to say it) I have never been a fan of Miss Loren on film. She is gorgeous and I admire her, even read and enjoyed her autobiography (ghostwritten by A.E. Hotchner) but her screen persona for some reason does not appeal to me, I don't know why.

This has such a great cast, though, and your article has got me in the mood for a big soapy epic like this. I will see it now, thanks to you.

William said...

Hope you enjoy it, Chris! As for Loren, I kind of agree with you. I think she's talented but there are a zillion other actresses whose work I enjoy more.