Sunday, October 11, 2015

QUO VADIS (1951)

Based on Henryk Sienkiewicz's bestselling 1896 novel of the the same name, QUO VADIS is a mammoth historical epic set in ancient Rome (around 64 A.D.).  It tells the story of a high-ranking Roman military hero (Robert Taylor) who falls in love with the beautiful Deborah Kerr, the adopted daughter of a retired general.  She also happens to be a Christian.  That's the main story, but while their relationship is entertaining the far more interesting relationship of the film is the one between Peter Ustinov's totally unhinged Emperor Nero and Leo Genn's level-headed Petronius, Nero's most trusted adviser who also happens to despise Nero.  Ustinov is spellbinding as the childlike Nero and Genn does a impressive job of portraying a man who must walk the extremely fine line of not only keeping Nero happy but somehow preventing Nero from doing psychotic stuff non-stop.

I doubt that QUO VADIS is even close to being historically accurate, but I don't care because I was looking to be entertained and QV did a great job of it.  A 171 minute runtime that simply flies by, good acting (especially Ustinov!), strong direction by Mervyn LeRoy, massive crowd scenes, Christianity that's not too heavy-handed, beautiful photography and some of the best matte paintings I've ever seen.  The craftsmanship that it took to get this film to look as good as it does must have been monumental.  It's easy to see how QUO VADIS was the #1 box office draw for 1951 and the main kickstarter for the whole historical epic boom of the 1950's.  Recommended.
Interesting poster that features a "Not Suitable for Children." warning.

This line is interesting because in Mervyn LeRoy's 1931 film LITTLE CAESAR, Edward G. Robinson's final words were "Is this the end of Rico?".