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Quo Vadis? Movie Review

marcus peter nero ustinov

1951 – Mervyn LeRoy –

Quo Vadis? enjoyably combines romance, religion, and history with big sets and great masses of extras, including Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. Originally, John Huston planned to direct a version with Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor, but his script never passed muster. The movie was nominated for eight Oscars, but failed to win any.

After three years conquering Britain, Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) returns home to Rome eager to partake in a little pantheistic debauchery. While dining with an old friend and former warrior, his eye catches Lygia (Deborah Kerr), whom he mistakenly assumes is a slave. In reality Lygia, a Christian, is a hostage of Rome and the adopted daughter of the old friend with whom Marcus is dining. Untroubled by such considerations, Marcus arranges with Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov) to have the guardianship of this hostage transferred to him. That Marcus is a pagan doesn't bother Lygia as much as the fact that he is a soldier who has made killing and conquering weaker people his vocation. Despite her misgivings, they fall in love, but Marcus spurns her suggestion that he convert. The two are not reunited until Nero, in the delusional haze that consumes him for the entire story, decides to burn Rome to make room for the new world capital of Neropolis.

Despite the mildly contrived love story between Marcus and Lygia, this is an engrossing and well-rendered story that dramatizes the persecution of Christians in the years immediately following the crucifixion. The film not only manages to combine its many elements smoothly, but it also remains a noteworthy example of a Hollywood story portraying Christians in a positive yet realistic way, neither impossibly pure nor sweetly saccharin.

Peter Ustinov gives an entertaining, over-the-top performance as the Emperor Nero, giving full vent to the Emperor's wimpy, paranoid, impotent side. Robert Taylor is heroic and handsome as Marcus Vinicius, but in a distinctly American fashion, and he seems a little out of place when compared to the classical demeanor of the rest of the cast. Leo Genn also stands out as Petronius. He is wonderfully smooth at the self-protective art of combining truth with flattery in his scenes with Nero. From Nero's approval-hungry style of ruling to the inspirational strength and faith of the Christians as they are led to their slaughter to a few completely unexpected moments of comic relief, Quo Vadis? is a spectacle which aims to entertain. And does.

Cast: Robert Taylor (Marcus Vinicius), Deborah Kerr (Lygia), Leo Genn (Petronius), Peter Ustinov (Nero), Patricia Laffan (Poppaea), Finlay Curtis (Peter), Abraham Sofaer (Paul), Marina Berti (Eunice), Buddy Baer (Ursus), Felix Aylmer (Plautius), Nora Swinburne (Pom-ponia), Ralph Truman (Tigellinus), Norman Wooland (Nerva), Peter Miles (Nazarius), Geoffrey Dunn (Terpnos), Nicholas Hannen (Seneca), D.A. Clarke-Smith (Phaon), Rosalie Crutchley (Acte), John Ruddock (Chilo), Arthur Walge (Croton), Elspeth March (Miriam), Screenwriter: S.N. Behrman, Sonya Levien, John Lee Mahin Cinematographer: William V. Skall, Robert Surtees Composer: Miklos Rozsa Producer: Sam Zimbalist for MGM Running Time: 171 minutes Format: VHS Awards: Academy Awards, 1951: Nominations: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (color), Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Dramatic/Comedy Score, Picture, Supporting Actor (Leo Genn, Peter Ustinov); Golden Globe Awards, 1952: Best Cinematography (color), Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov) Budget: $7M Box Office: $10.5M.

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