"Welcome to Nero's House of Women" greets a concubine to a slave girl, Lygia (Deborah Kerr). Later this self-same greeter reveals that she, too, like Lygia, is really a fellow Christian neophyte. And it's that mixture of tawdry Hollywood sex and a strong Christian message that makes this film an enjoyable "gentiles and gladiators" flick. Marcus Vinicius returns home after conquering the Britons to find that Rome is infected with a crazy new sect called Christians and that his beloved emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov, roly-poly and wicked) has become increasingly wacky. Marcus tries his centurion wiles on Lygia, and she's smitten, but she's also a Christian convert and begs Marcus not to force her to choose between him and her god. The Christians have a tough go of it, with martyrdom in the Coliseum as punishment for belonging to the new religion in town. Though three hours long, director Mervyn LeRoy's film always has something going on. It could help you enjoyably kill any rainy Sunday afternoon. --Keith Simanton
Robert Taylor plays Marcus Vinicius, commander of Rome's 14th Legion and in love with Lygia (Deborah Kerr), a member of the Christian sect accused of undermining Roman values. Peter Ustinov, wrapped in purple-robed petulance, is the all-powerful Nero. The destinies of these three and of the Empire play out in a tale whose visual highlights include the parade of triumphant legions, the burning of Rome and the martyrdom of Christmas before cheering, bread-and-circus throngs.