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on April 4, 2004
"Quo Vadis", based on the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz would have to be near the top of my list of favourite 1950's religious epic productions. Indeed "Epic" is the word to fittingly describe this mammoth MGM production that cost an amazing 7 million dollars to make in 1950 and was the studio's biggest money maker since "Gone With The Wind". It has everything an epic movie lover could desire, the already stated fine literary source, breathtaking sets (no computer generated effects here!), meticulously researched historical costumes, enormous crowds scenes and a stunning recreation of Pagan Rome at it's height. The film boasts an extraordinary cast but towering over all of them is the late Peter Ustinov in his unforgettable performance as the deranged Nero. His interpretation of this infamous Emperor who began the first concentrated persecution of the early Christians is still the visual image for a lot of people, myself included,that first comes to mind when Nero's name is mentioned. Already having been filmed a number of times in the silent era and once again since this 1951 film, this is still the definitive version of the story of the early Christian Church struggling to survive in Nero's Rome after the great fire.
With the advent of television in the early 1950's Hollywood fought back with splashy, lavish productions that could not be matched by the flickering black and white image of television in it's infancy. "Quo Vadis", lent itself perfectly for this purpose and an already shaky MGM put all of it's resources into the filming of this elaborate production. The story centres around cocky Roman soldier Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) who after three years of successful campaigning returns to savour the delights of Nero's Rome. Detained at the villa of a retired Roman general Marcus falls for the simple charms of the general's adapted daughter Lygia (Deborah Kerr) who unbeknown to Marcus is secretly a Christian. Seeing her love for him but not understanding the families belief in the love of a single god and in loving your fellow man despite their background or race Marcus has Lygia taken to Rome and placed in Nero's "House of Women" and seeks to make her is own. Lygia escapes and is taken in by other believers but in the meanwhile Marcus finds himself the focus of the unwelcome and quite dangerous affections of the Empress Poppaea (Patricia Laffan). Meanwhile Nero's meglomania continues to grow and he develops a wild scheme to rebuild Rome to his own glory and secretly sets the city on fire. The backlash from this act however sets Nero to find a scapegoat and thus begins the persecution of the Christian sect that are, to the amazement of the Romans, the disciples of a simple young carpenter from Galilee who was executed for his beliefs. Marcus finds Lygia however both are imprisoned together as Christian believers to become the sport of Nero's festivities in the arena. The appearance of the Apostle Peter who has been called to Rome by Christ's message gives the Christians the strength to endure their ordeals and Marcus and Lygia are married by him just prior to his own matrydom on Vatican Hill. Nero however goes too far in his persecution and the mob turns on him resulting in his fall from power and suicide and the reins of power being taken over by the more level headed General Galba.
While "Quo Vadis", in some areas is not always accurate historically the faults are not glaring ones and it does give a vivid picture of the growth of the early Christian movement and the persecution it endured which of course went on long after Nero's death. First and foremost it is inspiring and dramatic viewing and is the classic example of old style movie making at its most lavish. The film is filled with unforgettable images, for example the huge crowd scenes during Marcus' triumpiant entry into Rome, and the burning of the city by Nero which incredibly was done on both full sized and miniature sets. The cold blooded destruction of the Christians in Nero's Circus of course is probably the most vivid image in the film and is riverting in it's horror and accurate depiction of people being eaten by lions or being used as human torches. These scenes in "Quo Vadis", have I believe never been bettered in depicting the insanity and brutality of Nero and his regime. Performances are uniformily fine here. As the two lovers Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr are just perfect as the two illmatched lovers from different worlds. Finlay Currie does a most inspirational piece of work as Peter and special mention must go to Patricia Laffan who is perfect in a chilling performance as the evil Empress Poppaea. Directed by MGM veteran Mervyn LeRoy, who was responsible for such diverse MGM productions as "Waterloo Bridge", and "Blossoms in the Dust", here he is still just as at home with this super scale type of film and his directoral integrity is evident in every frame of this film. "Quo Vadis", ended up being nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Ustinov.
I always find "Quo Vadis", a moving viewing experience generally around Easter time when my thoughts often go back to the earliest years of my religion. Liking the older style of movie making I can also appreciate the film on its superb technical achievements and massive historical recreation. This however never submerges my appreciation of its very simple message that all people need to love each other despite their differences for the world to be a happier place. Take time soon to view this epic production of "Quo Vadis", you wont regret it.
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on November 26, 2002
Picking up not long after I, CLAUDIUS leaves off, this film puts us in the latter epoch of the rule of Nero. Peter Ustinov's memorable portrayal of the eccentric (and probably downright mad) emperor is how most of us picture him these days. In fact, Ustinov might be the #1 reason people should buy this epic.
The story depicts the plight of the early Christians. It is true that they were persecuted and tormented after Nero blamed them for the great fire of Rome. The film tends to be pro-Christian and anti-Roman, but it does do a good job of presenting a few notable Romans as just and virtuous.
Of course, in this day & age non-Christians are not so prone to feel sympathetic with these early practitioners of the religion. After all, by far & away more Pagans and Muslims were killed by Christians during the Crusades than Christians killed by Pagans / Romans (not to mention all of the Protestants burnt @ the stake by the Catholics). That is even including the genocide under the reign of Diocletion.
That said, there is a broader message that lies in this movie, and that is the tendency towards cruelty and violence that has haunted man since the beginning, religion & politics or not. The film does an agreeable job of detailing this facet of human existence, and it's something that even the greatest cynics can't help but appreciate.
The single best aspect of QUO VADIS? is that it takes us back to ancient Rome. The sets are lavish & spectacular. The representations of the Roman bathing rituals and victorious TRIUMPHS are exceptionally accurate. We also get to observe the likes of the orator Seneca, the apostle Paul, the Praetorian guard leader Tigellinus and the future emperors Nerva and Galba. Wonderfull stuff!
Aside from Ustinov, most of the rest of the acting is stilted. As far as the all-important "screen-presence" goes, Robert Taylor scores a resounding zero. He over-acts his part & displays no dynamic at all. All of his lines come out in almost the exact same tenor, and he tends to talk too fast.
Despite the less-than-stellar acting, I would highly recommend this film to all persons who are even remotely interested in Roman and / or Christian history. Here is a film that will take you on a journey thru the ages and will drop you off @ the Year of Four Emperors.
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on March 22, 2014
They just don't make films on this scale anymore. Even the epic series "Rome" depended on clever use of CGI to 'multiply' mere scores of people into multitudes. And, in the late 40's and early 50's, the surrounding countryside still looked sufficiently untamed to convince one that the legions tramping down the Appian Way really were in the world of 2000 years ago.

I suppose the sticking point, for me, was Nero not only ordering Rome to be burned, but actually playing the lyre while it burned. The truth is that there is no evidence he had anything to do with the fire, and had in fact raced back to the city to try stopping the blaze from destroying the entire city (probably the one decent thing he'd done in his entire life.) Nevertheless, the story was entertaining, and it was quite fun watching Ustinov (in his younger days!) playing the Mad Emperor. Definitely worth watching, just for the lavishness of the costumes and sets, and the sheer spectacle.
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on April 1, 2004
One of the greatest epic movies ever made, Quo Vardis? tells the thrilling story of the formative years of christianity in ancient Rome. Quo Vardis? is an excellent and down right entertaining film.
The now late Peter Ustinov put's in a superb performance as a manic emperor Nero that has to be seen to be believed! Robert Taylor makes a dashing, if thuggish, Roman who falls under the charms of virtuous Deborah Kerr, (who wouldn't!!).
A beautifully told tale based on fact. This is a film that deserves to be on dvd.
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on July 17, 2002
The previews for this movie on the VHS tape tout it as being 12 years in the making, with a cast of 30,000, and promises to be the movie spectacular of a lifetime. Well, 51 years later I'd say it's still pretty spectacular and has aged surprisingly well. I'd never seen it until now, except for bit and pieces here and there, and it's still a pretty impressive movie. The fine performances by Kerr, Ustinov, Genn, Currie, Taylor and many others still resonate, and some of the scenes, such as the burning of Rome, the Coloseum scene with the lions and Christians, still compare to anything that's been done since, and as a result, the movie has lost little of its drama, glitter, and glamour. Despite the almost 3 hours in length, the movie rarely, if ever, seems to drag or get boring. All in all, still a great movie. Big Steve says go see it and (or in this case, rent it or buy it) and don't Bogart the popcorn.
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on April 2, 2002
ENTHRALLING! The film intertwined action, romance, politics, and spirituality to create a historical tale of the time and rule of Nero in Rome. Peter Ustinov's character of Nero was well done at depicting him as a spoiled, insane, blubbering, king. The relationship between Lygia, played by Deborah Kerr, and Marcus, played by Robert Taylor, was a little unbelievable for our current times. Special effects depicting the burning of Rome and martyrdom of Christians was very well done, and at times graphic. The name of the movie, Quo Vadis, means 'Where are you going?" in Latin. This could be a deep spiritual question (quest). Today most people do not know Latin, and if they did this question may escape any deep meaning to our postmodern culture. If it weren't for it's unusual name I believe this film would be in league with The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.
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on March 14, 2000
This is just a wonderful movie. Well filmed and very well acted. For me the movie is worth its price for Peter Ustinov alone. He is simply wonderful. Evil, cowardly, and completely deadly, he steals the show as Nero. The entire movie is very well done, music, sets, acting, all come together in one of the best epics. It is interesting in that there is a great deal of comedy also, not to mention some delightful sarcasm. The story of the Roman General (Robert Taylor) and his love for a slave girl (Deborah Kerr) is the main theme, but it is closely tied in with the begining of Christianity. All of this takes place in Nero's Rome. I have the VHS, and Laser disc versions, I cannot wait for the DVD to be released. Do see this movie, you will not regret it.
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on September 9, 2001
Being a huge fan of epic movies, e.g., Ben-Hur, Cleopatra et al, and this is another one, i.e., Que Vadis?~VHS is an awesoem movie with an excellent script, amazing storyline and dialogue that makes modern movies seem poorly written. The character of Lydgia is well very played by Deborah Kerr and the actor whom plays Nero is awesome. No wonder that people loved this movie back in 1951; they had a good eye for true art and it will be seen as a classic for all time forseeable. Being 170 minutes long one would have thought that it would have been longwinded; however every scene is well choreographed and not a minute is wasted in this stupendous epic.
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on February 5, 2016
A beautifully made film the likes of which we are likely to see again in this age of computerized reboots and endless sequels. The message of redemption is a bit heavy handed at times and Ustinov's Nero seems over the top at times, but that's what makes it a unique gem that overcomes the test of time. The Blu-ray version is worth the wait as this is a movie that is breathtaking in its sets and costumes, and despite it being a British import I had no trouble playing this on a North American player. Highly recommended for the lover of the old Hollywood Studio days and the Biblical style epics.
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on March 12, 2002
In addition to the outrageously wonderful performance of Peter Ustinov as Nero in this film, there is the smoldering and lascivious Patricia Laffan (spelling?) who plays his wife, Poppaea. This movie is worth buying just to watch these two. I particularly remember Poppaea lolling about with a cheetah or leopard or tiger on a chain, uttering insolent remarks and casting lustful glances at Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor). There is much spectacle and wonderful sets.
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