Quo Vadis? Reviews
What immediately taints this film, even more so over time, is the fact that it's such a product of its time, having that kind of '50s cheese and melodrama that not only makes the film rather histrionic and conventional at points, but even contradictory to the tone of the era portrayed. It's a rare occurance, but the film will fall so deeply into its overly 1950s tone to where this recreation of early A.D. comes off as inorganic and totally false. Still, an occasional anachronistic tone is the least that you have to worry about when it comes to Mervyn LeRoy's atmosphere, because the real problem with it is that it lacks flare. There's limited oomph and consistency in the tone of the film, rendering it often unengaging and sometimes even tonally repetitive. It's not a dull film, but it is rather dry tonally, which makes almost all of the handful of tropes that most every '50s and '60s epic was guilty of falling into here and there standout and land an additional blow to the compellingness of the film. Still, in the end, the film remains consistently enjoyable - nay - just plain entertaining. It may not always kick you, but it's hard to not be with it until the end, partially thanks to the production designs that keep you coming back for more for every moment you slip from the film.
Speaking of repetition, praise for the production designs on films of this type has gotten to be pretty reduntant, yet worthy, because these films were always so very well-produced, and even this, one of the first big-production epics, was no exception. The tone may not always be faithful to the time, but the film is kept from being consistent in its tonal anachronisms by boasting authentic and sweeping production value. The art direction and production designs restore this lost world with dazzle and scope, and it's all complimented by handsome cinematography that captures both the broadest of sequences and the most intimate of sequences with subtle attractiveness. Of course, this film, surprisingly, isn't as bam-bam-bam as other epics of its type, but is, instead, more drama driven, and clocking in at 171 minutes, it better be a worthy enough story to transcend conventions. Well, sure enough, while Mervyn LeRoy's limp atmosphere setting brings some conventions to the forefront, the film hits with its writing for the most part, particularly when it come to, of all places, dialogue. Sure, the dialogue gets rather cheesy and melodramatic here and there, but on the whole, its consistently snappy and charming, marrying the graceful vocabulary of the lost era the film is set in with a down-to-earth wit that may be used improperly to supplement the anachronistic tone on occasion, but mostly, in fact, supplements the believability of this world, and the performers, or at least the ones that aren't the cheesy Deborah Kerr in the cast, certainly help. I found myself particularly impressed by Peter Ustinov, who's charismatic and layered dance between vain but charming power and dangerous, power-mad monster may not be written to be used to its fullest, but remains one of the compelling aspects about the film, which isn't to say that everyone else (Again, with exception of Kerr) doesn't bring enough charisma to the screen to keep you going through all of the disengaging moments.
In closing, you find yourself looking back through conventions and often disengaging atmospheric missteps, but power on nevertheless and come out the other end rather satisfied by the fine production and handsome photography that compliment the more sweeping moments, while mostly sharp dialogue that finds itself delivered well by a deal of fine charismas within the cast liven up the more intimate moments, thus leaving "Quo Vadis" to stand as a generally entertaining, if not rather compelling portrait on the flaws, prejudice and corruptability of great men during a time that was fragile in the way of humanity.
3/5 - Good
The 1950's and early 1960's was the period of the Biblical epic. The majority of those released have been regarded as some of the greatest films produced in that particular time, especially Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. After Cecil B. DeMille's success of Samson and Delilah (which I intend to watch in the future), Mervyn LeRoy, known for films like Little Caesar, I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and No Time for Sergeants, created the Biblical epic that made Hollywood crazy about the genre, Quo Vadis. The film is not based on a story in The Bible, rather it's based on a book by the same name, but Christianity plays a huge role in this movie, and it also uses Roman history to tell its story, plus the film features two of the disciples from The Bible, Peter and Paul. While the film isn't perfect, Quo Vadis is a solid and well-made epic that's definitely worth your time.
During the reign of Nero (Peter Ustinov) in the Roman Empire, Roman soldier Marcius Vinicius (Robert Taylor) develops a crush on the Christian slave woman Lygia (Deborah Kerr), so much that he wants to marry her, though he's put off by her faith in Christ. Things get more complicated when Nero, in a plot to make Rome his own image, as he believes he's an immortal god, burns down Rome, blames the Christians for it, and goes into persecution territory, feeding some to the lions and crucifying others. Marcus and Lygia have to put on the faith in order to get through the difficult times.
Quo Vadis also stars Leo Genn as Nero's aide Petronius, Patricia Laffan as the Empress, Finlay Currie as the apostle Peter, and Abraham Sofear as the apostle Paul.
The title Quo Vadis is Latin for, "Where are you going?", which refers to a pivotal scene in the film where Peter is walking away from Rome to avoid persecution where The Lord speaks to him, where Peter responds, "Quo Vadis?", to where Jesus replies, "I am going to be crucified again." This scene and others are heavy highlights on this well-made epic.
To start off, the cinematography in wonderful. Shooting it in Technicolor was a very smart decision, as it makes the film that more epic to watch. The film was shot on soundstages in Rome, and while the sets have shown their age, I appreciated how elaborate LeRoy was in making them show its epic feel. There's also some excellent action sequences in this film, such as the burning of Rome and the scenes in the arena where the Christians are fed to the lions and where Deborah Kerr is threatened to be rampaged by an angry bull. These sequences are definitely epic in its own way.
So why didn't I give this film a perfect score and get it over with? Well, a problem I had with Quo Vadis was mostly its script. There are some parts in it where is really weak, especially in some of the more romantic moments of the film, which features some cringe-inducing dialogue. A subplot between Petronius and a Spanish slave was extremely dull and honestly had no part of the film, except their final scene, which I won't give away as it was the one scene with the two that was actually good. While some of the dialogue was atrocious, in other places, the dialogue was excellent, such as Peter's speech in the arena and the speech he gives at an early church service, plus Nero's speeches.
The acting was pretty solid in this epic. Richard Taylor was fine as Marcus. The American accent can be goofy in places, as he's the only one that uses an American accent in this film, but Taylor does good at being convincing as a soldier, especially in the burning of Rome scene. Deborah Kerr is decent at best; she does fine at what her character is, a Christian with strong religious faith, but her romantic scenes with Taylor are lacking in passion, with extremely poor dialogue. Leo Genn is good as Pettronius, though his romantic scenes with his lover are even more dull than Taylor and Kerr's. Though his "final insult" to Nero towards the end of the film is one of the most brilliant scenes in the whole movie. Finlay Currie is excellent as Peter, and does what the character should do. He provides three of the strongest scenes in the movie, the sermon, his speech in the arena, and his encounter with Christ outside of Rome. Abraham Sofaer is convincing as the apostle Paul. But the scene-stealer here is definitely Peter Ustinov as Nero. When are first introduced to him, we see him as a depressed and spoiled ruler. But as the film progresses, he becomes the ruthless, psychotic, and purely evil ruler that we have all read about in the history books. Peter Ustinov plays Nero brilliantly, and it's one of his strongest roles. I love his reaction to the final insult mentioned earlier. So awesome!
No epic is essential without a film score, and Quo Vadis is no exception. The score here is provided by Miklós Rózsa, who would later score the religious epic Ben-Hur. Like in Ben-Hur, Rozsa's score is wonderfully created. What he succeeds the most is the use of popular instruments in the day to make it sound more authentic. His idea pays off well, and the score is definitely a highlight in the film. You can see why Rozsa got the job of scoring Ben-Hur after watching this movie. Rosza is one of the more underrated composers in the business, and this and Ben-Hur were some of the most epic scores back in its time.
The script is definitely weak in places, as it hurts some of the romantic moments in the film, but in the end, Quo Vadis is a solid religious epic, with excellent cinematography, good direction from Mervyn LeRoy, and some good performances, with Peter Ustinov being the most memorable. If this film was never made, I don't think more superior Biblical epics, like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, would have been made.
The thing that I love the most about "old school" epic movies, there wasn't any computer to help anyone to reached that epic scale, so even the production process itself was EPIC.
I will not put any summary on this review. Many already done it before me and most of them are great in summarizing this epic into few paragraphs.
Recommended to: any epic movie lover (surprise, surprise), history movie buff, tragedy enjoyer, religious watcher, love story addict, conspiracy theorist, failed artist (just watch Nero's part), and ALL movie lover in general.
When playing these roles, Robert Taylor orates as if he's on a coliseum stage. He comes off really stiff, a step above Joe Friday or Gerard Butler. Deborah Kerr is beautiful, but her character doesn't have enough to do. She should have been written with a greater sense of independence or female equality.
But this relationship is only part of the story. The most interesting sub-plot of this epic comes while watching Peter Ustinov play Rome's last emperor. A bat-shit insane man-child. He fancies himself a god and the supreme artist. He is quite fantastic. I would actually prefer Peter had gotten the Oscar instead of Karl Malden.
As biblical epics go, this was really great. The technicolor direction, the burning of Rome, the feeding of the Christians to lions. It was all exciting enough to make you lose track of the 3 hours that you're spending. There are over 100 speaking roles, 100 lions and 30,000 extras. It was a great spectacle.
Also starring Leo Genn as Petronius.
But this film remains an epic classic made in Technicolor.