Total Recall: The Rise And Fall Of Rome (In The Movies)

With The Eagle hitting theaters, we present a brief rundown of Roman history in cinema.

History of the World -- Part I

62%

Yeah, we know putting this one in here is cheating a little, but even if it mostly takes place in other eras, History of the World, Part I contains plenty of ancient Rome-inspired laughs -- and besides, you aren't likely to see another movie where Caesar's palace is played by its modern-day Las Vegas counterpart, or where you'll learn about the powerful effects of "Roman Red" marijuana and the true story of the Last Supper. Like most of Mel Brooks' movies, History has its ups and downs, but -- in the words of eFilmCritic's Scott Weinberg -- "It succeeds only in fits and starts, but the bits that do work are hilarious!"

Julius Caesar

100%

Shakespeare's play about the titular dictator received the Joseph L. Mankiewicz treatment with this 1953 Best Picture nominee, starring Louis Calhern (King Lear) in the title role alongside a showy supporting cast that included Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, John Gielgud, James Mason, and Marlon Brando (who received a Best Actor nomination for his efforts). Julius Caesar weighs in at a relatively trim 121 minutes, but that was plenty epic enough for the critics, who showered it with universal praise -- including Geoff Andrew of Time Out, who called it "a remarkably successful stab at Shakespeare."

Monty Python's Life of Brian

96%

Hollywood hasn't turned to the Roman Empire for laughs very often, but that isn't for lack of comedic potential -- as evidenced by this Monty Python classic, which imagines the absurd confusion that might envelop the life of a man born on the same night as (and just a couple of stables away from) Jesus Christ. A vicious satire of organized religion, politics, and bureaucracy, Monty Python's Life of Brian was unquestionably one of the more provocative comedies of the era -- and provoke it did, inspiring public debate, accusations of blasphemy, and a healthy $20 million return on its $4 million budget (largely contributed by George Harrison). But as with most of Python's aggressively silly material, there was a message behind all the goofing around; as Anthony Lane pointed out in his review for the New Yorker, "The Pythons are enlightened jesters, whose scorn is reserved for those who persist in walking in darkness."

Quo Vadis

88%

Offering nearly three hours of sweeping Technicolor drama, this adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1896 novel took viewers all the way back to 64 AD, and the bloody struggle between the Roman government and the burgeoning Christian movement. Pretty high-stakes stuff, and director Mervyn LeRoy (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo) mined it for every last drop of melodrama, aided by a cast that included genre mainstays Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov. Not the most subtle approach, perhaps, but it worked well enough to earn Quo Vadis eight Academy Award nominations -- and critical praise from the likes of the New York Times' Bosley Crowther, who trumpeted, "Here is a staggering combination of cinema brilliance and sheer banality, of visual excitement and verbal boredom, of historical pretentiousness and sex."

Satyricon

77%

By the late 1960s, ancient Rome had been visited by plenty of filmmakers -- but none who viewed it through the distinctive lens of Federico Fellini. Inspired by Petronius' first-century fiction, Fellini's Satyricon blended lusty comedy, violence, historical drama, and anything else he could squeeze into two hours to produce a boldly irreverent international hit that earned the director a Best Director Oscar nomination. "It is so much more ambitious and audacious than most of what we see today that simply as a reckless gesture, it shames these timid times," applauded Roger Ebert, adding, "Films like this are a reminder of how machine-made and limited recent product has become."

Spartacus

96%

No surprises here -- you think "swords and sandals," and Stanley Kubrick's 1960 classic is one of the first films that comes to mind. And for good reason: Every element of Spartacus, from Dalton Trumbo's script to Alex North's score, Kubrick's direction, and a stellar cast that included Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for his work) was assembled with top-shelf ingredients. At over three hours, this tale of a Roman slave rebellion is a certified good old-fashioned Hollywood epic, and it includes one of modern film's most oft-quoted scenes to boot. As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote for the Chicago Reader, "This may be the most literate of all the spectacles set in antiquity."


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for The Eagle.

Finally, for those of you who don't have time to read the works of Edward Gibbon, here's a super-quick history of the Roman Empire:

Comments

What's Hot On RT

Box Office
Box Office

Maze Runner Winds Up At Number One

Author! Author!
Author! Author!

Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip

Everybody Hurts
Everybody Hurts

New Men, Women & Children Trailer

Downtown 81
Downtown 81

New A Most Violent Year Trailer

Find us on:                     
Help | About | Jobs | Critics Submission | Press | API | Licensing | Mobile