Quo Vadis? Reviews
Also starring Leo Genn as Petronius.
But this film remains an epic classic made in Technicolor.
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.