Quo Vadis? Reviews
Taylor and Kerr are perfectly cast and are thoroughly believable. Taylor, as a conquering Roman general--very wordly at first (before Kerr gets here hooks in him)--is the consummate general, bold, peremptory,pround, brave, a leader;and kerr, the simple Christian whose strong faith eventually captures Taylor.
The lions feasting on Christians at Nero's orders, the burning of Christians, and the spectacular, unrepeatable man v bull scene (how the heck did they convince a stunt man to do that?)--such scenes will never again be allowed to be filmed so realistically--but boy do they add to the film's realism! We are indeed in Rome during Nero's reign.
Ustinov as Nero is superb--a madman whose insane whims are forever captured on film just as they must have been in real life.
This film is--along with The Robe--one of the top ten religious films ever made--a delight to the eyes, and a feast for the brain and heart. Five BIG Stars.--LenSive
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