1951 / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #210: Quo Vadis (1951)

Previously I looked at several Biblical epics, such as The Robe and The Ten Commandments, which utilised the use of technicolour to full effect. One film I missed out during that post is Quo Vadis, which just like that films, uses new cinematic techniques to create a vivid story that references parts of The Bible.

Quo Vadis is set in Rome just after the death of Jesus where the Christians are living in private headed up by Apostle Peter and Deborah Kerr’s Lygia. Playing opposite Kerr is Robert Taylor as Marcus Vinicius a returning Roman soldier whose uncle Petronius is one of Nero’s most trusted advisors and who becomes intrigued with Christianity through is infatuation with Lygia. When the slightly crazy Nero, played by the brilliant Peter Ustinov, decides to burn Rome and blame the Christians people start to believe that he has gone loopy while Potronious goes so far as to kill himself. Both Lygia and Marcus are arrested and then are married by Peter before he himself is crucified upside down. Nero’s wife, who has been knocked back by Marcus, decides to teach the couple a lesson by setting Lygia up to be gored by a bull in the coliseum and chaining Marcus up so he has to watch. Eventually Nero is overthrown and has one of his slaves kill him as he is too cowardly to take his own life so the film ends with Lygia and Marcus able to leave Rome as we see Peter’s staff and here his words being spoken to those who are lucky enough to have survived Nero’s tyrannical reign.

Always when writing these reviews I try and think what I will most remember about this film after having watched it and in the case of Quo Vadis there are two points. Firstly the epic scale of it all as this is very similar to a Cecil B Demille picture complete with an entire sequence with Rome burning to the ground and then another scene featuring live animals trying to attract Nero’s prisoners in the coliseum. The other memorable aspect of Quo Vadis is Peter Ustinov’s performance as Nero, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, playing this evil man in quite a child-like manner changing his ideas on a whim and often being manipulated by his devious wife whom he finally cottons onto and kills just before the end scene. It is Ustinov you always look forward to seeing because Robert Taylor is such a wooden actor and you don’t believe for one minute that he is the great Roman soldier in fact he just seems like another beefcake actor while Deborah Kerr here is on poor form possibly being ill-served with a role in which she doesn’t do much than follow other men’s leads. So all in all this is a colourful romp through Ancient Rome which lasts far too long, its running time is almost three hours, but has a great performance from Ustinov. While this isn’t a great film it does highlight a time where film-makers were using techniques to recreate these epic stories so in those terms. Overall I would say that Quo Vadis is an interesting film to watch even if you have to take its historical accuracy with a pinch of salt.


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