Action-packed look at the beginnings of the fall of the Roman Empire. Here is the glory, the greed and grandeur that was Rome. Here is the story of personal lust for power, and the shattering effects of that power's loss. Here is the tale of the plight of a people living on the brink of a political abyss.
Sophia Loren ... Lucilla
Stephen Boyd ... Livius
Alec Guinness ... Marcus Aurelius
James Mason ... Timonides
Christopher Plummer ... Commodus
Anthony Quayle ... Verulus
John Ireland ... Ballomar
Omar Sharif ... Sohamus
All roads lead to Rome was certainly a popular saying way back in the day. The legions by 180 have conquered a big chunk of Europe and a lot of Asia Minor, but it's becoming too big to police. Emperor Marcus Aurelius has it in mind that there must be a better way of securing peace than having a big Roman military industrial complex on the empire payroll. Answer, make the outlying provinces all Roman citizens and equalize the distribution of economic goods. Back then all those Roman roads gradually became one way streets.
Unfortunately some folks who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, do in Marcus. He's succeeded by his son Commodus and the film is the story of Commodus who has a more traditional political view and those who want to bring about the ideal world that Marcus Aurelius envisioned.
In a role that cried out for either Kirk Douglas or Charlton Heston, we got Stephen Boyd instead. Boyd in a blonde dye job, just doesn't come across well as the hero Livius. He's so much better as villains in films like The Bravados, Ben-Hur, and Shalako.
But Commodus may very well have been Christopher Plummer's finest performance on screen. The film is not the real story of Commodus's reign, but Plummer does capture the heart and soul of the emperor who ran things from 180 to 192.
Holding up the view of a free and equal world are a couple of classic performances by Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius and James Mason as the Greek slave Timonides who counsels Marcus in his changing world view.
And any film is worth watching with Sophia Loren's pulchritude on prominent display.
I'm no expert in ancient history, but this may have been the first time that someone like Marcus Aurelius took a global view of things other than what I can plunder out of my conquests. What's not told in this story is that Christianity is invisible here. Marcus didn't like them at all, thought they were way too exclusive in THEIR view of things.
Nevertheless The Fall of the Roman Empire and the issues it raises from the ancient world are still being thrashed out today. Hoperfully it will all be resolved in the future.
* Richard Harris was originally cast as Commodus. He withdrew because of artistic differences with the director. He was replaced by Christopher Plummer.
* Sophia Loren's salary for the film was $1,000,000 becoming the second actress (behind Elizabeth Taylor for Cleopatra (1963)) to receive that amount for a single film.
* At 1312 by 754 ft., the Roman Forum still holds the record as the largest outdoor set ever built for a film.
* Stephen Boyd replaced Charlton Heston
* Budgeted at about $20 million, this was Paramount's biggest flop of 1964. Its failure cost producer Samuel Bronston his Spanish production facility.
* The film was originally intended to be made after El Cid (1961) and to reunite Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. The set for the Forum Romanum was actually being built when Heston rejected the script but expressed an interest in '55 Days at Peking' instead. Samuel Bronston immediately ordered that the work on the Forum be stopped and the landscaping and foundation work be adapted for the Peking set. After filming, the Peking set was torn down and replaced by the Forum. If you look carefully, both sets share a very similar topography.