The second and last of Anthony Mann's historical epics is a smart, handsome spectacle of the decadence, corruption, and intrigue that tears apart the greatest empire the world has seen. The sprawling story spreads itself t... more »hin over a number of characters and stories. At the center are handsome but stiff Stephen Boyd as Livius, the loyal soldier and symbolic son of the aging emperor (Alec Guinness), and Christopher Plummer as Commodus, the corrupt heir to the throne--boyhood friends turned enemies when the latter accedes to the throne and sells out the values of his father for greed and hedonistic pleasures. The three-hour running time is filled out with the tales of Sophia Loren (as the beautiful Lucilla in love with Livius but coveted by greedy Commodus) and a gallery of heroes and villains that includes James Mason, Mel Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, John Ireland, Omar Sharif, and Eric Porter. The film is highlighted with spectacular scenes (a grandiose funeral fit for an emperor, brutal battles in the provinces as the barbarians threaten the empire, and a climactic duel to decide the destiny of Rome), which Mann weaves into the shadowy intrigue of the halls of power. Like his previous epic El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire remains one of the best of the 1960s epics: well written (and largely historically accurate) with strong performances and a consistently elegant style, but it lacks a central core and the magnetic hero of its superior predecessor. --Sean Axmaker« less
"Martin Scorsese once said about THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE that it has the beauty of a lost art. True, Hollywood can never film a film of this grandiose scale (nowadays CGI would replace those hundred of extras, but CGI can never be as good as the real thing) that deals with profound themes, usually considered to be "commercially unnatractive". Still, if cinema is an art form (and the Oscar people pretentiously call themselves Academy of Motion Picture "ART" and Science), then they should sometime try to make a film like that, or at least honour them when they are made, instead of praizing such well-crafted nonsense like GLADIATOR. Hollywood has forgotten its rich history and heritage. What a shame.THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is an intense, powerful drama about corruption of power. Anthony Mann's meticulous, sharp-edged, and in this case extremely cold-blooded direction powerfully points out how the Roman Empire, at the height of its power and glory, started its degradation and eventually will fall apart. That might happen to any kind of powerful society --history has proven so-- , that when a society gets too much power, the power itself becomes the motivation for corruption and destruction. This film is not a shalow fascistic glorification of power that GLADIATOR is, but an inteligent, profound and ultimately tragic analysis of human behavior. Not to say that it is not visually atractive. Mann was always a creator of powerful, eloquent imagery. Simply, he doesn't waiste pictorial beauty as Ridley Scott did in GLADIATOR (or even more in HANNIBAl, for that matters). He is one of those great masters who knows how to amplify a good story with powerful imagery, to show the story even more than telling it with dialogues. So instead of filling a whole picture with post-card-like images, he punctuates strong dramatic monent withe powerful shots--no waste. The film was shot in Ultra Panavision 70, which is an VisitaVision camera with an anamorphic lens attached to it. It was probably the most versitile system among those large format (65mm) system of the 60's. With amazing image clarity, yet one could move the camera almost as freely as in regular 35mm. When somebody like Anthony MANN was gievn such a camera, the result is astonishing (another, arguably better example is EL CID).The irony is that, to portray the corruption of power, one has to show the power itself--in this case a huge number of extras dressed as roman soldiers, The film was hot in spain, and all those extras was furnished by general Franco's fascistic military regime. Franco loved movies, but apparently never realised that the film he helped making was a critical metaphore of what he was, the "ideology" that he stood (or he pretended he did) for.A flawed film, perhaps, but a striking, beautiful piece of filmmaking."
Sweep, Spectacle, and Sophia Loren!
Benjamin J Burgraff | Las Vegas | 02/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"1964's "The Fall of the Roman Empire" was the last of Samuel Bronston's 'epic trilogy', three remarkable films ("Empire", "El Cid", and "55 Days in Peking"), that stand alone in their sheer opulence and spectacle. Sadly, "Empire" would fail at the box office, forcing Bronston to shut down much of his Madrid studio, but he was justifiably proud of the film, nonetheless; it tackled a seemingly impossible subject (the collapse of Imperial Rome) on a grand scale, with intelligence and a surprising compassion. The time frame of the film (the era of Caesars Marcus Aurelius and Commodus) would, in fact, prove so richly dramatic that Ridley Scott would return to it in "Gladiator", which, in many ways copies "Empire" (and would win the 'Best Picture' Oscar, to boot!)
The back story of "Empire" is every bit as remarkable as "El Cid"; this had been a pet project of Bronston's for years, and with the backing of the Spanish government, and brilliant director Anthony Mann on board, he planned it as the follow-up to "El Cid", creating massive sets of both Rome and northern Europe, in Madrid, and locations throughout Spain.
Bronston felt a major male superstar would be needed for the production to 'work', and courted Charlton Heston, so memorable as "El Cid". But Heston felt the story paralleled much of "Ben Hur", and when he was informed that Sophia Loren (who he had not enjoyed working with, in "El Cid") would again be his leading lady, he turned the role down. Bronston, anxious to retain his services, then showed him the script of "55 Days in Peking" (which wouldn't involve Loren), and he expressed interest. Bronston, amazingly, tore down ALL the "Empire" sets, and built 'Peking', to accommodate Heston! "Empire" would be put on hold until "55 Days" was completed.
The delay would result in greater financial difficulties (as the Peking film wasn't the critical and commercial hit "El Cid" had been), as well as other problems. The original choice as Commodus, Richard Harris, did not get along with director Mann, and would be replaced by Christopher Plummer (Harris would eventually portray Marcus Aurelius, in "Gladiator"). Replacing Heston as the lead would be Stephen Boyd (after Kirk Douglas turned down the role). While a very competent actor, Boyd lacked the charisma and star power to attract audiences. The production hit snags in a number of areas, further draining the strained budget. Ultimately, it would have needed to be a blockbuster to recoup the costs...and, sadly, it wasn't.
Still, the film is a joy, in many ways; Alec Guinness, as Aurelius, and James Mason, as a Greek philosopher/ex-slave, are both superb; Sophia Loren is breathtakingly beautiful; Plummer is every bit as good as Commodus as Joaquin Phoenix would be, a generation, later; the battles and Rome sequences are visually stunning; and Dimitri Tiomkin's dazzling score is one of his best.
"Fall of the Roman Empire" has truly grown in stature, over the years, and the Miriam Collection edition, with restored picture and sound, commentaries, and wonderful special features, promises to be a 'must own' for every film buff!"
Before there was Gladiator ...
L. Cabos | planet earth | 02/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"At long last the epic FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is becoming available in the aftermath of the release of EL CID. This was the movie that destroyed Samuel Bronston's studio. Much of the story would later be the basis of GLADIATOR. A terrific cast: Stephen Boyd as Livius, Sophia Loren (was there ever a more beautiful star?) as Lucilla, Christopher Plummer (in a wonderful over the top performance) as Comodus and Sir Alec Guinness as Marcus Arilias. To this add John Ireland, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, James Mason and Mel Ferrer. Colossal sets and set piece battles with thousands of extras that today could only be done by CGI, this is an epic in every sense. A failure at the box office in it's time. The author, John Logan, of the GLADITOR screenplay says he was unaware of this movie when he was hired by Ridley Scott. Perhaps, the stories both use the same chapter in history and real persons. Both have Comodus die in hand to hand combat with the protagonist. Neither is true but never let a little thing like the truth ruin an entertaining film. This appears to be the old roadshow edition with intro and exit music. Films like this, so prevalent in the 1950's until the early 1960's are now a thing of the past. A pity, in their day they really were spectacles in the best sense. Highly enjoyable fare!"
Better than Ridley's Scott's "Gladiator"...
Kenneth M. Pizzi | San Mateo, CA United States | 03/12/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Released one year after "Cleopatra," Anthony Mann's "Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964) is not a great film, but is noteworthy for the quality of the production, the assemblege of a splendid cast, and the fact it truly signified the end of an era in filmmaking.
The film was remade, sort of, as "Gladiator" by Ridley Scott, but it is Mann's film that is far superior cinematically. What is immediately striking about "Fall" is the number of historically accurate sets (over 20 in all) depicting the Roman capital at the time of emperor Marcus Aurelius and Commodus all handcrafted by scores or set designers and craftsmen in Spain long before computer animation was ever heard of.
While critics at the time scoffed at the fact that a film could compress Gibbon's opus into a film over 188 minutes, Mann does succeed in capturing really the "beginning of the end" by depicting the frustrations of a philosophical emperor's (Marcus Aurelius) 20-year reign now in its twilight, filled with small but bitter barbarian battles and frontier wars, who leaves behind a spoiled and twisted son (Commodus) who squanders such ideals and leaves the empire in chaos.
Spending much of his $16 million budgeted for the film on sets (an enormous amount of money circa 1964), we see a vision of Mann's Rome (and the Roman Forum), not only architectually accurate but of tremendous breadth and scope. The Temple of Vesta, the Curia, the Arch of Titus, The Temple of Jupiter, are all rendered with tremendous authenticity. Certainly, a Rome even Nero would be reluctant to burn!
Interior sets are also equally impressive decorated with garlands, frescoes, pools, and columns modelled on the Pompeian style. Like the sets, the costume design, cinematography courtesy of Dimitri Tiomkin, and even the stuntwork (overseen by Yakima Canutt), are all first class. Even noted historian, Will Durant, author of the nine volume opus, "The Story of Civilization," was both a consultant and advisor for the film.
All in all, the film authentically captures all the grandeur and decadance that was Rome, so why only four stars? Perhaps the problem lies with the two leads Livius (Stephen Boyd) and Drusilla (Sophia Loren) with a love story that fails to convice and somewhat drags the principal story down. However, they manage to do what they can with these rather bland roles.
James Mason (Timonides) and Alec Guinness (Marcus Aurelius)are both impressive in their respective roles, and Christopher Plummer, plays a Commodus a bit too refined to be that sinister and half-mad, but it all seems to work apparently well in this film. The final scenes are a subtle reminder that great empires do not fall to outside foreign influences before they first fall from within.
History vs Hollywood
Allen Eaton | Longmont, CO USA | 05/13/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The screenwriter of "Gladiator" claims not to have seen "The Fall of the Roman Empire" before writing the Ridley Scott film. That's odd since both films are bookended exactly the same way. Both open with Emperor Marcus Aurelius deciding that his son Commodus should not be emperor (a decision that leads to his murder). Both end with the fight between Commodus and the army commander within the shields of the Pretorian Guards. As a matter of fact, neither of these events are historically accurate.Marcus Aurelius (according the Edward Gibbon and other historians) dealt the Empire a long-term blow when he broke with tradition by choosing his only surviving son, Commodus, to be his successor, rather than following the tradition of chosing the best man for the job and officially adopting him. To the consternation of his legions, Aurelius never chose a military commander over his own son. When you decide to abandon actual history at the very beginning of your story, the rest falls apart.Secondly, Commodus was murdered by his concubine (who drugged his wine) and a wrestler (who strangled him) in his palace. In fact, it took a few days for everyone in Rome to come to finally believe that he was actually dead. HE WAS NOT KILLED in a single-handed combat with the commander of the army (either Stephen Boyd or Russell Crowe).Third, there is no historical evidence that a group of barbarians were burned alive in the Roman forum, as this 1964 film depects. The screenwriter seems to have simply lost his grip on any sort of reality and went totally "Hollywood." Samuel Bronson (the producer) spared no expence to actually build an exact replica of the Roman Forum (rather than do it digitally as in "Gladiator"), so the scenes shot on this set are truly spectacular. The set (built in Spain) was said to have stood intact for some years, even after Samuel Bronson Productions went bacnkrupt (over this very film). I have no idea if it's still standing.Christopher Plummer is too old to play the actual Commodus, who was only a teenager when he ascended the throne. However, the script actually does justice to the spirit of the historical character of Commodus, and Plummer brings the man to vibrant life. Both Stephen Boyd (as the army commander) and Loren (as Commodus' sister) seem wooden and fail to establish any on- screen chemestry to their love-stared characters, although Loren's legendary beauty is well worth the price of admission.Alec Guiness, James Mason, Anthony Quayle and Mel Ferrer all do an excellent job with their roles, although Omar Sharif has little to do since his scripted character is only one-dimensional.Because of its over-all production values, and an appropriate and moving musical score, this becomes a satisfying, eye-popping, "they don't make them like this anymore" epic. It must be seen in the Widescreen format to do it justice."