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Drama - Historic

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Duration3h 8m
RatingsUK: PG, USA: Approved, Spain: A 
Source of storyVery very loosely based on real events as chronciles in the “Decline and Fall” by Edward Gibbon.
DirectorAnthony Mann
Writers/ScriptBen Barzman, Basilio Franchina, Phillip Yordan
StarringSophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guiness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Qualyle, john Ireland, Omar Sharif, Mel Ferrer, Eric Porter, Finlay Currie,  
RatingsIMDb: 6.7 by 88000 people.  Rotten Tomatoes: 100% by 11 reviewers.

Elevator Pitch: Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is campaigning on the northwest frontier of the Roman empire when he names his general Livius as his successor, but before the news can be broadcast some conspirators poison him, and his real son, Commodus inherits the title. The emperor’s elder sister Lucilla, despite the fact that she loves Livius, is married off to the king of a distant vassal empire and as things progress Livius, the commander of the army of the north is tasked with putting down a rebellion led by her. Livius’s army wins and returns to Rome with Lucilla, where he attempts to get Commodus to abdicate. How will it all end.

Content: No sex or nudity. I feel sure there must have been a bit of drinking, but hardly noticeable. The subject nations assemble on the northwest frontier, in extraordinary numbers. Commodus and Livius have a chariot race on a dangerous wooded road, but survive. Conspirators conspire. There are speeches in the senate. Livius’s army fights the barbarians. His army also fights the rebels and the Persians in a vast panorama of horses, chariots, soldiers and swordfights. The peaceful Barbarians are cut down and their villages burnt. Commodus laughs in an evil way a lot. 

A View: This film cost a lot, and made very little. The critic’s view (at the time) could be summarised as “turgid”. Stephen Boyd blamed it for his lack of subsequent success. It seems likely that the intent of the writers and the director to concentrate on major spectacle involving literally thousands of people and many horses was misjudged. Most of these spectacles were a either a bit boring or else confusing. Commodus’s reign was actually much more dramatic. So, this is essentially not a watch unless you are a student of film, because it has its place in movie history. 

Additional info: Most of the film was made in Spain. The forum was, and is, the largest outdoor set ever constructed, built at Las Matas just north of Madrid. 

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels

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