THREE YEARS IN THE MAKING! THOUSANDS IN THE CAST! FILMED IN ROME!
Thirty years after the crucifixion of Christ, when Rome is in turmoil because of the hated Nero (Peter Ustinov), a general (Robert Taylor) falls in love with a Christian girl (Deborah Kerr). This juicy Technicolor epic is a predecessor to the historic spectacles of the 1950s and ’60s; the sets and costumes are lavish, it was filmed in Rome and the story goes on forever. Detailing how Nero came to persecute the Christian cult, this is a highly religious film that effectively pits the decay and madness of the Roman empire against the purity of Peter, Paul and their followers. Has its silly moments, but the music is ambitious and Ustinov entertaining as the inept, insane Emperor.
1951-U.S. 171 min. Color. Produced by Sam Zimbalist. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Screenplay: S.N. Behrman, Sonya Levien, John Lee Mahin. Novel: Henryk Sienkiewicz. Cinematography: Robert Surtees, William V. Skall. Music: Miklos Rozsa. Editing: Ralph E. Winters. Cast: Robert Taylor (Marcus Vinicius), Deborah Kerr (Lydia), Peter Ustinov (Nero), Leo Genn, Patricia Laffan, Finlay Currie. Narrated by Walter Pidgeon.
Trivia: Rozsa based his score on contemporary music. Elizabeth Taylor and Gregory Peck were originally cast as Marcus and Lydia; Audrey Hepburn was also allegedly considered for a part and John Huston for directing duties. Remade for Italian TV in 1985 and as a Polish feature in 2001.
Golden Globes: Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov), Cinematography.
Last word: “Mervin LeRoy’s only comment on the part, before we actually started […] was, ‘The way I see Nero, he’s the kinda guy plays with himself nights’. [Laughter] So I remember thinking that it was rather absurd, but then now, I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the profoundest thing ever said about Nero. [Laughter] Probably exactly the way he ought to be played. And then I go on, and it was a conviction which began then, forty years ago, whatever it is, but has really hardened into a conviction now, that the Americans are the only people that can do Ancient Rome justice, because they’re so terribly alike.” (Ustinov, The Guardian)