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Sunday, May 23, 2010

QUO VADIS? (1951)

Ancient Rome burns; Early Christians are martyred; Chariots whiz by; Lions dine @ the Coliseum; and the Emperor Nero sings his heart out. C. B. De Mille made an indelible, if typically daft, pre-Production Code version of this in THE SIGN OF THE CROSS/’32 for Paramount. Now, with M-G-M suffering thru the post-WWII fiscal meltdown, they’ve dressed up an awfully similar tale, expensively sourced via Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Polish classic QUO VADIS? It should be plushly entertaining on some level. Alas, whatever visual flare Mervyn Leroy once had is now replaced with a faceless, corporate style. The sets & costumes & thousands of extras are all there, but Leroy is unable to take advantage of the scale of his production. This gargantuan film looks cramped, even cheap. More QUO VEGAS? than QUO VADIS? Robert Taylor, with his stolid presence, loud presentation & hearty Mid-Western twang is expectedly mediocre, but poor Deborah Kerr looks painfully uncomfortable with her leading man & with her breast-defeating costumes. There are a few atmospheric shots of the Appian Way (possibly from an uncredited Anthony Mann) and if you look really fast during the triumphant entry sequence, you may just spot the young Sophia Loren (watch for her big toothy smile). But everything about the film, from Robert Surtees lensing to Miklos Rozsa’s score, feels like a dry run for William Wyler’s infinitely superior BEN-HUR/59.

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