Monday, December 30, 2013

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Fall of the Roman Empire; drama, USA, 1964; D: Anthony Mann, S: Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, Sophia Loren, James Mason, Alec Guinness, Mel Ferrer, Omar Sharif

The Roman Empire, 180 AD. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius has spent 17 years fighting against the invading Germanic tribes along the Danube frontier. He wants to make peace and promises all the nations in the Empire the opportunity to gain citizenship, but does not want that his son Commodus succeed him, but General Livius. Commodus poisons Aurelius and thus automatically inherits the position of the Emperor. Commodus' sister Lucilla falls in love with Livius. Commodus' egoistic and megalomaniac behavior triggers a rebellion in the east, led by Lucilla. Livius is sent to crush the rebellion, but joins it instead. He has a duel in which he kills Commodus in Rome, but leaves the city while the unstable fight for power continues.

Even though it was such a commercial failure that it signalled a slow end of the expensive Hollywood monumental genre, "The Fall of the Roman Empire" is actually quite a well made and different sprout of the epic films revolving around the Roman Empire, avoiding overemphasis on Christianity and covering a rarely talked about time period in which the Germanic tribes on the northern border and the turmoil of the government signalled the beginning of the end of the Empire three hundred years later, in 476 AD. A somber, sharp and untypical edition of the genre (the Roman fortress covered by snow), though still slightly overlong and "dry" here and there, with a finale that absolutely abandons any criteria for historical accuracy. Sophia Loren is probably the strongest among the cast as Lucille, but Stephen Boyd is refreshingly natural and convincing as well as Livius: a few sly touches are welcomed, such as the sequence where Livius and Commodus are having a contest in drinking vine - Livius is blond and wears golden clothes, to signal that he is the good guy, whereas Commodus has black hair and wears black clothes, to signal that he is the bad guy. It would have been better if the film followed the history records more closely, instead of trying to appeal to the action and spectacle hungry audience, yet it offers enough surprisingly intelligent features to justify its resistence to get forgotten by time.


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