High Wall, 1947 + Quo Vadis, 1950, are Playing on TCM on Sept. 10 (USA)

My two favorite Robert Taylor movies, High Wall, 1947 and Quo Vadis, 1950 are playing on our anniversary, September 10.  High Wall is at 9 a.m. and Quo Vadis is at 3:15 p.m.  Both films are closed captioned.  No other two films illustrate as clearly the range of Mr. Taylor’s talent.

I highly recommend High Wall.  Robert Taylor is playing totally against type as an injured war veteran who has a haematoma on his brain that is causing him to act irrationally.  This is so far from the glamorous Taylor we know and love and demonstrates his amazing range as an actor.

High Wall is a departure for Robert Taylor. In the 30’s he portrayed mostly handsome society boys. In 1941 he toughened up his image with Johnny Eager. This is an entirely different path. The lead character, Steven Kenet, has returned from a job flying freight in Asia after his service in WW II. He’s eager to see his wife and displeased to find out she has a job. Kenet is even more displeased when he discovers she is having an affair with her boss. To complicate matters, he has a brain injury and is suffering blackouts and other symptoms. Seeing his wife in her lover’s apartment triggers rage and violence. The wife is dead and Kenet is the only suspect. He confesses and is committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation. The unique thing about the film to me is Taylor’s ability to play vulnerability. Kenet is neither a pretty boy nor a villain. He is a man in torment.

Taylor uses his shoulders beautifully to portray hopelessness. They droop in the scenes where the character is locked in solitary confinement. After his operation they are straight. The confusion on his face when he’s offered an opportunity to see his son at the hospital is masterful as he passes through a range of emotions moving from delight to doubt to anger to confusion. There is a remarkable sequence in which Kenet is dragged off after attacking a visitor. Taylor’s body positions change constantly–this is hardly the “wooden” acting for which he is so often condemned. Another great sequence is his walk up the stairs at the end to see his son. Kenet’s face radiates joy. The camera work is stylish and the chiaroscuro is masterful. This movie was apparently not well received in its time probably because it isn’t the “Robert Taylor” people expected and it is largely forgotten now. It deserves to be remembered. Review by me for the IMDb.

Some behind-the-scenes photos:

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Robert Taylor with co-stars Audrey Totter and  Bobby Hyatt.

The 1st century Roman Empire, the fire of Rome, early Christianity, martyrdom…this historical content was dealt with in many films before and after 1951. Yet, it is LeRoy’s Quo Vadis most viewers associate with the infamous period of Roman history, the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68). Why? There are, I think, several reasons. One is, definitely, the source, a Noble Prize winner novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The Polish writer, being an acknowledged historian, contained detailed historical facts and a vivid fictitious story in his novel. As a result, Quo Vadis is a universal masterpiece, absolutely worth reading for anyone. But, since the film, though an adaptation of the book, skips many events or even characters, we may treat Mervyn LeRoy’s Quo Vadis as a separate Hollywood production. In this respect, the movie is also well known as a gigantic spectacle with great cast, lavish sets, crowds of extras, which constitutes a magnificent journey to ancient Rome, the Rome which was on the verge of becoming “Neropolis”. Then, a viewer does not have to know the novel and will enjoy the film.

THE STORY: If we consider Quo Vadis? as an entertaining movie only (which is, of course, a limited view), then anyone more acquainted with cinema will find much in common with Cecil B DeMille’s great epic The Sign of the Cross (1932). Yet, comparison does not work that well concerning the perspective of Quo Vadis (1951). After deeper analysis of the films, a lot of differences occur. While DeMille’s film based on Wilson Barret’s play shows early Christianity in Rome, it foremost concentrates on the clash between the new religion and the Roman order being put in danger. LeRoy’s movie, since based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s, focuses on the undeniable victory of Christianity. Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) at first finds a new faith meaningless. He has reasonable arguments from the Roman point of view (what about slaves, conquest, enemy treating, etc). Yet gradually, thanks to love for Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and the courageous faith of the martyrs, he shouts out with confidence “Christ, give him strength!” The story of Nero and “the imperial companions” is also much more developed. Yet, Nero (Peter Ustinov) is not only the one who heads for delicious debauchery but also wishes the crowd to have one throat that could be cut. He is an artist who burns Rome in order to create a song. He is a coward who blames the innocent for his own guilts. He is a cynic who collects tears in a weeping phial after the death of his “best friend” Petronius (Leo Genn). Finally, he is a lunatic who praises his “divine ego” and screams at his death seeing no future for Rome without him.

CAST: Anyone who has seen ancient epics must admit that most of them can boast great performances. Nevertheless, I believe that Quo Vadis is one of the top movies in this matter. Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr are a gorgeous couple portraying a Roman leader  and a Christian girl. Taylor naturally expresses a change of heart. Kerr appealingly portrays innocence, gentleness and true love. Leo Genn is excellent as Petronius, a man of art and elegance who is fed up with Nero’s “secondary songs and meaningless poems.” Peter Ustinov gives a fabulous performance as Nero combining all wicked features of his character. I also loved Patricia Laffan as lustful empress Poppaea with her two pet leopards. There is no milk bath of hers, she does not imitate Ms Colbert but Laffan’s Poppaea is foremost a woman of sin, a woman of lust, and a woman of revenge. The Christians, except for a number of extras, are portrayed by very authentic-looking actors: Abraham Sofaer as Paul and Finlay Currie as Peter…not more to say than that they look identical to the old paintings.

SPECTACLE: The movie is a visually stunning epic that can be compared in its magnificence to Ben Hur (1959) and even Gladiator (2000). There are numerous breathtaking moments: arena scenes, lions, bull fighting, triumph in the streets, and foremost the fire of Rome. We see the real horror within the walls of the burning city. A moment that is also worth consideration is Vinicius hurrying to Rome on a chariot being chased by two other men. When he comes nearer, we see the red sky… The authenticity is increased by a lovely landscape of Cinecitta Studios near Rome where the film was shot. For the sake of spectacle, I went once to see Quo Vadis on a big screen in cinema and felt as if I watched a new film made with modern techniques. It was a wonderful experience.

All in all, I think that Quo Vadis by Mervyn LeRoy is a movie that has stood a test of time. Although it is 55 years old, it is still admired in many places of the world. It’s one of these movies that are the treasures of my film gallery. Not only a colossal spectacle, not only great performances but a very profound historical content at which Henryk Sienkiewicz was best.

Quo Vadis Domine? Where are you going, Lord? These are the words that Peter asked Christ while leaving Rome. After the answer that Peter heard from his Lord, he turned back… in order to proclaim peace to the martyrs and to be crucified. Yet, where once stood decadent “Neropolis” now stands the Holy See where people yearly pilgrim to the tombs of the martyrs and where the blessing “Urbi et Orbi” is goes to all the corners of the world. Sienkiewicz writes about it in the touching final words of the novel. Yet, LeRoy changes it a bit in the film…

A small group of Christians who survived, including Lygia and Marcus, are on a journey. But after a short stop at the place where Peter met Christ, the journey seems to turn into a pilgrimage towards “the Way, the Truth and the Life”   Review by Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland for the IMDB

Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and Mervyn LeRoy touring Rome:

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The Hollywood Crew Arriving in Rome: writer John Lee Mahin, producer Sam Zimbalist, director Mervyn LeRoy, Robert Taylor

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Overlooking the Roman Forum
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A Carriage Tour Arrives at the Colosseum


Bored before the photo; fascinated while being photographed.


Mr. Taylor doing his own photography

About giraffe44

I became a Robert Taylor fan at the age of 15 when his TV show, "The Detectives" premiered. My mother wanted to watch it because she remembered Mr. Taylor from the thirties. I took one look and that was it. I spent the rest of my high school career watching Robert Taylor movies on late night TV, buying photos of him, making scrapbooks and being a typical teenager. College, marriage and career intervened. I remember being sad when Mr. Taylor died. I mailed two huge scrapbooks to Ursula Thiess. I hope she got them. Time passed, retirement, moving to Florida. Then in 2012 my husband Fred pointed that there were two Robert Taylor movies that evening on Turner Classic Movies--"Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward." I watched both and it happened all over again. I started this blog both for fans and for people who didn't know about Robert Taylor. As the blog passes 200,000 views I'm delighted that so many people have come by and hope it will help preserve the legacy of this fine actor and equally good man.
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20 Responses to High Wall, 1947 + Quo Vadis, 1950, are Playing on TCM on Sept. 10 (USA)

  1. Andrew Dock says:

    I love this film the acting is superlative the costumes the grand Roman homes ; the astonishing crowd scenes the magnificent sweeping views Of Roman civilization.
    Many actors would be overwhelmed by the scope l think only Robert Taylor, Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando could have risen to the challenge.
    This film and The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire (60s) are the best Roman epic films ever made.
    Thank you for the fascinating lnsight into a great film about a world remote from are own.

    Like

  2. giraffe44 says:

    Andrew, when I was young, I read Sienkiewicz book and liked it. Then I saw the film and really liked it. I’ve seen it many times since and it never loses its impact. Thanks for writing, Judith

    Like

    • Andrew Dock says:

      I knew Ben Hur was a book before it became a film but l did not know that Quo Vadis had been ; can you tell me more about the book when it was published and is the film faithful to it.

      Like

  3. giraffe44 says:

    Andrew, the book was published in the late 1800s by a Polish writer named Henryk Sienkiewicz. You could probably get it from Amazon or Thrift Books. It has the same general plot but the movie had to leave a lot out. I liked it quite a lot but I thought Robert Taylor was Petronius because I had only seen him as an older man in “The Detectives.” I was surprised but pleased when he was Vinicius. Judith

    Like

    • Andrew Dock says:

      Fascinating those books like Ben Hur and Quo Vadis which were often biblically quite accurate in portaying the times in which people lived. I have often wondered why today people in the movie business scoff; in their time they were often praised by religious groups.
      I like this film l only wish it were on you tube in english; the actors seemed so right for the part it Just’s comes together beautifully.

      Like

      • giraffe44 says:

        Hi, Andrew, movie people today are mostly secular and think that religion is for the lesser people. This attitude shows up not only for their neglect of people of faith but for their mocking religious beliefs. Quo Vadis is available on DVD in English for the USA but I don’t know about other countries. Judith

        Liked by 1 person

      • Andrew Dock says:

        Yes it”s horrible the treatment Christian people experience in modern Hollywood. I cant think what actors James Stewart and others would have said if they were still alive today.
        The Jewish Christian moguls who ran the studios would have been horrified.

        Like

      • giraffe44 says:

        Yes, Andrew, I agree. You have to go back to the 1950s for films that treat religion respectfully. The same has happened to Patriotism–Superman no longer fights for “Truth, Justice and the American Way. Judith

        Like

      • June Alexander says:

        Just some additional info about Quo Vadis in English. I have a copy (Australia) in English and I know it is also available for other regions. Search Mr Google and you will no doubt find out how to purchase (eBay etc.) Good Luck, it’s a great film.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Andrew Dock says:

        Thank you yes Party Girl is wonderful Cyd Charisse really was breathtaking and Robert Taylor plays a lost soul.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Andrew Dock says:

    Will follow up on the Quo Vadis film thank you so much in telling me.
    Posted comments on different films on this site hope you have seen them.
    Your Facebook page as well l have left a message for you.

    Andrew

    Liked by 1 person

  5. giraffe44 says:

    You’re welcome, Andrew. I’ll check facebook. I’ve ordered a book on Nicholas Ray. You piqued my curiosity about “Party Girl.” Judith

    Like

  6. Having watched all of Robert Taylor’s movies a number of times I have come to the conclusion that he was a great actor, very natural. No matter what movie he was in he gave it his all and at times elevated a not so good story, with his acting. Many of his movies are very good stories but there are also a number of not such good movies. I often wonder if he would have been a bit more daring and became a free agent like his wife Barbara Stanwyck or Cary Grant who worked for a number of studios looking for the good scripts, could he have done much better for himself? I think he would have been fantastic in North by Northwest, Africa Queen, The Sound of Music, Boy on a Dolphin to name just a few. He played it safe and remained with MGM for 26 years. His contract was up in 1958 and they cast him in some good movies that year. He was only 47 years old. He became a free agent and it was difficult for him to find good movie roles as an independent actor. The Golden Age of Hollywood was over and a more liberal attitude in Hollywood was forming, many were opposed to his political views and the stand he took at the hearings against communism. I feel an Artist’s works should not be penalized because of his political views. I will continue to enjoy his great movies and his not so great movies and his great acting. No matter what movie I see I always come away wishing I would have known him. Regards, Linda Doty

    Like

    • giraffe44 says:

      Robert Taylor regarded acting as an interesting job, but he frequently pointed out that there were other things he could do. He was very disappointed with the films he was offered in his latter years but the ever more powerful Hollywood left had it in for him. I agree with you that an artist’s work should not be penalized because of his politics but sadly, that is not the case, either then or now. Judith

      Like

  7. I just want to say that I really enjoyed High Wall. I thought the chemistry between Robert Taylor and Audrey Totter was exceptional. This was a really good story and he did a fantastic job acting the part of a man tormented searching for answers to whether he killed his wife or not. The scene where he attacks Herbert Marshall in the visitors room was a great bit of acting. I think this is a role where he should have been nominated for best actor. Just one more interesting note. The actor who played the old man with the beard who loved to listen to music was H.B Warner, the same actor who played , Mr Gower the druggist in, It’s a Wonderful Life. Regards, Linda Doty

    Like

    • giraffe44 says:

      Linda, I love High Wall. It’s such a good example of Mr. Taylor’s diversity as an actor. I did know about H. B. Warner. Have you seen”Rogue Cop?” What do you think of it? Judith

      Like

      • Rogue Cop was a good story and again showed Robert Taylor’s ability to play totally different characters so effortlessly. He was a true natural actor. My only concern and I can’t help it because I not only admire his acting ability but I as so many women do, I admire his physical handsome appearance. It seemed to me that his good looks were a bit off in this movie. I have found that to be the case in a number of his other movies as well. I think it had to do with what was going on in his life at the time. When he made Rogue Cop it started filming in May and he was married to his second wife on May 23 1954, so perhaps he was under a lot of stress with making the decision to marry again and taking on two young children from her first marriage. When he made Conspirator in 1949 with Elizabeth Taylor as good as the movie was he appeared to look a bit off. I know he had a crush on Elizabeth and she was only 17 so that must have put a strain on him and I believe he was seriously questioning his marriage to Barbara Stanwyck at that time. When I saw him in, The Bribe 1949, which is one of my favorite Robert Taylor movies he looked very stressed and run down, his face had a look of exhaustion throughout the movie. At the time he was making the movie he started having an affair with Ava Gardner and I think he was torn between staying faithful and having an affair and it showed up in his features. I think whatever was going on in his personal life showed in his face. This is just my opinion, I have much respect for him as a great actor and a man but in a number of movies I felt like I could see into his personal life by his face. Regards, Linda Doty

        Like

  8. Concerning Quo Vadis, it amazes me that I never knew this film existed. I have always been a great lover of the Golden Age of Hollywood and thought I knew and had seen all the great historical epics. He was at his peak in masculine beauty when he made this film. Even though I really like Deborah Kerr and have seen many of her movies, I don’t feel they had good chemistry. I read that Elizabeth Taylor was up for the part and for what every reason it went to Kerr. I think the movie would have been much better with Elizabeth Taylor as his leading lady. I read that she did come to Rome and had a cameo appearance in the movie but I have never been able to spot her. While she was in Rome, Robert Taylor took her out for dinner a number of times. I know he had a crush on her since they made Conspirator in 1949 but I believe she was involved with Michael Wilding when Quo Vadis was being made. I know the movie was a massive hit and helped pull MGM back up as a winning studio. The movie took almost a year to make and Robert Taylor became comfortable living on his own in Rome. Barbara Stanwyck came to visit him and stayed for 6 weeks but I think he had already made the decision that he wanted to be free. When the movie was done and he came back to Hollywood he asked her for a divorce. She told the lawyer at the divorce hearing, “he wants to be be free so I am granting him his freedom.” Regards, Linda Doty

    Like

  9. giraffe44 says:

    Linda, I like the contrast between Deborah Kerr’s coolness and Mr. Taylor’s vitality. Hers was a difficult part. There wouldn’t be as much contrast with Elizabeth Taylor, although I like her very much in Ivanhoe. Judith

    Like

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