Quo Vadis, 1950, Is Playing on TCM on November 14 (USA)

The epic Quo Vadis, 1951 is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, November 14 at 11:45 a.m. If you haven’t seen this, you’ve missed something truly special.

The 1st century Roman Empire, the fire of Rome, early Christianity, martyrdom…this historical content was dealt with in many films before and after 1951.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:


Some behind the scenes photos:

Circus Maximus Set

Some behind the scenes photos:

Robert Taylor reading about Tyrone Power
Marina Berti, Robert Taylor
Sam Zimbalist, far left, Mervyn LeRoy, in chair.
Robert Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Barbara Stanwyck, Patricia Laffan
Robert Taylor
Obeying the rules.
Premiere after party: Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor
Comparing footwear: Norman Wooland, Deborah Kerr, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor.

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.
This entry was posted in Films and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Quo Vadis, 1950, Is Playing on TCM on November 14 (USA)

  1. James says:

    Robert Taylor was too old to play Marcus. He looked the same age as Leo Genn, who played his uncle.


  2. giraffe44 says:

    James, you’re entitled to your opinion. Mr. Taylor was 39. It doesn’t seem that a Roman commander would be a lot younger. In my opinion, he looked gorgeous and embodied the part perfectly. Judith


    • James says:

      Officers were usually very young in wartime. It would have been more believable if the film had been made with Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor in 1949, as was originally intended.

      Both Taylor and Kerr looked much too old for their characters. Taylor was 39, but looked 45.


      • Fulvia says:

        I think Taylor and Kerr were hansome in Quo Vadis!


      • giraffe44 says:

        James, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, with which I disagree. BTW, Mr, Taylor was first selected for the role in the 1930s before it was shelved because of the war. Mr. Peck certainly doesn’t look right for the role to me. Judith


      • James says:

        Taylor would have been OK in the 1930s, despite his wooden acting and Midwestern accent.

        However by the time they finally made the film he simply looked far too old.

        I thought he was older than Leo Genn.


  3. giraffe44 says:

    Hi, Fulvia, they certainly were! Judith


    • fulvia says:

      Thank you, Judith..
      In my opinion, Gregory Peck was not suitable for the role of a tough Roman Commander and then he was only 5 years younger than Taylor and maybe he looked more. For me Taylor was the right interpreter!If you don’t like Taylor why do people write on a site dedicated to him?


  4. Jen says:

    There’s one thing Robert Taylor never was – a wooden actor. If you haven’t seen his body of work and the various roles he played from comedy to cowboys and then some. He was a natural.


  5. giraffe44 says:

    Hi, Jen, Mr. Taylor could play an amazing variety of roles. In “The Last Hunt’ he plays a clumsy man. Given that he was extremely graceful, this must have been hard. At one point he’s in a wagon full of barrels and cannot get his balance. It’s utterly convincing. Nice to hear from you. Judith


  6. I agree, Quo Vadis is one of the great Hollywood epics – so detailed in sets and costuming and its characterizations, yet so spectacular and NEVER boring. I think all the actors do a commendable job, though I get a special kick out of Patricia Laffan’s REALLY decadent Poppea. They really knew how to do epic films then.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.