On Wednesday nights in October, we are viewing and discussing this 1951 classic which helped usher in the age of Hollywood biblical epics of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Based on the well-researched book by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, the 3 hour movie will be watched in segments over 4 weeks.
“In 1946 there were 6,000 television sets in America; in 1950 there were 6,000,000. Movie attendance fell by 50%. Hollywood fought back with the epic motion picture: a movie so big, so grand, it would be an experience that television couldn’t begin to approach. And it worked. Wide-screen processes like Cinemascope, stereo sound and gigantic sets and casts brought millions back to the theaters, at least for really big pictures. Quo Vadis was one of the earliest of these, one of the most successful, and one of the best. Epics eventually got a somewhat tarnished image from many dull and uninspired titles that followed, but Quo Vadis is not of that sort.
Spectacle is the thing here. The grandiose sets of Rome were so good that they were used in subsequent films including Ben Hur. The cast of 30,000 is all real, this being long before computerized effects. There are mobs in the Forum, dancing Vestal Virgins, massive parties at the Court of Nero, Christians thrown to lions, and of course the Great Fire. It’s 68 – 69 A.D. and Nero’s Rome is depicted in all its decadence. Meanwhile, Christianity is in its infant stage and both Saints Peter and Paul make an appearance. A victorious general comes to Rome for his triumph, visits an elderly retired general whose adopted daughter Lygia, catches his eye. The retired general and his family are secretly Christians. This sets the scene for what will climax with Rome’s Great Fire (here attributed to Nero’s plan to rebuild Rome) and the Emperor’s attempt to place the blame for the fire on the Christians.” – Amazon review
All in all it’s one of MGM’s best postwar efforts. Besides discussing the Christian values presented, it’s interesting to view the film (and many epics that followed) as a reference to American politics and government in the period between World War II and the Cold War.
Read more in this interesting article.