U.S./German Souvenir Book

         British Booklet











Life and Look came up with the same hype in their reviews of Quo Vadis: “The most colossal ever!” By 1951 standards, with Sam Zimbalist producing, it’s splashy, decadent and clearly constructed with intent of enormity at Rome’s Cinecittŕ Studios. In long shot Nero’s palace and the exterior sets are humdingers but, constricted by 1.37:1 aspect ratio, there’s a lack of being overwhelmed in the way we need to be; the panoplies feel squeezed in, sometimes choky. Only one solution not then available: widescreen. (The studio’s first CinemaScope would be the 1953 Knights of the Round Table.) There’s an equally large amount of humorous bad acting allowed by director Mervyn LeRoy, some of it earning Oscar nominations: something about playing Nero triggers otherwise fine actors to blow their wads and for blowing his, Peter Ustinov was nominated for best supporting actor. The obvious forerunner to Ben-Hur, also produced by Zimbalist, Quo Vadis has a curious lack of involvement beyond the acting: way too much historically insupportable Christian propaganda is going on, such as Finlay Currie’s St. Peter enrapturing his converts into imagining a “coming to life” vision of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and that Christians were singing as they’re consumed by lions in the Colosseum. Looking good in leather regalia and a rich tan, Robert Taylor can’t redeem Roman white tunics and having him convert to Christianity doesn’t assuage as much as aggravate his contemporary essence—we keep waiting for him to light up a Lucky Strike; with the film running 171 minutes, many viewers will want to join him. If his love interest Deborah Kerr is rather nincompoopish, she’s not alone—the entire cast has a duncy-headed aura circulating around it. Many of us give up all hope early on when Marina Berti’s Eunice, the slave in love with Leo Genn’s Petronius, kisses a statue of his likeness while wearing earrings the size of bracelets. (Also played smiling Flavia in Ben-Hur, in whose movie souvenir program, printed before her part was all but yanked, she received a lovely Joseph J. Smith sketch, under which a tag reads, “The Wanton, whose beauty was the trap set for Ben-Hur.”) Genn’s kiss-off letter to Ustinov causes a moment or two of enjoyable imperial apoplexy; more and not less of it would be better. Second unit direction by Sergio Leone; without attribution Anthony Mann directed the non-acting portion of the “Fire of Rome” sequence. Liz and Sophia are said to be seeable extras; YouTube provides what you likely miss. Taylor won the coveted Harvard Lampoon Worst Male Performance of the Year honors. Quo Vadis opened roadshow in L.A., New York and several other cities but not in Chicago, where it was ensconced at the Oriental. Re-released in 1964.

Oscar nominations for best picture, supporting actor (Ustinov), supporting actor (Genn), color cinematography (Robert Surtees and William Skall), art/set direction, costumes, musical score (Miklós Rózsa) and film editing.

Quo Vadis, according to in70mm, was apparently refitted to 70mm for European audiences in 1968. No information is available indicating what cities, nor if the process used to convert the film’s original 1.37: 1 aspect ratio was the same as MGM’s 1967 70mm blowup for Gone with the Wind. In another article from the same website, Q V is listed as being reeled in 70mm at Mexico City’s Cinema Pedregal in September, 1972.

The 1913 Italian version of Quo Vadis, described as a “Cines Photo Drama in 3 Acts,” was among the very first movies to have a running length of close to two hours. Treated as an “event,” it opened in Chicago at the McVicker’s—the apostrophe would be eliminated later—on a twice-a-day schedule and with a ticket price at an unheard of $1.00. A big hit.




Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER (Revised 5/2023) All Rights Reserved.