Fall of the Roman Empire [1964]

The second and last of Anthony Mann's historical epics is a smart, handsome spectacle of the decadence, corruption, and intrigue that tears apart the greatest empire the world has seen. The sprawling story spreads itself thin over a number of characters and stories. At the center are handsome but stiff Stephen Boyd as Livius, the loyal soldier and symbolic son of the aging emperor (Alec Guinness), and Christopher Plummer as Commodus, the corrupt heir to the throne--boyhood friends turned enemies when the latter accedes to the throne and sells out the values of his father for greed and hedonistic pleasures. The three-hour running time is filled out with the tales of Sophia Loren (as the beautiful Lucilla in love with Livius but coveted by greedy Commodus) and a gallery of heroes and villains that includes James Mason, Mel Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, John Ireland, Omar Sharif, and Eric Porter. The film is highlighted with spectacular scenes (a grandiose funeral fit for an emperor, brutal battles in the provinces as the barbarians threaten the empire, and a climactic duel to decide the destiny of Rome), which Mann weaves into the shadowy intrigue of the halls of power. Like his previous epic El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire remains one of the best of the 1960s epics: well written (and largely historically accurate) with strong performances and a consistently elegant style, but it lacks a central core and the magnetic hero of its superior predecessor. --Sean Axmaker

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