The Fall of the Roman Empire is directed by Anthony Mann and co-written by Ben Barzman, Basilio Franchina and Philip Yordan. It stars Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, John Ireland & Finlay Currie. Music is scored by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography is by Robert Krasker. Filmed out of Samuel Bronston's productions in Spain, it was shot in the 70mm Ultra Panavision format.
Plot is a fictionalisation of events involving the Roman Empire AD 180 to 192, and focuses on the last days of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the death of his son and successor Commodus.
It was a financial disaster for Samuel Bronston, something that might lend one to think the film to being rather poor. That isn't the case at all, time has been kind to Mann's epic, showing it to be one of the better, more intelligent, sword and sandal epics to have surfaced in cinema history. Massive in scope and production values, it harks back to a time when epic actually meant just that. A huge cast list is supplemented by thousands of extras, all cloaked by real scenery and expertly crafted sets, with not a CGI sequence in sight. Scripting is literate, where three separate writers combine to tell a tale of political intrigue, violence, romance, glory and greed, the ultimate spun narrative of a system collapsing from within. While the action is superbly marshalled by Mann as it flits in and out of the dialogue driven story. Be it the snow laden campaign against the Germanic Barbarians, or an exciting chariot duel, Mann shows himself to be adroit in the art of scene construction.
It's not all perfect, the length at over three hours asks much of the casual observer; the production for sure is grand, but some of the longer character exchanges could easily have been trimmed. After Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston turned down the role of Livius, Stephen Boyd filed in for lantern jawed stoicism, he looks the part but with such a razor sharp script calling for dramatic worth from one of its main characters, Boyd barely convinces in a film that convinces everywhere else. Loren, a vision of loveliness, is guilty of over pouting, but both her and Boyd's failings are masked over by the performances of the others around them, and to be fair their romantic union has the requisite warmth about it. Guinness (classy), Mason (likewise) and a terrific Plummer (grand egomaniacal villainy-himself stepping in when Richard Harris bailed) dominate proceedings, while Tiomkin's Academy Award nominated score is stirring and itself epic in production.
An essential film for the historical epic fan, The Fall of the Roman Empire is a lesson in adult sword and sandalry. 8.5/10