The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

188 mins | Drama | 26 March 1964

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HISTORY

Following production of El Cid (1961, see entry), actor Charlton Heston revealed to the 12 Jul 1961 Var that producer Samuel Bronston next planned to film a motion picture based on Edward Gibbon’s 1776 historical text, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The next day, DV confirmed that El Cid writer Philip Yordan had already been working on a script for director Anthony Mann, with Heston intended for the principal role of “Marcus Aurelius.” Although the 19 Dec 1961 DV claimed that Mann was consulting Gibbon’s multi-volume work for research, he later told the 30 Apr 1963 LAT that the film was not intended as an adaptation, and its similar title was “just a coincidence.” Bronston and Mann’s $6 million epic moved forward at Paramount Pictures, edging ahead of a rival picture at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which the 3 Oct 1961 DV figured would likely be cancelled as a result.
       Development temporarily stalled a few months later, however, when the 20 Dec 1961 DV stated that Heston had refused Bronston’s offer to return to El Cid locales around Madrid, Spain, to appear in The Fall of the Roman Empire, ostensibly due to its lengthy overseas shoot. Instead, Heston approved a role in 55 Days at Peking (see entry), which also went on to film in Spain and was readied for release in 1963. Meanwhile, with Yordan’s draft completed, Mann began an international search for other big-name actors to fill out the cast. DV items throughout the summer and ... More Less

Following production of El Cid (1961, see entry), actor Charlton Heston revealed to the 12 Jul 1961 Var that producer Samuel Bronston next planned to film a motion picture based on Edward Gibbon’s 1776 historical text, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The next day, DV confirmed that El Cid writer Philip Yordan had already been working on a script for director Anthony Mann, with Heston intended for the principal role of “Marcus Aurelius.” Although the 19 Dec 1961 DV claimed that Mann was consulting Gibbon’s multi-volume work for research, he later told the 30 Apr 1963 LAT that the film was not intended as an adaptation, and its similar title was “just a coincidence.” Bronston and Mann’s $6 million epic moved forward at Paramount Pictures, edging ahead of a rival picture at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which the 3 Oct 1961 DV figured would likely be cancelled as a result.
       Development temporarily stalled a few months later, however, when the 20 Dec 1961 DV stated that Heston had refused Bronston’s offer to return to El Cid locales around Madrid, Spain, to appear in The Fall of the Roman Empire, ostensibly due to its lengthy overseas shoot. Instead, Heston approved a role in 55 Days at Peking (see entry), which also went on to film in Spain and was readied for release in 1963. Meanwhile, with Yordan’s draft completed, Mann began an international search for other big-name actors to fill out the cast. DV items throughout the summer and fall of 1962 claimed that Lee Marvin, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Hugh O’Brian, John Fraser, and Jack Palance were considered for roles, while the 1 Feb 1963 and 29 Mar 1963 DV also alleged that Laurence Harvey and Kirk Douglas turned down hefty salary options—in Douglas’s case, a paycheck of $1.5 million. In late summer 1962, Richard Harris was confirmed as the Roman Emperor “Commodus,” and shortly after, Sophia Loren signed on to play “Lucilla.” According to a 27 Sep 1962 LAT story, Loren received $1 million for sixteen weeks’ work.
       Although a 27 Nov 1962 DV brief indicated that Harris had already started training with co-star Stephen Boyd, the 10 Dec 1962 edition announced he had left the project and was replaced by Christopher Plummer. The 19 Dec 1962 Var explained that Harris was purportedly dissatisfied with recent changes to the screenplay, which were credited to Ben Barzman and Basilio Franchina. The 11 Jan 1963 LAT reported that historical consultant Will Durant wrote the prologue.
       Principal photography began 14 Jan 1963. Two days later, Var detailed the initial day of work, which consisted of a 350-person unit shooting in the snowy Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range near Madrid. An additional 2,500 background actors were used to depict the Roman legions in battle sequences. Due to high snowfall blocking the roads in the Navacerrada mountain pass, the crew set up base in Segovia. Other expected locations included the walled town of Sagunto, which housed a recreation of Rome’s ancient Genua, as well as some sites outside Madrid previously used for 55 Days to Peking. Stories in the 17 Jul 1963 DV and Var identified the area as the former Chamartín Studios at Las Rozas, which Bronston recently purchased and expanded with the intent to rent out space to other filmmakers. A 1 Feb 1963 DV news item revealed that several of the actors trained with European horse rider Count Friedrich Ledebur in Spain to learn to ride without stirrups. Ledebur also appeared onscreen as a legionnaire alongside Alec Guinness’s Marcus Aurelius.
       According to the 21 May 1963 DV, work with the principal actors was completed in Spain on 17 May 1963. While a second unit continued filming in the mountains, the primary cast and crew relocated to Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Italy, for nearly a month. On 19 Jun 1963, Var announced that all except Sophia Loren then returned to Spain, where several sources reported photography was completed the first week of Jul. By this time, the expensive cast, large-scale effects, and extravagant sets had pushed the budget to a figure estimated between $14 million and $16 million. A 22 Jul 1963 DV brief suggested that Bronston considered reusing the sets by having his second unit director Andrew Marton helm another project called The Rape of Rome, but production did not move ahead.
       To recoup such substantial costs, the 30 Oct 1963 Var reported that Paramount hoped to develop a release pattern based on cash guarantees from exhibitors. Multiple items also hinted at extensive promotional campaign strategies, including educational outreach headed by publicist Jonas Arnold, tie-ins with the upcoming 1964 New York City World’s Fair, and a twenty-three-minute behind-the-scenes featurette narrated by James Mason, which was presented as a “trailer” to press, students, and television audiences. The 23 Jan 1964 LAT also claimed that Mann and Bronston hoped to orchestrate international television coverage for a premiere event that was to take place in Madrid.
       According to a 4 Mar 1964 Var news story, The Fall of the Roman Empire was scheduled to open first at the Astoria Theatre in London, England, on 24 Mar 1964. A benefit preview at the DeMille Theatre in New York City took place 25 Mar 1964, with regular roadshow screenings beginning the following day. In addition to the DeMille, the 22 Jan 1964 Var reported that simultaneous engagements were booked at multiple venues across the U.S. and Canada; however, that day’s NYT indicated that the DeMille was only able to accommodate ten reserved-seat showings a week due to the film’s extensive running time. Although already in release, 10 Feb 1964 and 18 Feb 1964 DV briefs indicated that the film was scheduled for an additional charity premiere in Washington, D.C. on 17 Apr 1964, and would play as the opening night feature at the Cannes Film Festival on 29 Apr 1964. Shortly after those events, the 6 May 1964 Var announced that Paramount intended to end the roadshow policy earlier than expected and switch to a “three-a-day popscale schedule.” Seating was “guaranteed,” with a limited number of seats sold per screening and patrons restricted to just one viewing per ticket. A Los Angeles, CA, gala premiere took place 11 Jun 1964 at the Hollywood Paramount Theatre, and citywide screenings began several months later, on 23 Sep 1964.
       Even before the film’s release, negative press began to circulate with the revelation that Samuel Bronston Productions owed debts likely exceeding $24 million, due to the budget overruns on The Fall of the Roman Empire and Circus World (1964, see entry). Articles in the 4 Mar 1964 and 11 Mar 1964 Var revealed that New York City attorney Jesse Moss had signed on as a trustee to oversee the relations between Bronston and his principal financier, Pierre S. du Pont III. By the summer, the 6 Jun 1964 NYT announced Bronston had filed for bankruptcy, and his company ceased all business activities that same year.
       Although the film itself was neither a commercial nor critical success at the time of its release, Dimitri Tiomkin’s score earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, and an Academy Award nomination for Music (Music Score—substantially original).
       Contemporary reviews provided running times of 180, 185, and 188 minutes, but the U.S. Copyright record lists a duration of 153 minutes. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1961
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1961
p. 1.
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1961
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
20 Dec 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
9 Apr 1962
p. 4.
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
25 Jul 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
30 Oct 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1962
p. 13.
Daily Variety
27 Nov 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1963
p. 8.
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Feb 1963
p. 16.
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
21 May 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Jul 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Jul 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Jul 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1964
p. 4.
Daily Variety
18 Feb 1964
p. 2.
Daily Variety
26 May 1964
p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
27 Sep 1962
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jan 1963
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
30 Apr 1963
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 1964
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
10 Feb 1964
Section D, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jun 1964
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
21 Sep 1964
Section C, p. 18.
New York Times
22 Jan 1964
p. 33.
New York Times
27 Mar 1964
p. 14.
New York Times
5 Apr 1964
Section X, p. 1.
New York Times
30 Apr 1964
p. 32.
New York Times
6 Jun 1964
p. 15.
Variety
12 Jul 1961
p. 15.
Variety
19 Dec 1962
p. 21.
Variety
16 Jan 1963
p. 3, 17.
Variety
24 Apr 1963
p. 15.
Variety
19 Jun 1963
p. 21.
Variety
17 Jul 1963
p. 3.
Variety
18 Sep 1963
p. 4.
Variety
30 Oct 1963
p. 1, 71.
Variety
19 Feb 1964
p. 15.
Variety
22 Jan 1964
p. 4.
Variety
4 Mar 1964
p. 1, 68.
Variety
4 Mar 1964
p. 26.
Variety
11 Mar 1964
p. 14.
Variety
6 May 1964
p. 5.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
Dir 2nd unit operations
1st & 2nd unit asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig scr, Orig scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
2nd unit photog
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set & prod des
Set & prod des
COSTUMES
Ward change
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Executive prod mgr
Historical consultant
Dialogue coach
Supervising technician
Supervising elec
Prop master
Casting
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 March 1964
Premiere Information:
London opening: 24 March 1964
New York premiere: 25 March 1964
New York opening: 26 March 1964
Cannes Film Festival screening: 29 April 1964
Los Angeles premiere and opening: 11 June 1964
Production Date:
14 January--early July 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Bronston--Roma Productions
Copyright Date:
25 March 1964
Copyright Number:
LP28747
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Ultra-Panavision
Duration(in mins):
188
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 180 A. D. the ailing emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, confides to his daughter, Lucilla, that he has decided to relinquish his throne to his adopted son, Livius. The news is overheard by Cleander, a blind prophet close to Marcus' weak and licentious son, Commodus. After conniving with Commodus, Cleander kills Marcus with a poisoned apple, and the less ambitious Livius allows Commodus to proclaim himself emperor, much to the dismay of Lucilla. Because of her devotion to her deceased father, and, irritated with Livius for giving up the throne, she agrees to a loveless marriage to King Sohamus of Armenia in the hope it will help the Roman Empire. Despite pestilence and unrest among his citizens, Commodus continues to live a life of debauchery, banishing both Livius and the faithful Timonides, a Greek philosopher and adviser to Marcus. Nevertheless, Livius remains loyal to Commodus during an Eastern revolt in which Sohamus is killed in battle. After Livius has brought Lucilla back to Rome, Commodus becomes so enraged by Livius that he has a newly-liberated barbarian village completely destroyed; and Timonides is slain during its defense. Upon learning that Verulus, an aging gladiator, is his real father, Commodus loses his mind, proclaims himself a god, and condemns Lucilla to be burned at the stake in the arena. But Livius returns in time to kill Commodus and rescue Lucilla from the blazing pyre. As the Roman senators compete for the throne, Livius and Lucilla leave the rapidly disintegrating ... +


In 180 A. D. the ailing emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, confides to his daughter, Lucilla, that he has decided to relinquish his throne to his adopted son, Livius. The news is overheard by Cleander, a blind prophet close to Marcus' weak and licentious son, Commodus. After conniving with Commodus, Cleander kills Marcus with a poisoned apple, and the less ambitious Livius allows Commodus to proclaim himself emperor, much to the dismay of Lucilla. Because of her devotion to her deceased father, and, irritated with Livius for giving up the throne, she agrees to a loveless marriage to King Sohamus of Armenia in the hope it will help the Roman Empire. Despite pestilence and unrest among his citizens, Commodus continues to live a life of debauchery, banishing both Livius and the faithful Timonides, a Greek philosopher and adviser to Marcus. Nevertheless, Livius remains loyal to Commodus during an Eastern revolt in which Sohamus is killed in battle. After Livius has brought Lucilla back to Rome, Commodus becomes so enraged by Livius that he has a newly-liberated barbarian village completely destroyed; and Timonides is slain during its defense. Upon learning that Verulus, an aging gladiator, is his real father, Commodus loses his mind, proclaims himself a god, and condemns Lucilla to be burned at the stake in the arena. But Livius returns in time to kill Commodus and rescue Lucilla from the blazing pyre. As the Roman senators compete for the throne, Livius and Lucilla leave the rapidly disintegrating empire. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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