Quo Vadis (1951)

170-172 mins | Adventure, Melodrama | 1951

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HISTORY

Following the opening credits, voice-over narration by actor Walter Pidgeon introduces the setting of the story, with action that opens on the Appian Way in 64 A.D., outside Rome, a "corrupt state on the cusp of destruction." The narration also describes "a miracle" that happened thirty years previously, following the death of Christ. The film's (and original novel’s) title is spoken in the scene in which "Peter" has a vision of Christ and utters the words Quo vadis, Domine ?, which comes from the Gospel of St John.XVI.5 and is traditionally translated from Latin as "Whither goest Thou, Lord?" Within the film, there is a brief flashback sequence in which Peter describes his first meeting with Christ and subsequent time as an apostle. The picture closes with voice-over narration reciting a passage from St. John.XIV.6 "I am the way, the truth, the life."
       Although some sources refer to the film as Quo Vadis? , like Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1895 novel, the M-G-M film does not include a question mark in the title. Sienkiewicz's novel was first published in his native Poland, and within a few years became an international best seller, translated into many languages. According to some modern sources, the first English translation, made in 1896, was an American best seller for more than twenty-five years. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905, due primarily to Quo Vadis?
       Although the novel and film's love story and its characters are fictional, many of the political and religious characters were actual historical figures. The emperor Nero, who reigned from 37--66 A.D., has been regarded negatively throughout history, ... More Less

Following the opening credits, voice-over narration by actor Walter Pidgeon introduces the setting of the story, with action that opens on the Appian Way in 64 A.D., outside Rome, a "corrupt state on the cusp of destruction." The narration also describes "a miracle" that happened thirty years previously, following the death of Christ. The film's (and original novel’s) title is spoken in the scene in which "Peter" has a vision of Christ and utters the words Quo vadis, Domine ?, which comes from the Gospel of St John.XVI.5 and is traditionally translated from Latin as "Whither goest Thou, Lord?" Within the film, there is a brief flashback sequence in which Peter describes his first meeting with Christ and subsequent time as an apostle. The picture closes with voice-over narration reciting a passage from St. John.XIV.6 "I am the way, the truth, the life."
       Although some sources refer to the film as Quo Vadis? , like Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1895 novel, the M-G-M film does not include a question mark in the title. Sienkiewicz's novel was first published in his native Poland, and within a few years became an international best seller, translated into many languages. According to some modern sources, the first English translation, made in 1896, was an American best seller for more than twenty-five years. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905, due primarily to Quo Vadis?
       Although the novel and film's love story and its characters are fictional, many of the political and religious characters were actual historical figures. The emperor Nero, who reigned from 37--66 A.D., has been regarded negatively throughout history, primarily because of his instigation of what is known as the first Christian persecution. He presided over Rome during the great fire of 64 and, over the centuries, various historical sources have blamed him for having the fire deliberately set.
       Nero's death precipitated a chaotic time in Roman history. Following Nero's death, three emperors came to the throne in rapid succession, Otho, Galba and Vitellius, resulting in a period known historically as the year of the four emperors. Some incidents within the film, including the death of St. Paul outside Rome, the flowering of St. Peter's staff and his crucifixion upside down, are taken from passages in the New Testament of the Bible or Christian religious tradition.
       The 1951 film had been planned for many years prior to the start of principal photography. The following information has been gleaned from contemporary news items, feature articles in newspapers and magazines, studio press releases and modern sources as noted:
       Although modern sources indicate that M-G-M had been negotiating for the rights to film Sienkiewicz’s novel since 1925, the earliest news item located about the production appeared in late 1935. At that time, a HR news item mentioned that "television rights" were holding up M-G-M's production of Quo Vadis , which other news items stated was to star Wallace Beery as "Nero." An undated, but contemporary HR news stated that Marlene Dietrich was being sought for the role of Nero's wife "Poppaea." According to a LAHE news item, Howard Estabrook wrote the first draft of the screenplay in 1939. Other LAHE news items noted that the film was to star Robert Taylor and cost "a couple million bucks" to produce.
       In 1942, it was announced that the film was to be the first M-G-M production of Arthur Hornblow, Jr. and that Walter Reisch was working on a treatment. Other news items indicated that Hornblow had offered the role of Nero to Orson Welles because Broadway star Alfred Lunt was unavailable for the project. That same year, S. N. Behrman was also reported as working on a script, and M-G-M press releases related in HR stated that the production would have an "unprecedented scope," with 176 speaking parts and 30,000 extras.
       In early 1943, HR news items predicted that Quo Vadis would be ready to shoot in three months or more, that Margarita de Guirola was cast in the film (probably as "Lygia"), and that M-G-M was seeking a six foot-six to seven foot actor to portray "Ursus." In Mar 1943, HR reported that Mervyn LeRoy would direct the picture, if he finished Madame Curie in time (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ).
       Various news items at the time mentioned that Walter Pidgeon was favored for the role of “Petronius,” Lana Turner had tested for Lygia and Thomas Mitchell was sought for “Paul of Tarsus.” In May 1943, it was reported that Ernst Lubitsch was "negotiating to direct." At around the same time, it was reported that M-G-M was seeking Charles Laughton, who had portrayed Nero in Paramount's 1932 Sign of the Cross (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ) to recreate his role but that Laughton would only agree to do the film if Robert Z. Leonard directed.
       Other news items in spring 1943 items stated that the film was to begin principal photography by early summer. In Jun 1943, it was reported that the film might be shot in Mexico because of the "authentic atmosphere" and low production costs of building lavish sets and hiring thousands of extras. Manart Kippen and Katherine Balfour were tested at that time for unspecified roles, and the film, which would take about a year to shoot, would start, with Leonard as the director, in four to six months. William Cannon was then announced as the unit production manager, and Eugene Bearman was named costume designer.
       Possibly because of strong anti-fascist sentiments prevalent during World War II, Hornblow announced that the film would be about Nero "both as epitaph and warning to any autocrats who might come along in the future." By mid-summer 1943, news items indicated that the film would be postponed for the fall 1943 schedule due to the large budget and scale of the production, but by September 1943, the production was postponed indefinitely, possibly due to finances as well as shortages and logistical problems due to wartime restrictions.
       Interest in the production revived after World War II. In 1948, a HR news item stated that Sam Wood was set to direct the picture. By 1949, however, various news items reported that John Huston was to direct, with Gregory Peck as the lead and British actor Robert Morley as Nero. Ben Goetz, head of M-G-M's British studios outside London, was announced as a primary coordinator of the production, which would be utilizing over $2,500,000 in frozen funds for its production base in Rome, Italy.
       A DV news item on 9 May 1949 noted that Famous Artists agency head Charles K. Feldman had acquired the rights to Fabiola , a French-Italian co-production, directed by Allesandro Blasetti and starring Michele Morgan and Henry Vidal and that Feldman planned to rush the film into theaters before filming began on the similarly themed Quo Vadis . On 21 May 1949, a HCN article reported that the $5,000,000 budgeted M-G-M production, which was have to begun shooting in Rome on 1 Jul, was to be shelved "for at least a year." The article went on to say that Peck, who was to co-star with Elizabeth Taylor, had a serious eye infection that prevented him from working. However, the HCN article stated that "one studio source" speculated Quo Vadis was being cancelled because of Feldman's acquisition of Fabiola . A LAT article on 22 May 1949, (possibly written prior to the previous day's HCN article) indicated that the production was still on, with Leo Genn as Petronius and Peter Ustinov cast as Nero.
       A Huston biography stated the production was delayed because of Peck's eye infection. The biography further stated that Huston later claimed he was coerced into accepting the directing assignment for Quo Vadis by M-G-M studio head Louis B. Mayer. He additionally said that M-G-M executives were concerned about the escalating costs of Quo Vadis and wanted to cancel the production around this time, but Hornblow convinced them to continue. After Peck’s eye problems, Hornblow resigned from the project and Huston followed suit a short time later. Hornblow and Huston's departures, as well as Peck's, were noted in an 8 Dec 1949 HR news item. The biography further proffered that the director had wanted Ava Gardner for the female lead and his father, Walter Huston, for Peter.
       Following the departure of Hornblow, Huston and Peck, numerous trade paper news items and M-G-M press releases documented the film's final months of pre-production: John Lee Mahin was hired to write a screenplay in late Dec 1949, which, in Mar 1950 was announced as a $7,000,000-budgeted picture. Mahin shares screenplay credit with Behrman and Sonya Levien. In Apr 1950, according to an AmCin article by director of photography Robert Surtees, M-G-M production chief Dore Schary gave the final signal that the production could go ahead. Apr 1950 trade paper news items announced that Robert Taylor was once again cast in the lead, with Deborah Kerr as Lygia, joining Ustinov and Genn in the film's four major roles, and that the film would be shot in Rome.
       The AmCin articles, NYT and the film’s pressbook noted that M-G-M executive E. J. Mannix , production manager Henry Henigson, art director William A. Horning and other crew members traveled to Rome many months before the actual start of filming. Cinecittà, the film studio built outside Rome during the mid-1930s, was in general disrepair after years of use as a barracks for German soldiers during the war and a refugee camp after. To make it ready for Quo Vadis , M-G-M had to finance extensive repairs and reconstruction of the studio.
       Principal photography began at Cinecittà Studios on 22 May 1950, more than a dozen years after it was first put on M-G-M's schedule. Despite the lengthy planning stages and vast scale of the production, several news items affirmed that principal photography, which was completed on 1 Nov 1950, ended ahead of schedule. Surtees’ AmCin articles attributed the success of the production to the American crew members imported to work with the Italian crew, as well as the organization of Horning and Henigson. Hugh Gray, whose onscreen credit reads "lyrics compositions and technical advisor," is credited by several sources as being both a contributing writer and an instrumental part of the overall production team.
       In the summer and fall of 1950, actors mentioned in HR as being cast in Quo Vadis but whose appearance in the released film has not been verified include John Douglas and Blanche Zohar. Walter Lazzaro was mentioned as being cast as Christ in "an effect sequence," most likely Peter's vision, but Robin Hughes is credited with the role in the CBCS. [As in other films of the era, Christ was not shown full-face, but merely suggested or shown from behind or in long shot.]
       According to the pressbook and news items, as many as 30,000 extras were used in the film, the large portion of them for two key sequences, the burning of Rome and the Colosseum scenes. In modern interviews, actress Sophia Loren stated that she and her mother were among the thousands of extras appearing in the film's famous scenes set in the Roman Colosseum. The burning of Rome took a crew of twenty men to coordinate thousands of gallons of inflammable liquid that had to be mixed and piped to various sets as the dramatic action required. The sequence required three months of preparation and twenty-four nights to shoot. The film's pressbook, reviews and articles about the film recounted numerous statistics of the vast numbers of costumes, sets and other properties used for the film. A HR news item in Jul 1950 stated that the production's simultaneous use of four color cameras was thought to be a first. A 14 Oct 1951 NYT article added that use of the four cameras provided "maximum mobility" and guarded against "the high costs of re-takes involving thousands of extras."
       According to Surtees' articles and other contemporary sources, the film’s dailies were sent to London where two prints were processed. One print would then be sent back to Rome, with the other print sent to M-G-M's Culver City studio. An 11 Dec 1950 article in HR reported that film editor Ralph E. Winters had just returned from Rome with 580,000 feet of the film that needed to be edited for the final release.
       The first preview of the film was held on 30 Jun 1951 in Berkeley, CA, with a second "sneak" held the following night in San Francisco. According to a NYT article on the film, audience members at both previews were asked if they preferred to have the picture shown with an intermission or have it run straight through. The article stated that both audiences, one of which was given an intermission, the other not, voted overwhelmingly to have an intermission at one screening and not to have one at the other. When the film had its premiere and road show engagements, an intermission was included.
       Most reviews of the picture praised it. Trade reviews predicted huge financial as well as critical success: the HR reviewer stated " Quo Vadis is going to sell more tickets than any motion picture in the industry's history. And well it should." The DV critic commented, "That it will ring up top grosses and strong repeat business for years to come is a certainty;...More importantly, however, it is a film that realizes the potentialities of the medium, reflecting top credit on all concerned." Although film critic Bosley Crowther of NYT also predicted the financial success of Quo Vadis , he was less enthusiastic about its aesthetic merits, calling it "a perfection of spectacle and of hippodrome display...a staggering combination of cinema brilliance and sheer banality, of visual excitement and verbal boredom, of historical pretentiousness and sex."
       Although there were several "premieres" and road show engagements for Quo Vadis from late 1951 through early 1952, studio records and release charts indicate that the film did not have a wide national release until 25 Dec 1953. According to a HR news item, the film had "nearly 100" commercial tie-ins, the largest number for a single motion picture to that time. Interest in the picture was so great that a LAEx ad on 29 Nov 1951 announced that there would be a special 10:00 a.m. showing of the film that morning at the United Artists Theatre on Wilshire Blvd. that would "not effect the Invitation Premiere" at the 4 Star Theatre that night.
       Publicity for the film included a one-reel Technicolor short on "the making of..." and an enormous outpouring of stories and full-color ad inserts in major newspapers. A commemorative book, according to a HR article, "one of the most elegant ever," was sold in theater lobbies where the film was being road shown. The top ticket price for the film's first run was to be $2.40. According to a pre-release article in HR , all Loew's theaters had been instructed to prevent ticket scalping by having someone at each theater monitor sales of blocks of tickets for clubs and groups. A 16 Nov HR news item stated that in its first week of release at the Capital Theatre in New York (which, along with the Astor Theatre was the only venue currently showing the film in the city), the film had set a box-office record, and slightly more than doubled the take from the first week of 1939's box-office smash Gone with the Wind (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ).
       Quo Vadis was nominated for eight Academy Awards, although it did not win any. The nominations included Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor for both Genn and Ustinov; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color) for Horning, Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno and Hugh Hunt; Best Cinematography (Color) for Robert Surtees and William V. Skall; Best Costume Design (Color) for Herschel McCoy; Best Film Editing for Ralph E. Winters and Best Scoring (Drama or Comedy) for Miklos Rozsa.
       According to a 31 Mar 1954 HR news item, Quo Vadis had recouped its production costs, reputed by various sources to have been between $6,000,000 and $7,000,000, the most for any film made to that time. The articles stated that total rentals for the U.S. and Canada alone came to $10,450,000, with $7,315,000 going toward production costs. According to an 11 Apr 1956 DV news item, the film was just concluding its final booking after running continuously since its late 1951 premieres.
       Although not the first of the "Biblical epics" that were prominent during the 1950s, Quo Vadis , which was released a year after Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ), is credited by film historians as a major influence on the genre, and the film that set the standard for epic Roman or Biblical films shot abroad and featuring a "cast of thousands."
       Quo Vadis was adapted to the screen in a twenty minute French version in 1902, but its most important film adaptation prior to the 1951 version was the 1912 Italian Quo Vadis? , directed by Enrico Guazzoni and often called the first film epic and the longest film ever made to that time. The film was an enormous worldwide success and opened to critical acclaim in the United States in 1913. Another Italian version of the story was made in 1925, starring German-born silent film star Emil Jennings as Nero. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Oct 1951
pp. 398-99, 417-19.
American Cinematographer
Nov 1951
p. 448, 473, 475-76.
Box Office
10 Nov 1951
p. 14.
Box Office
17 Nov 1951.
---
Daily Variety
18 Mar 1949.
---
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1949.
---
Daily Variety
9 May 1949.
---
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1949.
---
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1950.
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 1951
p. 3.
Daily Variety
11 Apr 1956.
---
Film Daily
9 Nov 1951
p. 3.
Hollywood Citizen-News
21 May 1949.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
27 Nov 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Nov 1935
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1936
pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1936
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 1942
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 1942
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1942
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1942
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Mar 1943
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1943
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 1943
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1943
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1943
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 1943
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1943
pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1943
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 1943
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1943
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 1943
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1943
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1943
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1943
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1943
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Sep 1943
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 1943
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1948.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1950
p. 80.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 1950
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 1950
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 1950
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 1950
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 1950
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1950
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 1950
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 1951
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jan 1951
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1951
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1951
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1951
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 1951
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1951
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1951
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 1951
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1951
pp. 1, 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 1952
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Feb 1952
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 1954
p. 1.
Los Angeles Examiner
29 Nov 1951.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
30 Nov 1951.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
15 Sep 1939.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
21 Sep 1939.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Nov 1950.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Nov 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
24 Nov 1951
pp. 1118-19.
New York Times
14 Oct 1951.
---
New York Times
9 Nov 1951
p. 22.
New Yorker
7 Oct 1950.
---
Newsweek
19 Nov 1951.
---
Time
20 Aug 1952.
---
Variety
1 Nov 1950.
---
Variety
14 Nov 1951
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Peter Miles
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
M-G-M British liaison
WRITERS
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
Grip
Head elec
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost recreated by
SOUND
Rec supv
Asst sd man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
Choreog
MAKEUP
Hair styles recreated by
Hair styles recreated by
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Lyrics compositions and historical adv
Prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
Casting
Asst casting
Dir of pub
Unit pub
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Poland, 1895).
DETAILS
Release Date:
1951
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 8 November 1951
Los Angeles premiere: 29 November 1951
Production Date:
22 May--1 November 1950 at Cinecittà Studios, Rome
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 December 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1348
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
170-172
Length(in feet):
15,414
Length(in reels):
18
Countries:
Italy, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15165
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 64 A.D. commanding officer Marcus Vinicius returns to Rome after three years abroad waging battle for emperor Nero, a tyrant who believes he is a gifted divinity. Nero's most trusted advisor Petronius, who is also Vinicius' uncle, informs his nephew that Nero has recently murdered his wife and mother and married a slave named Poppaea, and that the disgruntled Roman Senate is making plans to replace Nero with General Galba of Tuscany. While visiting the home of retired General Plautius, Vinicius flirts with a woman he assumes is a household slave, but soon discovers that she is Plautius' daughter Lygia, who rebuffs his crass advances. Over dinner, when Vinicius eagerly describes the defeat of Rome's enemies, Lygia expresses her disgust with the brutalities of war. Plautius explains that Lygia was once a princess who was made a slave during his military campaign against her people. Plautius and his wife Pomponia adopted Lygia in attempt to make amends for her suffering. Later, when family friend Paul philosophizes about peace, Vinicius insists that Lygia is too lovely to worry about such trivial teachings and leaves. Paul then tells the family that the apostle Peter, who spoke with their savior Jesus Christ before his death, will arrive in Rome shortly. Later that night, after Vinicius invites Lygia to a feast celebrating the legions' triumph, she reveals she is attracted to Vinicius, but admits his tales of conquest disturb her and refuses him again. After he leaves, Lygia prays for Vinicius' conversion to Christianity. During the military parade the following day, Petronius suggests to Nero that he buy Vinicius a slave as a sign of gratitude. Nero orders Lygia taken and given ... +


In 64 A.D. commanding officer Marcus Vinicius returns to Rome after three years abroad waging battle for emperor Nero, a tyrant who believes he is a gifted divinity. Nero's most trusted advisor Petronius, who is also Vinicius' uncle, informs his nephew that Nero has recently murdered his wife and mother and married a slave named Poppaea, and that the disgruntled Roman Senate is making plans to replace Nero with General Galba of Tuscany. While visiting the home of retired General Plautius, Vinicius flirts with a woman he assumes is a household slave, but soon discovers that she is Plautius' daughter Lygia, who rebuffs his crass advances. Over dinner, when Vinicius eagerly describes the defeat of Rome's enemies, Lygia expresses her disgust with the brutalities of war. Plautius explains that Lygia was once a princess who was made a slave during his military campaign against her people. Plautius and his wife Pomponia adopted Lygia in attempt to make amends for her suffering. Later, when family friend Paul philosophizes about peace, Vinicius insists that Lygia is too lovely to worry about such trivial teachings and leaves. Paul then tells the family that the apostle Peter, who spoke with their savior Jesus Christ before his death, will arrive in Rome shortly. Later that night, after Vinicius invites Lygia to a feast celebrating the legions' triumph, she reveals she is attracted to Vinicius, but admits his tales of conquest disturb her and refuses him again. After he leaves, Lygia prays for Vinicius' conversion to Christianity. During the military parade the following day, Petronius suggests to Nero that he buy Vinicius a slave as a sign of gratitude. Nero orders Lygia taken and given to Vinicius. While Vinicius tries to interest the sullen Lygia in the palace festivities that night, the conniving Poppaea jealously spies on them. After Nero arrogantly sings amateurish lyrics while accompanying himself on the lyre, Petronius suggests Nero must improve his verses to reflect his "true genius." Nero then exclaims that he might burn the city just to inspire him to create a great epic. Later, while Lygia is being escorted to Vinicius' quarters, her guard, the giant Ursus, attacks the escorts, allowing Lygia to escape. The next day, when Vinicius seeks Petronius' help in locating Lygia, Petronius reveals that Paul is a frequent visitor at Plautius' home. Petronius explains that Lygia, like Paul, is a Christian, members of a secret sect that worships Christ, an opponent of the state who, although crucified, is still of political concern to both Nero and the Senate. Petronius sends his friend to Chilo, a soothsayer, who leads Vinicius to a Christian rite held in a cave that evening. During the ceremony, Peter describes his first meeting with Jesus at Galilee, where the savior miraculously filled their empty fishing nets with catch. Peter continues with the story of how he and eleven other apostles followed Jesus, who was crucified at Calvary. Soon after, Jesus appeared before the apostles, forgave them for their sins and bade them to follow the Ten Commandments and abstain from violence. After the meeting, Vinicius and his guard Croton follow Lygia, but Ursus kills Croton and knocks out Vinicius to protect Lygia. He then carries Vinicius to a hideout, where Lygia tends to his wounds. Vinicius asks her to marry him and offers to fill their home with grand sculptures celebrating her god, but Lygia says she has no need of expensive gestures because she carries the image of Christ in her heart. Driven by jealousy, Vinicius demands that Lygia choose between her faith and him. When she chooses Christ, Vinicius leaves for Antioch, where Poppaea, having heard about his failure with Lygia, tries to entice him into an affair. That afternoon, Nero, surrounded by his council, announces that he killed his mother and past wife to experience a great sacrifice and thereby inspire his "new creative vision." He then unveils a sprawling architectural model of a city called "Neropolis," which will replace Rome. When Petronius asks what will become of the existing city, Nero announces that he has set fire to Rome. Fearing for Lygia's life, Vinicius steals a chariot and races to Rome, where buildings are tumbling down and fires spill out over thousands of citizens. Opening a sewer grate, Vinicius leads a crowd to the city's edge, where he spots Lygia. Petronian guards, following Nero's orders, block the exits out of the city, but Vinicius fights the commanding officer and orders the troops to break ranks, thus freeing thousands of people from imminent death. Soon, the citizen mob reaches the palace at Antioch prepared to kill Nero for his incendiary act. Desperate to find a scapegoat, Nero orders his commanding officer Tigellinus to take the blame, but Tigellinus threatens to turn his legions against Nero. When Poppaea suggests sacrificing the Christians, Nero agrees, but Petronius warns that the Christians will then become martyrs. The next morning, while Petronius signs a petition presented to him by Vinicius requesting Galba replace Nero, he warns his nephew that Poppaea has issued a warrant for his arrest and that Christians are being imprisoned for setting fire to Rome. Vinicius searches for Lygia in the prisons, where he is thrown into a cell with her and her parents. Learning that they will soon be fed to the lions, the Christian prisoners demand to know why God has deserted them; however, Plautius and Pomponia encourage the crowd to be courageous and have faith in God. Meanwhile, travleing toward Greece on the road outside Rome, Peter witnesses the skies filling with light as God, speaking through his fellow traveler, the young orphan Nazarius, announces, "My people in Rome have need of thee," thus causing Peter to return to Rome. That night, Petronius holds a dinner for his friends and announces he is freeing his slaves, including Eunice, to whom he has devoted his love. Denouncing his cynical wit, and believing that a better life awaits him after death, Petronius orders one of his servants to slit his wrist. Eunice, distraught by her lover's act, slits her wrist as well. As they lay dying at the head of the table, Petronius dictates a letter to Nero in which he implores his leader not to "mutilate the arts" with his "mediocre performances," and admonishes him to "brutalize the people but do not bore them as you have bored your friend." When the letter is delivered, Nero seethes at his advisor's words. Later, at the Roman arena, Nero and Poppaea are awaiting the first sacrifice of the Christians, when Peter enters among the spectators and tells the faithful that they are blessed for dying in the name of Christ. His words prompt the victims to sing fearlessly as the lions attack them, infuriating Nero. In a cell that evening, Lygia asks Peter to marry her and Vinicius, who is beginning to understand their faith. Soon after, Peter is crucified along with Plautius, who publicly accuses Nero of setting fire to Rome. The next day, Vinicius is forced to watch beside Poppaea as Ursus guards Lygia from a charging Brahma bull in the arena. When Vinicius calls out to Christ to give the guard strength, Ursus wrestles the beast to the ground and kills it. As the crowd and council demand that Lygia and Ursus be spared, Vinicius announces to the public that Galba will soon take over as emperor of Rome. Nero flees the arena to his palace, which is surrounded by throngs of irate Roman citizens. Accusing Poppaea of encouraging him to make martyrs of the Christians and thus cause his downfall, he chokes his wife to death then locks himself in his room. Slave Acte is waiting there and hands her master a dagger, telling him to kill himself like an emperor. A coward to the end, Nero begs her to help him plunge the knife into his breast. In the following days, as Galba's troops march into Rome, Vinicius admits that all dynasties are destined to fail and observes that hope resides in one faith that will unite the world. Soon after on the road out of Rome, Nazarius shows Lygia, Vinicius and Ursus the blessed spot where God spoke through him to Peter, which is marked by Peter's upright cane covered with blooming vines.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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