An overlong, though sometimes engrossing, spectacle that attempts to chronicle the bloody transitional period following the death of Marcus Aurelius (Guinness). Philosopher-emperor Guinness calls a meeting of his family clan and supporters at his fortress in Germany. He confides to
daughter Loren that he intends to make his adopted son, Boyd, the new emperor upon his death, instead of his legal heir, Plummer. Blind soothsayer Ferrer, who is one of Plummer's cronies, overhears Guinness and poisons him. Following Guinness' death, Loren tells Boyd of the dead emperor's wishes,
but he spurns the throne and allows the strutting Plummer to become Rome's new Caesar. The empire begins to erode as Plummer's sense of power and ego inflate. Although Boyd and Mason are able to institute some small reforms, there is little they do can stem the mounting revolt against Plummer.
Loren marries Sharif who is later killed by Plummer's legions invading Armenian territory. She then returns to Rome with Boyd. Plummer has gone berserk, declaring himself a god, as did so many vainglorious emperors before him. He murders anyone who stands in his way, including the humanitarian
Mason. When he learns that Quayle, his old gladiatorial tutor, is really his father, Plummer has him killed. Realizing that Loren has a stronger tie to the throne, Plummer orders her death; she is tied to a stake in the arena, ready to be burned to death. Boyd arrives and saves her at the last
minute. He then draws his sword against Plummer; the battle between them is bloody and to the death, with Boyd triumphant. He is heralded as the rightful heir to the throne, but, with Loren in his arms, he turns his back once more on the glorious title. As the lovers depart, Plummer's aides begin
bidding fortunes for the right to become emperor.
THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, for all its sumptuous sets, wall-to-wall armies, and exciting action, is vacuous. No orderly history is presented here, even though the much-vaunted historian Will Durant was a consultant on the production, but rather a hodge-podge of events and personalities are
thrown willy-nilly into the threadbare story. Whenever there is a lull, director Mann throws Loren at the viewer in some provocative bedroom pose. Her thick accent brutalizes her lines horrendously. Guinness has a very small part in the film and was obviously used for star value. He sleepwalks
through his role, as does Mason, both British stalwarts seeming to shrug at their parts in this fuzzy epic. Boyd's performance as the heroic and noble Roman is typically devoid of emotion, another jaw-jutting granite performance. Only Plummer is fascinating as the eccentric, wholly unpredictable
despot. Producer Bronston had lavished fortunes on such enormous films as EL CID (1961) and KING OF KINGS (1961), but he opened all the floodgates with this one, pouring more than $20 million into this beautiful but soggy Roman tale. He lost more than $18 million which caused him to collapse his
production facilities in Spain and abandon his wholesale rental of an otherwise unoccupied Spanish army. Only Fox's disastrous CLEOPATRA, released the year before, exceeded this financial catastrophe. Mann excused his failure by stating that the film's story was "defeatist," and, therefore, he
could not be upbeat about it. The musical score was nominated for an Oscar.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: An overlong, though sometimes engrossing, spectacle that attempts to chronicle the bloody transitional period following the death of Marcus Aurelius (Guinness). Philosopher-emperor Guinness calls a meeting of his family clan and supporters at his fortress… (more)