The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on March 29, 1964 · 313
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 313

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Los Angeles, California
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Sunday, March 29, 1964
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313
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Equal to Some of Its Parts BY PHILIP K. SCHEUER v .--"rr;.-s-: J.-a k'&f-T:rmmm 'The Fall of the Roman Empire" is more like a recapitulation of all the great movie spectacles, historical and pseudo, than a monumental entity in Itself. Seeing it was like reliving the unreeling of everything from the first ' 'Last Days of Pompeii" of my pop-eyed . ; boyhood through the "Ben-Hurs" to "Backet" only bigger. Yes, actually bigger. As moviemaking it is stupendous Yet the only emotion it engenders is excitement intermittent excitement, and Its art lies in its parts (the camera work, the color, a few of the performances, even the music) but not in their um. Its triumph is the triumph of its technicians, of matter over mind. Not that "The Fall of the Roman Empire" doesn't try to say something, something important. Its plea is for one world, envisioned by Emperor Marcus Aurtlius as a Pax Romana, and Its lesson is that materialism will get us if we don't watch out. Its creators have simply moved their theme back to AD 180 and the pre-Christian era of Rome (though one follower of Christ Is-revealed in it). The dream of Marcus Aurelius was real enough; the rest 13 fictional embellishment. Production in Spain The production, in Spain, is primarl- ly the w ork of the trio responsible for "El Cid" Samuel Rronston, producer; Anthony Mann, director, and Philip Yordan, principal writer. As he did in "El Cid," Yordan uses what at the time I called the Shakespearean format that is, scenes with one group of characters, scenes with another group; then the first again, etc., etc. in short, the "meanwhile, back at the palace idea. Unfortunately, "Roman Empire" is even more complex, with its this faction versus that faction versus the other faction, than "El Cid" was so despite occasional helpful straws in the wind from the narrator, I could have done w ith some of those good old, no matter how ornate, explanatory D. W. Griffith Mibtitlcs. . The synopsis furnished by the producer fills eight double - spaced mimeographed pages which will give you the general idea. In briefer (I hope) outline: The Roman Empire is at the height of its glory under the wise and philosophio rule of Marcus Aurelius (Alec .Guinness). At a northern fort he has gathered together all the governors, kings and princes of the empire to urge their support for a true Roman peace. But the emperor knows he is dying; and for the earning out of his great task he decides to entrust his succession not to his profligate son Commo-dua (Christopher Plummer) but to Eivius (Stephen Boyd. military tribune whom he has raised as a son. This decision he confides to his loving daughter Lucilla (Soph'a Loren), despite the forebodings of the Greek philosopher Timonides (James Mason) and the court's blind prophet Cleander (Mel Ferrer). When informed of the emperor's choice Livius begs (like Beeket of another king), "Do not give me this power!" Meanwhile, two trouble spots remain to be dealt with hostile frontiers the Barbarians in the north- era forest and the Persians to the east. Livius with his legionnaires and Commodus with his gladiators, sent to capture the Barbarians' leader Ballo-mar (John Ireland), clash not only with them but also with one another. Thus the stage is, in effect, set for the multifarious events that ensue. If it is set slowly, in the half before intermission the picture runs over three hours it really reaps the whirlwind thereafter . . . duels, battles, torturings, a chariot race, a Roman Saturnalia and a final burning at the stake that darkens the sky Itself, culminating in a rescue in the most heroic tradition of pioneer director Griffith. Unfortunately, one is too often conscious that its heroics call for a breed of superhumans and ac tors are, after all, only human. In the writing as well as In the performance, several of the key scenes slip over into the preposterous the homage-to-Wotan sequence in the Barbarians' phony-looking caves, for instance, and the overacted climax between Plummer as Commodus and Anthony Quayle as Verulus, an aging gladiator. The god3 are not the only ones who laugh. Nevertheless, it is the dastardly Plummer, and others trained in the Shakespearean tradition, who provide the best acting. Alec Guinness is a strongly sympathetic figure as the divinely inspired (so he believes) Marcus Aurelius, racing death to accomplish his Pax Romana. (Considering that he is dying anyway, it seems a bit gratuitous of his enemies to give him a nudge with a poisoned apple.) Also generally effective are Mason, Quayle, Douglas Wilmer, George Mur-celL Andrew Keir, Norman Wooland, Finlay Currie and others imported from Britain. : Neither Boyd nor Mis Loren mea-ures up fully to the demands put upon each. Their most serious lapses occur in the voice department, Boyd tending to thicken his lines and Miss Loren to thicken her accent at inopportune moments. Also, her tears are synthetic alt. Even for $1 million. Sophia should resist the temptation to leave her own Roma! Omar Sharif is all but lost in the thuffle as Sohamus, king of the Armenians, who wins (and loses) Miss Loren in a royal marriage. Ireland, like his Barbarians, is all but lost under a Harpo Marx wig. Flair for Raging Spectacle Anthony Mann has a flair for this kind of raging spectac le, fairly glorying in gore, and his direction is matched by that of Yakima Canutt, in charge of the second unit. Cameraman Robert Kras-ker'a way with I'ltra-Panavisicm must surely be the greatest in Europe if not in the world. Dimitri Tiomkin has come . through with a really triumphant score. And one can only bow low before the architectural genius of the production designers, Colasanti and Moore. Yordan's collaborators on the screenplay were Ben Barzman and Basilio Franchina. Will Durant was an-adviser. Paramount is releasing "The Fall of the Roman Empire." It's like money in the bank. And Samuel Bronston could use some. ?. fiX. Yi tit -ff if la 'i J f The Roman Scent Above: Sophia Loren end Stephen Boyd mourn' d&arSl of James Mason in scent from "The Fall of the Roma?) Empire." Lsft: Alec Guinne as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Below: Roman soldiers forrft an enclosure for a ' javellil fight involving Boyd and Con modus (Christopher Plummer). i f I n i V- "ft d-. II.: i S . . . t 1 n I w fi. f-i, -V ft ii i ii i mmClm i ..Jt. " t a a. r loSlnjflf3'Ciuifa CALENDAR, SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 1964 THII

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