Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1932. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Waldemar Young, Sidney Buchman, from the play by Wilson Barrett, and the novel Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Cinematography by Karl Struss. Produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Music by Jay Chernis, Rudolph G. Kopp, Paul Marquardt, Milan Roder. Production Design by Mitchell Leisen. Costume Design by Mitchell Leisen. Film Editing by Anne Bauchens. Academy Awards 1932/1933.
Anyone looking for a good example of Hollywood filmmaking before the 1934 Hayes Code will get a lot out of this Cecil B. DeMille epic. It stars Elissa Landi as a good little Christian girl who, along with other believers, is being persecuted and tortured by ancient Romans who want to stamp the treasonous religion out of their empire. Fredric March plays a high-ranking Roman official who has the lust of Nero’s wife (Claudette Colbert) but is in love with Landi despite her beliefs. Trying to keep her alive, he does his best to convince her to leave her religion behind, but she will have none of it. Charles Laughton is hilarious in a fake nose as the insane Nero, who is convinced by his advisors that the fire that destroyed Rome should be blamed on the Christians in order to justify their mass execution. The scintillating scenes that inspire its being remembered so well today include a nude (and almost completely revealed) Colbert taking a bath in asses’ milk, and a wild orgy that March drags Landi to in order to convince her to leave her dull lifestyle behind. Other than that, there isn’t much to distinguish it from the other myriad of similarly-themed DeMille epics of the past and (though much cleaner) of the future as well. It definitely has a rare edge to it, though, and the silvery photography still looks dazzling today.