Quo Vadis is a super-spectacle in all its meaning. That there are shortcomings [in this fourth version of the tale] even Metro must have recognized and ignored in consideration of the project’s scope. The captiousness about the story line, some of the players’ wooden performances in contrast to the scenery-chewing of Peter Ustinov (Nero), are part and parcel of any super-spectacular.
The contrast, of course, is sharp in that Leo Genn’s slick underplaying makes Ustinov’s sybarite conception of Nero that much more out of focus with realities. But the Polish novelist, Henryk Sienkiewicz, intended to contrast the glory that was Rome and the splendor that was Nero’s court with the travails of the early Christians.
While the Romans worship their idols and vestal virgins, while Nero rules a still-lush if decadent court in its final stage of cowardice, wickedness and degeneracy, Robert Taylor is shown leading his victorious Roman troops down the Appian Way. Deborah Kerr, as a Christian hostage, is the vis-a-vis. Genn, as the suave Petronius, who constantly derides the stupid Nero, has Marina Berti, a beauteous slave girl, as his romantic opposite.
There are no ups and downs on the spectacular values that comprise the Circus of Nero, the profligate court scenes, the marching armies, the racing chariots, the burning of Rome, the shackled captives under Roman rule, the pagan ceremonies, the secret Christian meetings, the gladiators unto the death to amuse Nero’s court, and the climax as the Christian martyrs face the unleashed lions in the great Circus of Nero.
1951: Nominations: Best Picture, Supp. Actor (Leo Genn, Peter Ustinov), Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Editing, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture