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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 8: Quo Vadis - Nero’s Rome as a Totalitarian State
Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor
Mervyn LeRoy’s 1951 epic is based on the 1896 novel of the same name by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a devout Christian Pole who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905, largely due to the popularity of this book. The film tells the love story of the Christian Lygia (Deborah Kerr) who wins the heart of Marcus Vinicius (Rober Taylor), a Roman noble who becomes a convert. That love affair is set against the back story of persecuted Christian minority that suffers under the pagan Romans—the Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov)—and then arises to vanquish the despot. The film, which was in line for production ever since MGM negotiated film rights in 1925, continually shifted its historical emphasis. In 1942, in the middle of World War II, the film’s producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. wanted the spotlight to be on Nero "both as epitaph and warning to any autocrats who might come along in the future." To hit the point home, the film used Mussolini’s actual model of Rome as the same one Nero holds up in the film. By 1951, with Mussolini long dead, the film’s indictment against totalitarianism became both more general and more specific. Chris McDonald, writing on “The Ooh Tray” website, observes, “Quo Vadis’ tale of a Christian minority’s abuse and eventual victory over a totalitarian, vast, and Godless enemy became symbolic of America’s own battle against the faceless threat of Communism in the 1950s. So effective was Quo Vadis’ allegory that the USSR banned LeRoy’s film for decades.”