Quo Vadis (1951) with Jean Simmons

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Before Ben Hur, before Gladiator, there was Quo Vadis.

And, if truth be told, Quo Vadis came after those other two films there would be even more questions left unanswered. For Quo Vadis, although not a particularly poor film in any regard, fails to capture more than passing interest. It is, perhaps more so now with its newly remastered and restored print (and on blu-ray too no less), the perfect visual showcase. The set pieces are stupendous and the colors, soundtrack, and atmosphere created in the picture are cutting edge for the era.

quovadis_rep1However, the plot is tepid and slow moving at best – heavy handed and stagnant at worst. At 171 minutes any picture needs a strong plot and strong acting- however this is lacking in both. It’s a rather ho-hum telling of a returning Roman commander (Robert Taylor) falling in love with a Christian woman (Deborah Kerr), while the Rome of Nero (Peter Ustinov) burns in the background. Ulimately Taylor and Kerr are, quite literally, fed to the lions. Oh well.

quovadisRobert Taylor is his usual wooden self – and Ms. Kerr seems underutilized in what seems a major but ironically trifling role. The one highlight – and it is a big one – is Ustinov’s portrayal of Nero. Ustinov’s characterizations range from the merely maniacal to the devilishly diabolical. He is, quite simply, the raving lunatic which our history lessons always depicted Nero as. Although not given top billing his storyline plays a larger role in the action than the love story of Taylor and Kerr. And somehow, although nominated for an Academy Award, he failed to win.

The new print is a glory to behold. Colors are bright and the image is crisp, as one would expect in 1080. However, there are three scenes which display horrendous edge enhancement which surely someone in quality control should have caught. The two most egregious of these are the chariot race roughly one-third of the way in and Saint Peter’s message from Christ- surely the green halo’s which the remastering process created could have been removed or softened in some way. And although neither is a spectacular scene to begin with (the chariot race has some terrible rear projection), Warners could have done better.

That being said, kudos to Warners for actually releasing a classic title on Blu-ray. Classic titles are extremely rare in this not so new format, so perhaps we should reserve judgement.

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