Synopsis by Hal Erickson
This Italian silent film version of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel Quo Vadis? is essentially a series of stagey tableaux occasionally interrupted by spectacle. Sienkiewicz's retelling of the Emperor Nero's persecution of the early Christians, and of one noble Roman warrior's religious conversion, is perfunctory and uncluttered. Evidently concerned that the scenes wherein the Christian martyrs were fed to the lions, and the mid-film setpiece of the burning of Rome, weren't quite enough to sustain audience interest, the filmmakers threw in a chariot race straight out of Ben Hur. Though it seems primitive and uninvolving when seen today, Quo Vadis? is nonetheless an important milestone in movie history. The film ran 12 reels (approximately three hours) at a time when most American productions were still within the 1- to 4-reel length. American film distributor George Kleine pared the film down to 8 reels for US distribution, but this still was an uncommonly long production for its day. While many in the movie industry clucked their tongues and were certain that Kleine was courting financial disaster, Quo Vadis? was an enormous hit in America, held over for 22 weeks at New York's Astor Theatre alone. Kleine was able to charge an admission of $1.50 per person --30 times more than the standard entry fee of the period. The film continued to draw huge crowds when it was sent out in summertime "road shows" all over the country. Quo Vadis? nearly single-handedly convinced everyone in the movie business (except the behind-the-times members of the old Patents Trust) that feature-length films were a viable commercial commodity. It's very likely that, without Quo Vadis?, there would have been no Birth of a Nation.
chariot, Christianity, emperor, lion, religious-conversion, Roman-Empire