Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Though Fall of the Roman Empire is now infamous as the epic which destroyed the cinematic "empire" of producer Samuel Bronston, the film is actually an above-average historical drama, attempting to make sense of the political intrigues which resulted in the dissolution of the Glory That Was Rome. The film begins with wise, diplomatic emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) calling together the various representatives of the many nations within the Empire as a means of securing peace and prosperity for all involved. When Marcus intimates that he intends to turn over his crown to adopted son Livius (Stephen Boyd) rather than the logical successor Commodus (Christopher Plummer), he is poisoned by one of Commodus' cronies. Marcus' daughter Lucilla (Sophia Loren) tries to get Livius to claim the throne, but he wants no part of it; thus, the fate of the empire is in the incompetent hands of the preening Commodus. Despite efforts by cooler heads to save Rome from ruin, Commodus vainly declares himself a god and kills anyone who poses a threat to him. When he learns that Lucilla actually has a stronger claim to the throne than he does, Commodus condemns her to be burned at the stake. Only then does Livius intervene, slaying Commodus and promising to try to pick up the pieces of the disintegrating empire. Attempting to find a common ground between history buffs and action fans, Fall of the Roman Empire has come to be regarded as a classic. Alas, audiences in 1964 had grown weary of epics (especially after the highly touted but disappointing Cleopatra), and failed to turn out in sufficient enough numbers to justify Fall's exorbitant cost. Virtually wiped out, Samuel Bronston would not be able to return to filmmaking until 1971, and then only on a much smaller and more pinchpenny scale.
war, battle [war], decadence, dictator, ego, emperor, empire, family, gladiator, heir, killing, love, murder, poison, politician, power, prediction, promiscuity, romance, scheme, sibling, sword, throne, tutor, tyrant, vanity