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It's unusual for a set to be a film's greatest achievement, but here is an unusual set, shepherded by the great Veniero Colasanti and John Moore, partners in production design, set decoration, and costume design. Inspired by Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the screenplay by Ben Barzman, Basilio Franchina, and Philip Yordan dramatizes the chestnut "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has been destroyed from within." Alec Guinness plays dying emperor Marcus Aurelius, who fretfully tries to put the empire in order before he expires. The old-school acting can inspire eye-rolling at times, but Guinness, Mason, and Plummer ("Let's not think; let's drink!") keep things lively with well-calibrated performances, and John Ireland, Mel Ferrer, and Anthony Quayle contribute as supporting players. The Miriam Collection's outstanding two and three-disc DVD special editions offer a good widescreen transfer and great extras for this forty-four-year-old film. Disc one also includes the full-color 1964 promotional film "Rome in Madrid" (22:18), narrated by James Mason.
The three-disc edition comes packaged in a special box with 32-page reproduction of the original souvenir program, six postcard-sized "production still" reproductions, and a bonus third disc that includes Encyclopaedia Brittanica Educational Shorts About the Roman Empire (56:57 with "Play All" option). The Roman Forum was completely constructed: 27 structures over seven months, down to the cobblestones and statuary.
Wary of his arrogant and wanton son Commodus (Christopher Plummer), the philosopher-emperor privately names as his successor the fictional Livius (square-jawed leading man Stephen Boyd). Mann ably choreographs the action sequences, including an impressive chariot race sequence and battles between the Romans and the raven-maned Germanic "barbarians" at the gates.


Though the transfer betrays some mild digital artifacting and a somewhat dulled color palette, the film looks pretty darn good for its age, and it's presented in its original Roadshow release version.
These provide a great opportunity to view the film's sets and costumes from different angles while learning a bit more about Roman life (and indulging nostalgia for classroom filmstrips). For political reasons, Marcus Aurelius ruefully pledges his daughter Lucilla (Sophia Loren) to Sohamus (Omar Sharif), an Armenian prince.
Discs one and two include an in-depth feature commentary by Bill Bronston (son of producer Samuel Bronston) and Bronston biographer Mel Martin. Disc one also houses the theatrical trailer (4:03), cast and crew filmographies, still galleries of behind-the-scenes shots and promotional material, and DVD previews for El Cid, Cinema Paradiso, and Control. No backdrops, no matte paintings, no facades—this was a three-dimensional scale replica.
Trouble is she and Lucius are lovers, as proven by multiple overripe romantic exchanges that won neither actor any accolades.
Aside from the jaw-dropping sets and costumes, The Fall of the Roman Empire is a pretty decent movie in its own right, sometimes overripe or stodgily stolid, but in its fictionalized way acknowledging the complicated political pressures that worked against the empire.
Ronald Mellor of UCLA) comparing the film's script to what's historically known, and "The Rise and Fall of an Empire" (10:56) lays out more of the known facts, unencumbered by Hollywood.


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