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Lions & Cheetahs & Christians, Oh My!


I just finished up Quo Vadis, and although I enjoyed it, it’s not on par with the best of the classic biblical epics. For one thing, Robert Taylor is an unsympathetic lead. It takes total submission to the forces of fiction to believe that Christian heroine, Lygia (Deborah Kerr), would fall in love with such a one-dimensional lout.

On other fronts, however, Quo Vadis is a hoot. Peter Ustinov plays Roman emperor Nero as a mercurial artist “steeped in genius.” His co-star, Patricia Laffan, rivals The Ten CommandmentsAnne Baxter in the role of spurned royalty out for revenge. With her bedroomy cat eyes, she reminded me of a young Agnes Moorehead, with a dash of Ornella Muti in Flash Gordon mode. One word: hot. And she has a pair of pet cheetahs. Hotter. See for yourself. I’ve just added Devil Girl from Mars to my queue.
Patricia Laffan. Meow!
Taylor’s imperialist general offers some camp appeal, as well. His sense of entitlement—to lands, women, and whatever else he wants—leaves nowhere to go but up. As I predicted, he does eventually come around, all for the love of a good woman, of course. And there’s that Rome-burning business. And lions.

In some ways, his boorish behavior is more enjoyable than Charlton Heston‘s relentless righteousness. Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments are both better movies—Ben-Hur more moving, with a lead character you can root for, and Commandments more spectacular—but Heston’s humorless perfection can be dull and annoying. Taylor’s general, Marcus Vinicius, is not only flawed, but amusingly so.

Quo Vadis offers more romance and less action than the other epics mentioned, but I’d still recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic spectacles with a heavy dose of camp. It’s a good popcorn flick with some funny dialogue and several effective dramatic scenes. Kerr spouts an array of feisty comebacks while fighting a losing battle against the general’s “charms.” And the portrait of budding Christianity is neither sappy nor heavy-handed. The disciples don’t wield their religion with the wrath of God; they simply hope to make the world a better place through brotherhood and peace. Although God does make a cameo appearance, the emphasis is really on the human, grassroots movement here. Ultimately, it’s people who change Vinicius, not fear of plagues, fire, and defeat.

Next up, it’s back to that other Taylor, Elizabeth, with rundowns of Under Milk Wood, The Mirror Crack’d, and The Comedians. One of these is excellent, one a fun matinee flick, and one an artsy bore suitable for a tiny, specific viewership. I’ll leave you to guess which one is which. It’s not hard.

On Wednesday, I’m off to see Boom! at the Castro. It’s not on DVD, and it promises to be a true “so bad it’s good” gem, what John Waters has called “the best failed art film ever.” If you have even a passing interest in high-level ’60s camp, I say run, don’t walk to the Castro.


From → Movies

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