“The Fall of the Roman Empire” – Film Review and Photos

The Leaf- Chronicle, Clarksville, Tennessee – Jan 22, 1965

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A tender moment for Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd in the Samuel Bronston epic production for Paramount, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” which opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Boyd plays Livius, a Roman military tribune and Miss Loren is Lucilla, daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Also included in the cast are Alec Guinness, James Mason and Christopher Plummer.

“THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE”

The long awaited Samuel Bronston epic spectacular, “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Starring such outstanding names as Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” is destined to become one of the great film re-creations of all time.

The story begins approximately 180 years after the birth of Christ. The Roman Empire is at the height of its glory under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness), but after several years of warfare, Aurelius feels that his time to live is short and he must find a new heir to his throne.

Under normal circumstances the new Caesar would be Commodus (Christopher Plummer) his son, but Aurelius feels that he is not worthy and instead decides to name Livius (Stephen Boyd), one of his ranking generals and the sweetheart of his beautiful daughter (Sophia Loren).

This decision is well and good but before Aurelius can officially announce that he wants Livius to succeed him, he suddenly dies. Because there is no tangible proof that Livius is to be Caesar, Commodus ascends the throne and with his corrupt rule the Empire starts tumbling downward.

Sophia Loren is stunning as Lucilla, her performance ranging from poignant love scenes to intense drama, is superb. Stephen Boyd as Livius gives a powerful portrayal of a Roman general torn between the love for a woman and love for his country.

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Boyd with Anthony Mann and Sophia Loren on set in Sierra de Guadarrama

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Above FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE photos updated to Fall of the Roman Empire Gallery as well.

Stephen Boyd: Born to Play a Roman

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Anyone who has read this blog may have noticed I have a fondness for Ancient Rome and Greece. And I do – I have studied it most of my adolescent and adult life and is one of my great passions. One of the reasons I got into the history of that period was from seeing movies like Ben-Hur, Cleopatra & The Fall of the Roman Empire when I was a teen. So in honor of all the Romans I love to read about, I thought I would collect a few quotes from Stephen Boyd about Ancient Rome and the famous Romans he studied for many of the roles he played (or would have played). If anyone was born to play a Roman, it was Stephen Boyd.

Quotes about Mark Anthony/Cleopatra

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Never was any actor so prepared for a role. I had studied Anthony from every possible angle, reading everything about him I could lay my hands on. (July 11, 1961, Petaluma Argus Courier)

I am interested if Anthony is played as a warrior, as he was in the original script. But I’m not interested if he is only a lover. He can be shown as a warrior making love. But no actor can convincingly play a warrior-like figure as a lover. Marlon Brando found that out when he did Napoleon in ‘Desiree.’ (July 11, 1961, Corpus Christi Caller Times)

She (Cleopatra) was an ambitious housewife who dabbled in politics and who wanted Egypt to share the honors with Rome. So she romanced Ceasar, and they had a child. Then later with Anthony, with whom she had four children.

I love the Mark Anthony role; I believe the film will be a tremendous success. It’s not often you get to play a role summed up in the classic line: ‘Who lost Marc Anthony the world? A woman. (Screenland Magazine, July 1961)

Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon and Marcus Aurelius

And strangely enough, in a flash, the conversation veered off from romance to Stephen’s other interests: the science of cybernetics, self-hypnosis, and then to historian Edward Gibbon and his classic work, “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” as well as to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome! ….But far more goes into a role. He (Boyd) reads everything he can find on the period of the film, particularly if it has an historical background. Before he portrayed the evil Messala, and while he was working on “Cleopatra,” he immersed himself in Roman history. All this scholarly reading paid off, for once again he will be involved in the Roman Empire, but this time on a broader canvas. It was this reading which gave him an interest in the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (Why, even Freud was influenced by him.) (Silver Screen Magazine, April 1963)

Quotes about Rome, Romans and Chariots

I may be tempted to settle down in Rome because I had such a big part in building the place. (September 17,1 1962, Standard Speaker)

Try walking down a street someday and make believe you’re a Roman. You have to walk like a Roman, talk like a Roman and act like a Roman. It’s much harder than just playing a modern man–then, all you have to do is act, but you don’t have to think about your walk or your costume or your speech. (June 26, 1966 Brownwood Bulletin)

Chariot racing cannot be mastered without complete muscular control. Enormous pressures challenge the driver every second of the way. To pull of galloping horseflesh, the weight of the Roman two-wheeler and unpredictable terrain features constantly threaten the charioteer. He must be prepared to react with violent resourcefulness to stay alive. (Salt Lake Tribune Nov 16, 1963)

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Stephen Boyd studies his Ancient Romans at the Prado Museum in Madrid before staring the filming of The Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of Nero (?)
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado viewing the statue of Agrippina, mother of Caligula
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of the Emperor Vespasian
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with the statue of the Emperor Augustus

Stephen Boyd in Roman costume

Stephen Boyd filming “Jumbo” at MGM Studios 1962 – The Circus Maximus

Below are some nice newspaper ads for “Jumbo” starring Doris Day and Stephen Boyd when the movie was released in December of 1962, and a few funny stories about the filming of the movie in early 1962 at the MGM Culver City Studio. The film was so big that it covered two enormous lots and two large stage sets at MGM!

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“MGM hasn’t seen anything like it since the Circus Maximus – if then. “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” (as they are calling it now) is all over the place…The elephants are housed on Lot 2; so are the horses being trained for Doris Day…The picture is spilling all over the sprawling Culver City studio. The main tent has been erected twice–on Lot 3, about a mile from the studio proper measuring 130×180 ft, and capable of seating 2,000 people, and on Stage 15, MGM’s largest. Here the actual circus acts, some 50 in number, will be shot, and here Miss Day Stephen Boyd and others will perform on trapeze and tightrope.

The big top on Lot 3 is surrounded by a menagerie, a mess tent, a wardrobe tent, wagons, and a sideshow, complete with a merry-go-round. Still another stage, 29, will be utilized for filming the close-up dramatic scenes.

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 7, 1962

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“On the set of MGM’s “Jumbo,” Stephen Boyd, who appears opposite Doris Day as a high-wire specialist and clown, recalled his own humble beginning as a London street busker, or funny man. He remembered that a Bobby watched him try to raise a crowd to earn a few pennies. The policeman sauntered over and said : “After you’re through bein’ funny, mate, you can join the mourners at St. Paul’s.”

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 25, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, co-starring with Doris Day in MGM’s “Jumbo,” discovered, much to his discomfort, that the sequence in which he goes into the cage and subdues a lion was scheduled for the last day of shooting. So Boyd went to the animal’s trainer to ask about the lions culinary habits. “Oh,” the trainer said nonchalantly, “I wouldn’t worry too much about Pete. He’s ferocious looking, but he’s from Italy, and over there he chomped up so many martyrs in those Italian movies that I don’t think he’d go for you.” Boyd retreated as gracefully as possible and was heard muttering: “I played Messala in ‘Ben-Hur’ and I don’t think you could call him a martyr.”

The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1962

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“Jumbo” has completed filming at MGM, and a variety of amusing incidents during production have been noted here and elsewhere. There was one on the final day when Stephen Boyd was called upon to drive a farm wagon drawn by a spirited horse. After Boyd finished his rehearsals, director Charles Walters commented :”That’s great, Steve, but can you come around that curve a little faster?” The star answered with a question: “Didn’t you see ‘Ben-Hur’?”

The Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, a Rolls-Royce and a Chariot!

In early 1963 Stephen Boyd, a man who loved his automobiles, became the proud owner of a brand new Rolls-Royce, which apparently was delivered to him while he was filming “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in Spain. The two humorous anecdotes below about Boyd’s new car are from the Los Angeles Times.

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“Chariot Race Champ Drives Rolls-Royce”

Feb 17, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Stephen Boyd has become the unchallenged modern chariot champion. Because of his work in “Ben-Hur” and the currently shooting “Fall of the Roman Empire,” Boyd qualifies as the Sterling Moss of the chariot set and the Donald Campbell of the Roman racers. “Five years ago I made ‘Ben-Hur’ and people still call me ‘Messala,'” the actor said. “It makes you wonder how far you can go in life without a chariot. I figure they have taken me farther than a conscientious Roman Red Arrow messenger.”  A Rolls-Royce owner off the set, Steve says chariots compare favorably to modern vehicles as far as safety is concerned. “The auto driver forgets he has a hundred times more horses in his hands than the charioteer, but he isn’t one-tenth as careful.”

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Stephen Boyd shows off his chariot riding skills during the making of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in early 1963 in Spain.

May 19, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Hardy passers-by braving a rugged location of Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire” in the Guadarrama mountains of Spain, witnessed the arrival of a brand new Rolls-Royce from which alighted two royal Romans in full regalia and a man in a red snow suit. They were actors Stephen Boyd, owner of the car, Christopher Plummer and director Anthony Mann. En route, Boyd had extolled the virtues of his new auto, not even sparing that bit about hearing only the clock. As he and Plummer mounted their chariots, Mann growled to Boyd : “This AD 180, two horsepower, no stand-up top sports coupe is hardly as smooth running as your Rolls. But if you don’t give me a more exciting ride in it than you just did in that gold-plated hearse, I’ll let you lose this one too…just as you did in ‘Ben-Hur.'”

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Boyd, Mann and Plummer in snow-bound Spain during the filming of “The Fall of The Roman Empire”

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Stephen Boyd (as Messala) talks about that famous chariot race in “Ben-Hur”

Stephen Boyd gives a fun, facetious account of how Messala should have run that famous chariot race!

Stephen Boyd Interview from The Miami News July 10, 1960

The Good Guys Finish Last

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by Art Buchwald

Paris  – The greatest race of the year was in the motion picture “Ben Hur.” The winner of the race was Charlton Heston, who received an Academy Award for it. The loser was Stephen Boyd, who, as Messala, was the favorite until he got knocked out in the seventh round. Mr. Boyd is now in Paris making a filme called “The Big Gamble” for Darryl F. Zanuck. The picture stars Mr. Boyd, David Wayne and Juliette Greco.

When we saw Mr. Boyd on the set he still felt he should have won the race. He believes that if he had won, things would have been a lot different for him now.

“I should have used my spikes sooner,” he said. “It was my fault.”

For those who haven’t seen the picture, the chariot race, which goes on for about fifteen minutes, is its establishing feature. Messala has challenged Ben-Hur and, unbeknownst to Ben-Hur, has fitted a razor-sharp spike to this chariot to cut the spokes of Ben-Hur’s wheel. This, according to the Imperial Chariot Jockey Club, was fair.

“What went wrong?” we asked Mr. Boyd. “Did your trainer give you bad advice?”

“No,” he replied, “I never took orders from anyone. I had won my last seven races and I figured this would be a piece of cake. I bet more money on myself than I had ever bet before. The only thing that bugged me was that Ben-Hur intended to ride a clean race, which is much more dangerous. I should have fixed his chariot before the race, but I was over-confident.”

“It happens a lot with Romans.”

ArticleMovie Stars TV Close Ups July 1960 (1)

“My strategy was perfect,” he said. “I was running second on the first round on the outside, an excellent position. If anyone tried to pass me I could knock him against the Spina, the giant inside wall of the track.

“I wasn’t worried about the other chariots. Most of them were dogs and broken-down pace-setters. But my big mistake was the way I played it when Ben-Hur made his move.”

Mr.  Boyd relives it as if it had only happened yesterday. “I should have gone for his wheel with my blade. Instead, I decided to close in and whip him. I had ripped open the side of his chariot, and instead of concentrating on his axle, I tried to pull his wheel off. It was a great mistake, because I pulled off mine instead.

“But everyone had complained over the fact that I used my whip on Ben-Hur. Why don’t they mention that he used his whip on me? My trainer complained to the stewards after the race was over, but even after viewing the film they gave Ben-Hur the race.”

Mr. Boyd said he had an opportunity to do away with Ben-Hur in the third round, but he became overconfident. “I should have killed when I had the chance. Maybe then I would have gotten the Academy Award.”

Instead Ben-Hur killed Mr. Boyd, this ruling out a chance for a rematch.

“What is your advise to other young charioteers?” we asked.

“If you’ve got a blade on your wheel, use it. If you try to use your whip on the other guy, you don’t have enough control of your horses. Chariot racing is a dirty business and the good guys finish last.”

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