“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.

Part 11. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – Chaos in the Curia

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Sweat poured along Livius’ forehead. His heart beat erratically. He drew a deep breath, trying to control the irregular pounding of his heart, the spreading tension in the pit of his stomach.

He shook his head, moving his gaze across the faces of the senators, and they were like faces seen in a nightmare.

He stared at them, his voice lifting harshly, as though trying to waken them from their dream-state of unreality that seemed so serene to them and such a nightmare to him. “Hear me, fathers of Rome. The army is at the gates of the city!”

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The faces of the elders remained stolid, impassive. Livius licked his dry lips, ceased speaking. He realized something was desperately wrong, as if all reason and intelligence had been removed from this august body, leaving a motley gang of clowns to simper and giggle.

He glanced around, bewildered…

Livius stared at Commodus. The emperor lounged on the throne, a dreamy, half-contemptuous smile on his face…

Commodus turned suddenly, the wan, lost look gone and his face hard and chilled, unsmiling. He stared across the forum space at Livius.

Livius straightened, his gaze meeting Commodus’. He was ill because for the moment Commodus had won. Even the Roman senate had been perverted, debased, demoralized. They were so spiritless they failed to see they had signed their own death warrants and sealed the doom of their existence.

Commodus gestured toward Livius and from the foyer Cornelius and Praetorian Guards appeared. They marched toward Livius and silence settled across the curia.

Commodus and the senators watched in silent fascination as the Praetorians moved toward Livius. They flinched, startled, when a voice rang out across the chamber, cracking like some dry whip. Even the Praetorian Guards halted, staring at the aged Senator Caecina who had walked down to the place where Julianus and Niger had stood in the center of the forum.

In the chilled silence the old senator surveyed the faces of the other politicians wrathfully, letting his fiery gaze linger accusingly on each man.

His aged voice lashed at them, “What are you? Who are you? What have you let yourselves become? Heirs of a great empire. You have here today destroyed and despoiled your heritage. You are worse than the hordes of Vandals which stand poised to the north! You are worse than all the enemies of Rome who are armed on all our frontiers. You are traitors! Traitors!

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“You are traitors, each of you. Traitors not only to your nation–but betrayers of the whole civilized world and of centuries to come. Generation after generation will weep in misery and curse your memory. Cowards! You are cowards! Cowards who did not come forward when Rome called you.”

He moved his bitter gazed across them. He shook his head, “I will not leave to see the horror you have sown, the tumult and convulsive agony that will come after you.”

The Praetorian Guards, prodded by Cornelius, moved in both side of Livius and led him slowly toward the foyer.

Caecina stared at the guards surrounding Livius, heeled around, gesturing at the senate. “I will not live to see it, but you will!” He rocked himself, in terrible mourning, “Some day when the Vandals enter Rome–they will not find a city–only its tomb–for you have today killed Rome. Rome is no more!”

The old man swung around, gesturing at the senators and finally throwing out his arm, pointing at Commodus before the throne.

Julianus was standing a few feet away. He cried out in rage when Caecina pointed accusingly toward Caesar. He drew a dagger from his girdle and sprang suddenly, the knife upraised before the stunned gaze of the senate, and plunged it into the old man’s back.

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Caecina straightened, let his arm drop to his side. His gray head twisted, not to see who attacked him, but as if to look one last time upon the place where he had spent most of his long and honorable life. He staggered and fell.

Julianus wheeled around with the stained dagger and stood over the crumpled body. He lifted his voice, shouting, “Hail Caesar!”

There was a hesitation of less than a fraction of a second and the entire senate cried out in answer, acclaiming, “Hail Caesar!”

The Praetorians led Livius through the doorway and out of the curia. He glanced back only once, looking at Commodus. The cheers rang around the emperor, but Commodus, shuddering, was gazing at the dead body of Caecina.

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Part 10. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – A Filthy Task

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A detachment of Praetorian Guards met Livius, Claudius and Claudius’ aides at the bridge over the Tiber and accompanied them through Rome to the emperor’s palace on the Palatine Hill.

As Livius was escorted up the palace steps, he glanced out at the yellow eyes of Rome by night, the flickering candles and oil fires, the thick shadows and the glow of torches illumining the obelisks and temples. He was home and he felt as excited as a small boy.

Claudius remained with him as the Praetorian Guards escorted them across the entry into the state room where slave girls and the patrician youth of the city drank and laughed together. But as Livius came in sight, the laughter ebbed and silence spread over the place like a shroud.

Cornelius, the chief of the Praetorians, came forward, and led Livius along along the corridors to Commodus’ private chambers.

This suite looked out on the palaestra. as though Commodus was truly happy as long as he was in sight of the gymnasium and his gladiators.

The spacious room was softly lit by oil lamps suspended on delicate clains from the ceilings and walls. Commodus looked lonely, a brooding figure in the shadowy chamber. Behind him on the cavernous walls were huge maps of all the Roman provinces.

Commodus did not look up, seeming not to notice that Livius and Cornelius had entered his presence. Cornelius glanced at the emperor, then at Livius. He withdrew, leaving Livius alone some distance from Commodus.

Commodus spoke in low tones, “Oh Livius. My friend – my brother! Why did you leave me?”

Commodus descended from the throne, moved slowly toward Livius. Livius hesitated only a second longer and than rushed to him. They embraced fiercely, then parted.IMG_0013-007

Livius, only now looking at his great friend, realized how much he had missed Commodus and all he represented. Gazing at Commodus, he found it hard to credit all the rumors and whispers Timonides had retailed to him at Ravenna.

“I am alone, Livius.” Commodus’ voice was odd, ready to break. “This is a fiercely lonely place I exist in, Livius. I try to lighten my terrible burdens with some pleasures– music, gladiators, excitements–and terrible talk starts about me. I imagine you have heard much of it–even as far away as Ravenna.”

Livius smiled. “I’ve heard whispers.”

Commodus sighed. “And I suppose you disapproved, too?”

“I didn’t believe everything I heard.”

“But you disapproved what you did believe?”

“It was not for me to approve. You are undoubted Caesar. You must become disheartened, tired–”

“Oh, I do, Livius, you’ll never know how tired I become. If it were not for my pleasures, I couldn’t endure it all…Still, I can see by your face that you don’t apporove.”

“You can’t see that, Commodus, for it is not there in my face. I have no right to censure you. You do not live as I would, but your tastes are not mine.”

“How I’ve missed you, Livius! Why can’t the world understand me as you do?”

Livius didn’t speak, and Commodus persisted. “What’s the mater, Livius, is it my fault the world does not understand?”

Livius shrugged.

“I need you here, Livius,. I am so alone. There is no one like you. No one I can trust. No one I can talk to, ask advice, speak my heart to. They all want something of me. I can never know what they’re thinking.” He smiled at Livius, great love showing in his face. “Only you, when you speak, I know it’s the truth–and for my good.”

“I have not wanted to be away, Commodus.” He spoke tensely. “I have been isolated. I have hear only rumors. What really has happened?”

Commodus’ face shadowed, tightening in helpless frustration. He spoke in a whisper. “Rebellion– the whole East has rebelled. Syria, Egypt.”

Livius shook his head, staggered. “Syria? Egypt? That is Virgilianus, Marcellus. It cannot be! They were soldiers with me. They were the most loyal.”

Commodus laughed in rage.

“They were loyal to my father. Now they are raising armies against me–against Rome.” he glared about him, eyes bitter. “They’re always hated me. Marcellus. Virgilianus. They’re waited all these years for the right moment.”

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Livius turned away, prowling the huge room as though it were suddenly a breathless cage. He was deeply disturbed.

Commodus said, “Even Sohamus has joined them.” When Livius heeled around, scowling, Commodus peered into his face, studying it. “He forced Lucilla to flee with him.”

At the sound of Lucilla’s name, Livius felt something flare inside him and he winced as if an old wound that had lain dormant were suddenly ripped open, raw and bleeding.

Commodus stared into his face. “And there is more, Livius. More I haven’t told you. The rebellion is spreading in your name.”

“What?”

Livius looking squarely at Commodus, their gazes clashing. In the deep silence, the remove sounds of the palaestra filtered through the heavily curtained windows.

At last Livius said in a quiet, hard voice, “Rebellion cannot be made in my name, Commodus.”

“Yet they are using it that way. Your name has spread over the whole East–as the new Caesar.” His mouth taut, Commodus quoted, ” ‘Bring in the new Rome–the Rome of Livius Gaius Metellus.’ And now there are echoes of that same cry in the North and West. Do you say you have not even heard it?”

“I do say that, Commodus. I remain loyal to my country, my Caesar, my oath.” He prowled the carpeting, staring at the map of the provinces, the shadowed walls, the old lamps, the emperor waiting. He heeled around, mouth bitter. “Why did you recall me, Commodus?”

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“I wanted to hear from your own mouth that you loved me still, Livius.”

“You knew that.”

“The whispers are shouts, the rebellion is real, growing.”

“Why do you call on me, Commodus? Where is your Eastern Army?

There was a protracted silence. At last, as Livius waited tensely, Commodus gave a weary gesture of his hand. “Our Roman legionnaires have been so long in the East, they are no longer Roman.” His voice lowered, becoming almost inaudible. “The Eastern Army has gone over to the rebels.”

Livius retreated as if struck physically, staggered by this news. Commodus straightened, eyes bitter. “Why do I call on you, Livius? Because you are the only man the Northern Army will follow in battles against–other Roman legions.”

Livius stared at the emperor inn the thick silence. At least he said, “This is a filthy task you impose on me–to throw Roman against Roman.”

“It must be done. if the empire is to survive, it must be done. And even more, Livius. It will have to be as in the old days old punishing armies. Cities destroyed. Evey living thing killed. Before the rebellion spreads. Before our enemies attack. The whole world must know we have again become the Rome of old.”

Commodus waited, but Livius did not speak. Commodus lowered his voice to a wild, urgent whisper. “We are fighting for survival.”

Livius was shaken. “That Rome should have to fight for survival.”

“It’s true! I haven’t told you all. I–have to behead the chief of the Praetorian Guards and–give that head to the people of Rome to–to quiet them. We are in desperate trouble, Livius–everywhere. Even here at Rome. We must show them that we are strong, that we will destroy out own people if they oppose us.”

Livius barely heard him. “I’ve fought a dozen battles alongside of Virgilianus and Marcellus. They were my friends.”

Commodus swung his arm in a savage, cutting arc. “Friends? Jackals ready to destroy us. No. No. Destroy them! What other way is there?”

Livius stared at the emperor in the shadowed room, feeling his face ache with the ruts pulled into it. “What other way is there?” Neither spoke because there was no answer, they had said it all.

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Happy Lupercalia & “Fall of the Roman Empire” Magazine Photos

For Ancient Romans, today was a festival day celebrating Lupercalia! This was an ancient pagan ritual for cleansing the winter days and also to rejuvenate health and fertility in the land. After a religious sacrifice young Roman men would race naked, or nearly naked, around the Palantine Hill in Rome and strike young women in the crowd with leather thongs called februum (yes, February comes from this word!) in order to endow them with a health pregnancy, or (if not yet pregnant), grant them fertility, or so they believed. The word februa in Latin means “Purifications” or “Purgings”. So to honor the season before spring and to get the earth ready to be fruitful again, a fertility ritual like Lupercalia took place to welcome the season.

So, welcome Lupercalia!

Pictures below of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” taken from a French Magazine called Bonnes Soirées, April 1964. https://stephenboydblog.com/fall-of-the-roman-empire/

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Part 8. “The Fall of the Roman Empire” by Harry Whittington – The Tigress and The Soldier

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“You’re tired, Livius, “Timonides said. “You need rest more than violence. ” He smiled, “Even the violence of my little tigress.”

Livius didn’t look at Xenia again. He watched Timonides, puzzled. “Don’t you ever need anything, Greek? Aren’t you roused by animals like that?” He jerked his head toward Xenia, still without giving her a glance.

“I have my problems, “Timonides said. “The Greeks are a jealous, proud, race-conscious people. I am like that. I was like that. I learned a great deal from Marcus. I taught him much but I learned more from him. Resignation. Acceptance.”

“Lessons I’ll never learn.” Livius pressed his fingers hard against his eyes, seeing lights and prisms of color from the pressure. He stared a Timonides. “I’ve fought in battles for eleven years, and faced death many times. I have overcome much, many fears. Yet you seem more at peace, more certain of yourself than I am. Why?”

Xenia moved with the lithe grace of a lynx, soundless as a shadow. Timonides had grown accustomed to her presence, and Livius was too exhausted to care what she did. They were deeply absorbed and did not see her lunge suddenly, before Timonides could answer the imperium. She grabbed the sword. It whistled free of its scabbard, glinted in the yellow light as she sprang toward Livius.

The only sound Xenia made was the hissing inhalation as she threw up her arms to strike. It was enough, too much. Timonides swung around and thrust his arm in the same movement between Xenia and Livius.

Livius, roused by Timonides’ silent wheeling about, moved with the instinctive speed of a combat-trained soldier. He sprang upon Xenia, turning, and could only partially block the sword thrust.

Timonides bit his lip, face twisting in pain. The sword had laid open his upper arm. Blood spurted, spilling over his tunica.

Livius glanced at the slave, moved past him, reaching out with quick, deft movement, snatching the sword from Xenia.

In a fluid, continuous motion, he brought his other arm up, backhanding Xenia across the face and sending her sprawling.

Xenia struck a tent support, almost toppled around it, clutching at the wood for balance. Then she slid beyond it, moving into a shadowed corner, crushed, cringing, numb with physical shock as she watched Livius stalk toward her, blood-smeared sword red in his fist.

The fiery green passion of hatred died in her eyes and she slumped inward, watching dully for the death stroke.

Livius’ face was cold. He raised his sword over her.

From behind him, Timonides cried in anguish, “No! No!”

Clutching his blood-covered arm, Timonides ran to them. He caught Livius’ upraised arm. He shook his head, mouth gray. “I don’t want her punished, Livius.”

Sword still upraised, Livius stared at him incredulously. “But she tried to take your life. She’s wounded you. You must kill her.”

They both stared at the girl crouching numbly in the corner…

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Suddenly, Xenia slumped to the ground, sobbing.

Livius jerked his head around, staring at her in amazement.

From the ground the quivering girl whimpered, “I no longer want to be a warrior.”

Livius had already heard more than he could comprehend. He demanded grimly, “What is it you want to be?”

Xenia answered, but her voice was almost inaudible, as though all this were too new for her, feelings she didn’t understand and had no words for , and was almost ashamed of uttering. “A woman…I do not want to kill any more.”

Livius knelt, lifted her easily by her shoulders. He held her at eye level, inspecting her suspiciously. “Give up your arms and live in peace?”

Xenia avoided his eyes, mumbling. “I want—to live in one place – with one man – the way the Romans do.”

Timonides, tending his slashed arm, glanced up at this with a wry smile. “The way the Romans say they do–”

But Livius was staring at the girl. He lowered his slowly until she was back on the ground. His expression was a mixture – suspicion, disbelief and faint, replenishing hope.

 

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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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