Rise and Fall and Rise Again? (An Introduction – or Down the Rabbit Hole We Go)

As Sir Elton John (whose birthday was yesterday) might have sung ‘It’s a little bit funny…’

There is a bit of irony in the fact that March 25th 2001 celebrated the true return of the sword and sandal movie genre by giving Gladiator the Oscar for best picture and Russell Crowe the best actor Oscar for his role as Maximus. Ironic because today is the anniversary of the opposite. March 26th 1964 saw the U.S. premiere of the movie which, along with 1963’s Cleopatra, has the notoriety of being the ones to put the final nails in the coffin of the genre. 

It also has a storyline similar to Gladiator, something which has sparked often nasty debates on both sides. 

We’re speaking of The Fall of the Roman Empire, the box office disaster, now with such an improved reputation it has a shocking 100% critical favorability on Rotten Tomatoes. People, that’s Citizen Kane territory! (Okay Fall also has 69% from audiences to be fair and in actuality, there aren’t enough critical reviews of Fall to even things out).

The Fall Of The Roman Empire (1964) - Poster


As with many things, movie criticism is subjective. Sometimes everyone knows a movie is bad enough to send us screaming into the night. Others aren’t dreadful, but whereas your mom doesn’t have a problem with it, you’re ready to put your head thru drywall (such as my mother and I when it came to stuff like Terms of Endearment and Batman Forever LOL. My mother rest her soul enjoyed both). And there will always be audience favorites the critics won’t give the time of day. It is nice, however, when people return to a movie to give it a second opportunity; because of Gladiator‘s sword and sandal revival, Fall may have received that. 

I saw Fall a year or so after I watched Gladiator eleven times at the theater, then screamed its’ victory at the Oscars in 2001. Fall was on home video. Being a sucker for all things Roman Empire I couldn’t resist (the Seventies TV miniseries I, Claudius remains my all-time favorite miniseries). As a movie buff, I had heard of the film, but knew little of it except for the stellar cast. Why it bombed I had no idea. You always hear that Cleopatra nearly bankrupted Twentieth-Century Fox; while it was the biggest box office hit of the year, the cost overruns had been so much it was hard to earn back all that was spent. 

And then along comes Fall, earning $4.75 million in the USA after costing an estimated $19 million to create.

Seems the Sixties couldn’t get a break with these productions budgeted at a few million which expand to $40, $50 million. (Yes, that’s WAY low in today’s numbers where movies cost over $300 million and then some). Don’t even ask about 1968’s Doctor Doolittle, which has nothing to do with Fall or Cleopatra, except that it went way over budget and almost bankrupted Twentieth-Century Fox…again! No wonder, a decade later, Fox was a slight hesitant when offered a chance to make some space movie by a young George Lucas! But that’s another story, another rabbit hole…

At least one can look at Fall and confess that despite an enormous budget (still low compared to Cleopatra), whatever they spent went up on the screen. It still boasts as having one of the largest outdoor sets in the history of motion pictures. 

Anyway where was I? Oh right! I saw Fall after I saw Gladiator. I was struck by similarities, but that’s happened all down thru movie history. It’s not blatant theft, but one thing inspires another and another, and in some cases, you might get a better or an equal result. Sometimes. *g* The original The Magnificent Seven is every bit as satisfying to me as its’ source, Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. There are tiny bits of Star Wars: A New Hope which remind me of the movie Lucas alleges was his inspiration, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Oh and Sergio Leone’s ‘Man with No Name’ series was inspired by yet another Kurosawa movie, Yojimbo, which in turn may have been inspired by a Dashiell Hammett novel! I love The Man with No Name and Yojimbo. But then you get Keanu Reeves version of The 47 Ronin and the 1941 The 47 Ronin. *sigh* Yeah, some things are better left alone.

Okay, Fall and Gladiator have a bit in common, although in the end, I personally find Gladiator the most satisfying. I can barely remember a scene from Fall. With Gladiator I remember lines and scenes and the music accompanying them. I can conjure whole moments. Despite the passage of almost seventeen years since Gladiator‘s release, I think of things and realize that yet again, they’ve made me cry. There’s only a single moment in Fall I can recall: the ending, when Stephen Boyd is hustling off a nearly hysterical Sophia Loren, while one man after another announces that he will now be emperor of Rome since Commodus has met his end. I remember sitting there going ‘Huh. Okay. Yeah. Huh.’ True, Fall‘s conclusion is probably more accurate to the chaos the Empire saw as it continued its’ collapse, but Gladiator is more uplifting, at least in its’ alternative universe of events.  

Gaslight has made mention of Fall a couple of times. There was the anniversary of Commodus’ assassination, as well as the death of his father Marcus Aurelius.

See http://gaslighthotel.net/blog/commodus-real-and-movie-imagined/http://gaslighthotel.net/blog/trivial-trivia-or-down-the-rabbit-hole-we-go/ and http://gaslighthotel.net/blog/marcus-aurelius-movies-and-the-reality-or-it-is-not-death-that-a-man-should-fear-but-he-should-fear-never-beginning-to-live/.

I went down some wonderful rabbit holes. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll check these out if you haven’t before. Some of it is borderline hilarious when you connect the dots: such as Fall’s version of Commodus, Christopher Plummer, playing opposite Russell in The Insider; or Richard Harris, who was supposed to play Commodus in Fall, playing Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. You’ll even see the names of Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas thrown in the mix. (Get out your spreadsheets!)

So we’ll continue down the rabbit hole for a little bit longer. Not a repeat of what was mentioned in previous posts, but some lovely images from a very good looking movie! And check it out sometime if you have a few hours to spare (running time is around 3 hours, 8 minutes). 

Happy Anniversary Fall!  


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