After six months of filming in Rome, and at a cost of nearly $7 million, the biggest budget Hollywood movie since Gone With The Wind, the 171-minute Technicolor MGM spectacle Quo Vadis was released in 1951.
The highlights of the picture were the Legionnaires return to the capital, the burning of Rome, and the killing of the Christians in the arena.
There had been several silent adaptations of the Henry Sienkiewicz novel, but Louis B Mayer dreamed of making his own version with his studio’s vast resources.
In 1949, a company headed by director John Huston – and with stars Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor – went to Rome to begin shooting, but the production was shut down, with the estimated cost of the debacle set at $2 million.
The second attempt was better budgeted by producer Sam Zimbalist, under trusted director Mervyn Le Roy. This time Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr co-starred as the Roman legionnaire and the Christian slave who fall in love, and Peter Ustinov was excellent as a raving Nero.
Quo Vadis was the first colour film to be made at Cinecittà and gave a great boost to the Italian studio.
Mervyn Le Roy’s only insight into the motivation of the character of Nero was that he was a “son of a bitch” who “plays with himself” . . .
Mervyn Le Roy