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Marcus Aurelius Antonius, philosopher-emperor of Rome, summons his empire’s governors and princes to German war headquarters for a Pax Romanus. He confides to his daughter, Lucilla, that his adopted son, Livius, will succeed him instead of his more unstable heir, Commodus. Overhearing this, Cleander, a blind prophet loyal to Commodus, presents Marcus with a poisoned apple. After the funeral, Livius, who does not share Lucilla’s ambition for himself or Rome, allows Commodus to proclaim himself emperor. Lucilla marries Sohamus of Armenia. While pestilence ravages Rome, Commodus continues his vain, licentious behavior, neglecting all symptoms of unrest while banishing anyone reminding him of his responsibilities: Livius, Lucilla, Timonides the Greek.

Cast and Crew:
Date Release: 1964
Anthony Mann
Ben Barzman (screenplay), Basilio Franchina (screenplay)

Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd and Alec Guinness


Action Movies – Drama Movies

Additional details in:

The Fall of the Roman Empire in IMDB

User reviews

Last of a Kind
Rating: 8/10
Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom

“The Americans have always depicted the West in extremely romantic terms – with the horse that runs to his master’s whistle. They have never treated the West seriously, just as we have never treated ancient Rome seriously. Perhaps the most serious debate on the subject was made by Kubrick in the film “Spartacus”; the other films have always been cardboard fables. It was this superficiality that struck and interested me.” – Sergio Leone

I wouldn’t call Kubrick’s “Spartacus” a “serious debate” (Kubrick disowned the film precisely because it lacks complexity), but there is a sense that epics of yesteryear, despite their flaws, nevertheless possess an intelligence which modern epics lack. Think, for example, Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, Ray’s “55 Days in Peking”, Houston’s “The Man Who Would be King”, Kubrick’s “Spartacus” and even lesser films like “Viva Zapata”, “Ben Hur” and “El Cid”. Not to mention those unconventional epics by guys like Visconti, Welles, Leone, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Jancso: “Ran”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Satyricon”, “Chimes at Midnight”, “Red and White”, “Kagemusha”, “The Leopard”, “Duck You Sucker” etc.

Are there any epics today that match this stuff. “Troy”? “Alexander”? “Kingdom of Heaven”? “Gladiator”? “Lord of the Rings”? “The Last Samurai”? “Avatar”? I don’t think so. Despite advances in technology and photography, these films are content to latch onto epically stupid and derivative screenplays.

Anthony Mann’s “The Fall Of The Roman Empire” is at times a clunky film, but it nevertheless possess a certain substance which modern fare (and imitative stuff like “Gladiator”) lacks. The film opens with Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his slave Timonides philosophising about pleasure and pain, Aurelius eventually confessing that he had a childhood anxiety in which he feared that the sun might never rise. This tone – the feeling that all life exists on that thin boundary between day and night, between existence and non-existence – permeates the entire film.

We’re then introduced to several other characters. There’s Lucilla (Sophia Loren), the melancholy daughter of the Emperor, who both idolises her father and hates her mother’s constant schemes, plots and infidelities. She also hates the fact that she has to, for political reasons, marry the King of Armenia in order to secure an ally on Rome’s eastern front. Much scheming then follows, in which cunning politicians attempt to kill the Emperor and replace him with his more malleable son, Commodus.

Commodus is a gladiator loving lug, who indulges in combat and games of war. He knocks skulls and fights barbarians, but is also the friend of Livius, the man whom the Emperor has chosen as his successor. After the Emperor is assassinated, a mild feud thus develops between Livius and Commodus. The politicians want Commodus to take the throne and he eventually does, Livius too kind and humble to stand in his way.

Unlike Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the same character in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”, Commodus is not an incestuous creep, but an illegitimate child with patricidal fantasies and delusions of grandeur. Narcissistic and tormented, he cuts Rome’s ties with all its starving colonies and begins to promote his own imperial grandeur. Rome then becomes a sort of extension of Commodus’ inferiority complex, an unconscious manifestation of his own psyche, which inflates and inflates and then comes crashing down, fatalistically crumbling, the illusion no longer supportable.

We then launches into several subplots which attempt to describe the historical causes of the empire’s collapse: rampant corruption, over expansion, civilisational clashes, inequality, trade problems, the collapse of civic responsibility etc. These issues aren’t handled in anything but the most basic ways, but unless one adopts a far more abstract tone, perhaps they can’t be handled otherwise.

The film then delineates the admittance of a barbarian tribe into the folds of Rome. The barbarians are presented to the senate and arguments made for them to be granted land and citizenship. Livius and Timonides argue that Rome must “change” and be “flexible”, that it should cease “conquering” and allow tribes to “freely join” and “trade”, whilst Commodus and his cronies argue in favour for continuing Rome’s ruthless hegemony.

Nevertheless, the barbarians are given their own slice of land, and a sort of relaxed, multicultural Rome begins to form. Commodus detests this, however, and casually orders the massacre of Rome’s barbarian citizens. Anthony Mann directed this picture, so of course when the violence comes, its a bit more hard hitting and realistically clumsy than other films of the era.

The film ends with Commodus testing his divinity against Livius in a duel. Like the final battle in “Gladiator”, they fight to the death, Commodus dying in Livius’ arms and Rome’s pomp and pageantry along with it.

7.5/10 – Though one of the better “sword-and-sandal” epics, this film really highlights the limitations of its genre. Despite its daringly downbeat screenplay (the whole film oozes disillusionment), the fetishizing of the film’s huge sets is annoying, the acting is stiff, the production mechanical and the music intrusive. Comparisons to “Spartacus” and “Gladiator” are apt, though “Spartacus” (1960) is far more affecting, going for broad emotions, less politics and more sweep, whilst “Gladiator” is primarily a revenge tale. Incidentally, it was David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (which introduced an aesthetic which suddenly made Hollywood epics feel clunky), the rise of “bloodier epics” (“Zulu” (1964), Italian epics, “Bonnie and Clyde” etc) and the twin box office failures of Mann’s “The Fall of the Roman Empire” and Ray’s “55 Days at Peking”, that pretty much marked the end of these big, Hollywood productions.

Worth one viewing. Makes a good companion piece to “Ben Hur”, “Spartacus”, “55 Days at Peking” and “Lawrence of Arabia”. Most of the other epics of the era – “Cleopatra”, “The 300 Spartans”, “The Vikings”, “El Cid”, “Robe” etc etc – haven’t aged too well.

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