Fall of the Roman Empire, The (1964): Anthony Mann’s Historical Epic, Starring Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer, Omar Sharif

Anthony Mann directed The Fall of the Roman Empire, an epic historical drama, boasting a high-profile international cast.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The Fall of the Roman Empire
Fall of roman empire (1964).jpeg

Original theatrical release poster

The film stars Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer, and Omar Sharif.

When filming for El Cid (1961) had finished, Anthony Mann saw a copy of Edward Gibbon’s 1776–1789 six-volume series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire inside the Hatchards bookshop.

He pitched a film adaptation of the book to Samuel Bronston. Philip Yordan was enlisted to write the script while Charlton Heston was initially set to star. However, Heston backed out of the film and agreed to star in 55 Days at Peking (1963).

Prominent actors were cast to portray multiple roles in the film.

The final screenplay was written by Ben Barzman and Basilio Franchina with a prologue written by historian Will Durant.

The film featured the largest outdoor set in the history of cinema at that time, a 92,000 m2 (990,000 sq ft) replica of the Roman Forum.

The film’s name refers not to the final fall of the Roman empire, which did survive for centuries after the period depicted in the film, but rather to the onset of corruption and decadence which led to Rome’s demise.

It deals with the problem of imperial succession, examining both the relationship between father and son on the background of imperial politics, as well as the nature and limits of loyalty and friendship.

A voice-over epilogue states that though the Roman Empire did not fall immediately, internal corruption led to its eventual collapse.

On March 24, 1964, the film premiered at the London Astoria.

Many reviewers criticized the script as void of emotion and humanity and the directing as misguided, but showed some praise for the large spectacles.

The film was a financial failure at the box-office.

Oscar Alert

 Oscar Nominations: 1

 Music (Original): Dimitri Tiomkin

Oscar Awards:

In 1964, the Sherman brothers won the Oscar for the movie musical “Mary Poppins.”


Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Ben Barzman, Basilio Franchina, Philip Yordan

Produced by Samuel Bronston
Cinematography Robert Krasker
Edited by Robert Lawrence
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin

Production company: Samuel Bronston Productions

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release dates: March 24, 1964 (UK); March 26, 1964 (US)

Running time: 188 minutes
Budget $16 million
Box office $4.8 million


Sophia Loren as Lucilla
Stephen Boyd as Livius
Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius
James Mason as Timonides
Christopher Plummer as Commodus
Mel Ferrer as Cleander
Omar Sharif as Sohaemus, King of Armenia
Anthony Quayle as Verulus
John Ireland as Ballomar
Eric Porter as Julianus
Finlay Currie as Senator
Andrew Keir as Polybius
Douglas Wilmer as Pescennius Niger
George Murcell as Victorinus
Norman Wooland as Virgilianus