Quo Vadis? (1912)

Quo Vadis? (1912)

“Quo vadis, Domine? Where goest thou, Lord?”

During the rule of Nero (Carlo Cattaneo), a Roman patrician (Amleto Novelli) falls in love with a Christian slave named Lygia (Lea Giunchi), who converts him to Christianity.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Christianity
  • Historical Drama
  • Silent Films
  • Slavery

Made in 1912, Enrico Guazzoni’s Quo Vadis? — based on the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz — is widely recognized as the first feature-length film, and earns the distinction of being the earliest title listed in Peary’s book. As noted in Hal Erickson’s review for the All Movie Guide, it “nearly single-handedly convinced everyone in the movie business… that feature-length films were a viable commercial commodity”; indeed, audiences of the day flocked in droves to see it, paying 30 times the normal ticket price. With that said, the film comes across as undeniably “primitive and uninvolving” today: there’s no exposition or character development at all, characters are introduced perfunctorily through clumsy intertitles, and it’s assumed that audience members will simply bring their own knowledge of the story to fill in the many narrative gaps. The primary moments to watch for are the film’s sporadic “spectacles” — such as Nero fiddling while Rome burns, or lions being unleashed on Christians in a coliseum. (Film fanatics take note: it’s rumored that an extra was killed on film by one of the lions, but this footage no longer appears to exist, and is not evident here.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressive early spectacles

Must See?
Yes, simply for its importance in cinematic history. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant


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