I have never actually read Henri Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis, and I’m sure I never will. A load of clap-trap about feeding Christians to the lions and Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but nevertheless it deserves a place on my shelves for an odd reason. In 1951, a Hollywood epic was made from it, in which Robert Taylor was wooden as ever and Deborah Kerr badly miscast, but Peter Ustinov’s Nero was amazing, as was Leo Genn as Petronius, he who wrote Satyricon, Nero's chief flatterer and master of the backhander.
"No great poet wrote as you do, sire," for instance.
The Rome burning scenes were okay and it all ended up with the Christians being fed to the lions in the arena, just the way that it never actually happened in reality. Anyhow, sometime before epic movies moved to the focal point of my life, I came by a comic book obviously created to promote the film. Instead of drawings, it was composed entirely of luscious colour stills from the film, with balloons added for dialogue. I am still looking for a copy of this wonder, but in any case it was very influential on me and the novel stands as a substitute for it.
The reason I mention all this is because, in my child’s mind at least, Ustinov’s Nero was the way I visualised Menzies. I was very confused about this for it turned out that the resemblance was slight at best. Maybe it was because the people around me said the same things about Menzies that the Christians said about Nero.