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Pure Cecil B DeMille! Great, lavish production that has stood a test of time!
Marcin Kukuczka20 November 2005
Since I am a fan of epics, particularly ancient and medieval ones, I had been looking for this movie for a long time. The name of Cecil B DeMille is probably most associated with his magnificent remake of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) where he made a total use of his imagination, where, as one of the movie critics said, "lavish sets and grandeur reach its peak." There are also people who love his silent THE KING OF KINGS (1927). DeMille's films do not seem much dated. With these expectations, I bought CLEOPATRA (1934), sat in my chair on one of the frosty evenings and started to watch. The movie involved me so much that after 20 minutes, I had to see it at least to the half, at the half, I admit an undeniable need for seeing it till the end.

The story of Cleopatra has been put on screen several times. From Helen Gardner in 1912, Theda Bara in 1917 (presumed lost) to Claudette Colbert here. The impersonation of Cleopatra was later followed by the great performances of Vivien Leigh in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945) and, of course, Liz Taylor in ultra long CLEOPATRA by Joseph L Mankiewicz, which had been the only Cleopatra film I had seen before this one. From the very beginning of watching DeMille's film, I was astonished by significant virtues of this high camp production, but realized fully that this film cannot be compared to any other film about Cleopatra.

HUMOR: Maybe this point will seem strange to mention at first, but what mostly struck me in this film was how excellent combination of history and humor it is. The script is full of very amusing contexts that lead a viewer to a wonderful atmosphere. "Together we could conquer the world," says Cleopatra to Caesar on one moonlit night, to which the Roman leader replies: "Nice of you to include me!" "I am dressed to allure you, Antony," says Cleopatra to her new Roman lover. Or after the moment when the half naked girls dance at the ox, Cleopatra says to Mark: "I wish you could see your face now. I'd have more chance with a stone wall." I know that some of these may seem dated, but they make a perfect sense in the scenes alone.

GREAT CAST: Claudette Colbert, though better known for playing in comedies, impersonated two historical figures on screen twice at DeMille's: Poppaea and Cleopatra. While her Roman empress was an object of lust and desire, her queen of the Nile is full of elegance and magnificence. In all these sophisticated fabulous costumes and gowns, she plays Cleopatra so well that she should have won an Oscar for this role. Unfortunately, Cleopatra lost to Ellie Andrews in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. The other great star of the film is Henry Wilcoxon who plays Mark Antony. He gives a marvelous, one of the best performances ever seen in historical epics. Pride, irony, love, and honor are presented by him so memorably that you will never forget this performance. I dare claim that he is a better Antony than Richard Burton in CLEOPATRA (1963). The third star of the film, in my opinion, is not Warren William as Caesar, but C.Aubrey Smith as a Roman soldier Enobarbus. I saw him in several roles, including DeMille's THE CRUSADES (1935), but here, he does an extraordinary job combining his role with honor, pride and wit. However, feminists... be careful! There are slogans said by Enobarbus that are unacceptable! Ian Keith, a mainstay of historical epics, does not give a very remarkable performance as Octavian. He is not bad; however, most historians imagine Octavian differently. Warren William is not bad as Caesar but indeed not the best.

SPECTACULAR MOMENTS: The whole movie is filled with DeMillean splendor. Scene by scene leaves a gorgeous experience for the fans of lavish sets. But three scenes are a must see: first, the royal barge which is elegantly setting off when Cleopatra and Antony are making love (flower petals, dancing girls, enormous sets); second, the gowns and art direction when Cleopatra awaits Caesar on the day of his tragic death (every movement she makes in a gorgeous gown is worth admiration); third, the final shot, one of the most memorable death scenes in cinema ever (this one is hard to describe, it must be seen)! Moreover, Cleopatra's entrance to Rome, which was the moment that the movie with Liz Taylor boasted so much, is more natural in DeMille's. Here, we get the most realistic picture of Roman streets instead of a huge Sphynx statue and rather a parade than an entrance.

HISTORY: The movie is not a very good historical lesson. In this respect, Liz Taylor version supplies you with more knowledge of history. Nevertheless, we all must take into account two aspects: the period the film was made in (the 1930s required more of entertainment than of facts) and by whom it was made. It was Cecil B DeMille, a spectacle lover of crowds, gowns, peacocks, leopards, and lavish sets (late Zygmunt Kaluzynski, a Polish movie critic, once joked that when DeMille was making THE KING OF KINGS, others feared that he would entail 24 Apostles because 12 is not spectacular enough). Therefore, it is important to watch this film as a part of Cecil DeMille.

All in all, it is absolutely right to say that it is not TEN COMMANDMENTS, KING OF KINGS, or SIGN OF THE CROSS that define DeMille most. These are absolutely gorgeous films in all respect. However, the film that gives the picture of his soul and talent is CLEOPATRA. It is, however, not only an unforgettable experience of DeMille's fans, but for all fans of historical epics, Hollywood elite of the 1930s, and love stories. It is simply a must see and a must release on DVD! Though more than 70 years old, some films never fade... it is, undeniably, CLEOPATRA. 9/10
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DeMille's baths were a very real contribution to the sexuality of the screen...
Nazi_Fighter_David9 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Of the many screen incarnations of the romantically foolish, politically shrewd Egyptian queen, this was Cecil B. DeMille's... His Victorian puritan's approach to the sex and scandals surrounding Cleopatra's throne reflected her continuing appeal to the imagination - even if that imagination were really a childhood fantasy of adult desires...

Authenticity, except as decorative embroidery, took second place to his desire to capture her timeless appeal on film... Facts and figures may vary, fashions and desirable objects may be ever changing, but sex, sin and punishment make up a triangle of eternal allure...

Travis Banton's wardrobe transformed Claudette Colbert from a flirtatious star into a splendid, seductive woman with fanciful art direction... The film had the opulence, the barbarity, the epic sweep and shocking decadence of certain books and paintings that were at the heart of so much of this film...

The French-born, American-raised Claudette Colbert made three films with Cecil B. DeMille, but felt more comfortable in contemporary comedies, for one of which, 'It Happened One Night,' she won an Oscar, and in all of which she identified herself with the most American of American secretaries, sweethearts, wives and mothers...

Colbert's popularity lasted well into the fifties... but her magic rests with 'Cleopatra'.
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A DeMille Desert Spectacular
Ron Oliver17 April 2000
For one moment in History, she is the world's most powerful woman. Devious, dangerous & entrancingly beautiful, she controls a kingdom while swaying an empire. She is Queen of the Nile. She is Egypt. She is CLEOPATRA.

Claudette Colbert is perfectly cast in the title role - deadly & fascinating, it's almost like watching a desert viper act. Exhibiting mega star wattage in arguably her best role, Colbert is one of the legendary actresses who could hold her own without being swallowed by the lavish costumes & sets which fill her every scene.

This is not to say she runs away with the entire film, however. Her male co-stars more than hold their own. A much underrated actor, Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony is excellent & shows what he would have been capable of in other roles if given the chance. In what amounts to little more than a cameo, Joseph Schildkraut gives a malicious turn to Herod the Great. Warren William & Ian Keith as the two Caesars strive mightily with their characters and generally succeed. Irving Pichel is very effective in his understated role as Cleopatra's advisor. Wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith gives his usual first-rate performance, this time as an elderly Roman general. Film mavens who listen carefully will hear the voice of John Carradine a time or two as a Roman extra.

Cecil B. DeMille generally liked to portray as much sin as possible, usually wrapped around a sermon. Here, in the sensuous barge scene, he simply opens the floodgates & lets his bad taste flow out - to the viewer's fascination. Aided by Rudolph Kopp's throbbing music, this entire episode has PRE-PRODUCTION CODE emblazoned all over it.
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Cleopatra (1934) ***1/2
MARIO GAUCI9 July 2005
I wasn't looking forward to this one as much as THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (considered by many as De Mille's best film) but I must say that I was just as impressed by it. The pacing here is smoother, and we do get to see some wonderful action montages towards the end as opposed to the rather middling arena stuff of CROSS.

Claudette Colbert, too gets a lot more coverage this time around and certainly clinches the title role far better than the positively annoying Elizabeth Taylor in the ill-fated 1963 version. However, the male leads here are less interesting, for lack of a better word: Henry Wilcoxon and Warren William are adequate but, naturally, no match for the thespian skills of Richard Burton and Rex Harrison respectively.

The supporting cast is notable (Ian Keith, Irving Pichel, Joseph Schildkraut, C. Aubrey Smith) and the film features a number of great scenes: Caesar's murder (partly filmed in a POV shot), following which is a delicious jibe at Antony's famous oratory during Caesar's funeral as envisioned by Shakespeare; the long - and justly celebrated - barge sequence, in which Antony (intent on teaching Cleopatra, whom he blames for Caesar's death, a lesson) ends up being completely won over by her wiles; Cleopatra's own death scene is simply but most effectively filmed.

Like in THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, the film's production values are truly awe-inspiring and, in fact, Victor Milner was awarded with a well-deserved Oscar for his lush cinematography here. Needless to say, De Mille's take on Cleopatra, despite feeling hurried since it runs for less than half its length, is a more satisfying viewing experience than the stultifyingly dull, overblown and misguided (if still worthwhile and not quite as catastrophic as the history books would have it) later version.
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The best version for those who love kitsch...
patrick.hunter11 April 2001
Was Demille more daring than any other director or was he just clueless? What does one say when the curtains close on Antony and Cleopatra and suddenly the screen erupts with more sexual symbols than any moment in Hollywood's history? From the phallic symbols (oars) to the yonic symbols (curtains) until finally both orgasmically mesh together in a final combination (a drummer with his drum), the scene tells us we're viewing the artistry of a kinky genius or a shameless carney.

And along with the jawdropping visuals, the film is crammed with juicy Demille-like dialog. Unlike other Demille films, this one has a wonderful cast to deliver his unique oneliners, and there are so many. My own favorites are the moments of dumbdowned Shakespeare. Instead of speaking of Cleopatra's "infinite variety" we are told she is always "many colored" and, of course, instead of "Et tu, Brute?" we get, "You? You too, Brutus?" What can you say about a movie in which Julius Ceasar says "Nope" to his senators? Nothing. One can only savor every delicious moment of camp that only a Demille could serve up.

The Taylor/Burton version is more spectacular, more intelligent, and more historical, but for those who relish kitsch--and this story always lends itself to it--this version is the best.
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This is a very different Cleopatra than the 1963 version!
marxi2 March 2003
This movie is very different from the 1963 film starring Elizabeth Taylor. This version of "Cleopatra" doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as that film, and actually, it may be easier to watch for that very reason. However, Cleopatra as played by Claudette Colbert is definitely over the top. At times, she is so campy in her role that it seems inappropriate given some of the situations she is in and the gravity of the moment. I often had the sense that Claudett Colbert was straining to bring out a great performance of Cleopatra but that the director was guiding her to overdo it against her wishes and she somehow is letting the audience know! "Cleopatra" walks a fine line between being a tongue in cheek film and between being a serious drama, and sometimes the lines get blurred. Warren William is a bit irritating in his role as Julius Caesar. Henry Wilcoxon fares much better as Marc Antony and this film picks up steam as soon as he arrives on the scene. Several of the bit players are very good in "Cleopatra." This movie has an odd fascination to it. I actually found it to be better the second time I watched it than the first. It's worth watching for film buffs, but perhaps not everyone's cup of tea. I'd give this one an 80/100 despite the fact that it was nominated for "Best Picture" in 1934.
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Cleopatra one of DeMille's more literate pictures
John O'Grady13 October 2002
I have been very fond of this movie for years, particularly as compared with Fox's bloated monstrosity of 1963. Colbert is admittedly somewhat miscast (her face is altogether Parisienne), but she handles the part with considerable charm. Warren William, usually a very limited actor, is as good a Caesar as I have seen on film, commanding and uncomfortable by turns; while Henry Wilcoxon is the definitive Mark Antony, laughing, brawling, swaggering, crude and brooding. C. Aubrey Smith as Enobarbus, the last of the hardcore Roman republicans, is perfect. Victor Milner's cinematography is superb, if old-fashioned. There is one magnificent pullback shot aboard Cleopatra's barge, with more and more stuff entering the frame, which as pure cinema is worth more than all four hours of the Liz Taylor version for my money. Shakespeare and Shaw have both been drawn upon here and there, and the movie has generally good (and fun) dialogue, not always one of DeMille's strengths. Consider also the scene of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome: contrary to DeMille's usual reputation, this scene is underplayed, depicting a plausible parade through a very real Roman street with authentic trappings, compared to the outrageously bogus and overblown spectacle given us in 1963. A word is also in order for the music of Rudolph Kopp, an extremely obscure Hollywood composer, who turns in an atmospheric score redolant of the old silent movies. This style is easy to make fun of, but see how effective it is in the highly theatrical opening credits! DeMille used silent film technique well into the talkie era, particularly in crowd scenes, and it still works. The battle scenes are the weakest point, since evidently Paramount ran out of cash and C.B. had to make do with a bunch of short shots put together with Russian cutting; nevertheless, this is still as good a picture on the subject as has yet been made, a bit of extravagant old Hollywood at its most polished.
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Though a bit dated, still better than the Taylor-Burton "epic".
Robert Reynolds15 November 2000
This movie is a typical DeMille PRODUCTION, with all the strengths-gorgeous sets, costumes and a sort of grandeur to all the proceedings-as well as the weaknesses-the lavishness often comes at the expense of things like the story, acting and plot. There's no question that it's beautiful (although, interestingly enough, none of it's five nominations for Academy Awards was for Interior Decoration.) Claudette Colbert does a wnderful job, but most of the other peformances are only average at best. 1934 was a particularly good year for Colbert, who won an Academy Award for It Happened One Night and starred in at least two other major productions that year-Imitation of Life and this movie. The picture feels a bit dated, but, while far from perfect, I think it superior to the 1963 remake in a great many respects and it's well worth watching.
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What a wonderful and underrated picture this is!
ron1013462 September 2012
Unfortunately, the colossal failure of the 1963 Cleopatra has overshadowed the less opulent but superior 1934 version. In his obsession to throw money at the production to assure its success, Joseph Mankiewicz nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox and, along the way, seemed to forget the fundamental elements of good movie-making. By contrast, in the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Paramount Studios were already near receivership, so Cecil DeMille was put in the unusual position of having to create an epic with great economy: this meant focusing on the story, demanding great acting and creating a high style within the budget that he had.

To some degree he was abetted by the old-style Academy frame, which allowed DeMille to fill the screen with just a few beautifully designed sets (the throne room, the barge); in contrast, the Mankiewicz version seemed always to struggle with how the fill the Cinemascope screen, especially for the interior shots—there was always a vastness that diminished the actors and the acting (this is a common weakness of Cinemascope—great for landscapes, poor for intimacy).

De Mille has been much criticized for the 1930s anachronistic dialog, but in truth, no version of Cleopatra on screen or on the stage has ever used contemporary 1st-Century BC Latin or even a rough translation of it! Even the revered Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra was written in Early Modern English. And who is to say that the vulgar Latin (the form of Latin used in every-day ancient speech rather than the formal Latin used in the Roman Senate) is any different from what DeMille used in his version? Some economies were obvious: in particular, the battle scenes were just montages taken from several of DeMille's earlier films, but interestingly, DeMille filmed the abduction sequence on location—this, during an era that always filmed these kinds of scenes in the studio with rear projection. But by putting his few dollars into the scene that focused on Cleopatra's vulnerability and loss of control, DeMille both heightened the drama early in the picture and magnified the viewer's interest in her later fate.

Countering the economy were many riches. The barge scene is justifiably placed in many anthologies of great motion picture moments, but what makes it so special is that it is a rare case where silent movie sensibility has been transformed intact into the sound era. DeMille had directed in both eras and he, among the few of his time, was able to preserve the visual richness and choreographed motion of the silent era and make it work in a talking picture. Another example of that exotic visual sense is the breathtaking opening and closing credits: the picture begins with the symbolic opening of the walls of an Egyptian tomb and the picture ends with the tomb closing upon Cleopatra with that same symbolism. All of this is accompanied by Rudolph Kopp's wonderful score that is uniquely (and dramatically appropriately) languid and sorrowful, rather than triumphant and bombastic as would be the case in most other costume dramas.

I won't repeat the comments made about the superb work that Claudette Colbert did here (and so different from that other masterpiece she made "It Happened One Night" in the same year!) Her work was so erotic and sensual, I wonder if some scenes were cut since the Production Code was passed during Cleopatra's production? Bottomline: See this film, appreciate its rare and now lost artistry, and recommend it to others.

Ron Levine
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zetes14 September 2002
This is an excellent adaptation of the life of Cleopatra, based mostly, I think, on Shakespeare. Claudette Colbert is not one of my favorite actresses, but this is probably the best part I've seen her in. Even better are those around her. The only actor of whom I had heard in the film is C. Aubrey Smith, the venerable character actor. He is excellent here as Antony's general, Enobarbus. Warren William is a very good Julius Caesar. Gertrude Michael plays his wife, Calpurnia, well. Ian Keith is just how I'd imagine Octavian. Joseph Schildkraut has only five minutes of screen time as Herod, which is truly unfortunate considering how good he is. The film's standout performance comes from Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony. Wilcoxon is very good at projecting Antony's conflicted interests. While the acting is great, Cleopatra is probably most memorable for its lavishness, DeMille's speciality, of course. Caesar's and Cleopatra's triumphant entrance into Rome is fantastic, while not going anywhere near as overboard as they did in the crappy 1963 version starring Elizabeth Taylor. The scene in which Cleopatra and Antony first make love is an enormous spectacle. And the film contains perhaps the best war montage that I've ever seen. The previous year's Best Picture, Cavalcade, had a horrific WWI montage. Cleopatra contains the most amazing scenes of ancient warfare. They all happen quickly, but the production in these bits is superlative. The sea battle, even if it may be only thirty seconds long, is a dozen times more believable than the stale, cheap naval battle of Ben-Hur, filmed over 20 years later. And there are also many moments of subtlety, which I didn't predict. Julius Caesar's execution is well done. DeMille doesn't try to overwhelm the audience at that point, preferring to film it simply. The aftermath is given more attention (of course, Caesar isn't the focus of this film). And Antony's emotional suicide is good, as well. It's a very good film. 9/10.
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Keeping Abreast With Claudette
ccthemovieman-19 March 2007
Actually, this movie was better than I thought it might be. (Sometimes lower expectations help!) It had some good dance numbers, almost Busby Berkeley-like extravaganzas held in Cleopatra's barge. It also had a few decent action scenes and a fairly good and easy-to-understand story.

Claudette Colbert and few others surprised me a bit by showing off quite a bit of cleavage, but then this was released just before the Hays' Code was in effect. Colbert was not shy: she had been nude in an erotic milk-bath scene two years earlier in "The Sign Of The Cross."

Warren William, as "Caesar," and Henry Wilcoxen, as "Marc Antony," both overacted and looked almost like silent film characters with all the makeup. They were terrible.

Why this film won an award for cinematography, I don't know. Perhaps it was the elaborate sets by Cecil B. DeMille that caught people's attention.

If you are a fan of classic films, this is one to definitely check out.
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The Mother of All Epics!
csdietrich16 February 2001
Impossible to surpass, CLEOPATRA stands out as DeMille's finest work, without question the defining moment of his career. Colbert is ravishingly beautiful as the Egyptian Queen. Warren William is unsurpassed to this day as the quintessential Julius Caesar. Henry Wilcoxon, with his stellar good looks is the doomed Marc Antony in the greatest role of his career. Unquestionably breathtaking to look at down to the last detail of costume and performances. The only misfortune is that DeMille was not given a dream budget so battle scenes are lifted from some of his other pictures. However, this is the definitive CLEOPATRA of all time, superior even to the Elizabeth Taylor version nearly thirty years later. AN EPIC MUST-SEE!!!
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Classical Cleo
bkoganbing21 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Claudette Colbert certainly had one banner year in 1934. An Oscar for It Happened One Night for Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures and back at her home studio, she starred and got great reviews for Paramount's big budget item of the year, Cleopatra.

As the slinky siren Queen of the Nile who got Julius Caesar's and Mark Antony's hormones into exponential overdrive, Claudette is one sly little minx. The traditional story is told in the classic DeMille style, eye-filling spectacle, plenty of sex, and Victorian type dialog.

Because in 1963 Joe Mankiewicz released his version of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, DeMille's version has become dated. Because Mankiewicz's cast talk like real people instead of classical figures of antiquity, DeMille's version now suffers by comparison.

Warren William who in profile looks and acts like John Barrymore makes a classical Caesar who always gets shortchanged because his character in all versions gets killed off halfway into the story. Antony is played by Henry Wilcoxon who became very close friends with DeMille. DeMille tried to make him a star in this and in The Crusades, but the public didn't buy. Wilcoxon's greatest screen success was away from DeMille over at MGM as the vicar in Mrs. Miniver.

DeMille relates a story in his autobiography about how Claudette was deathly afraid of snakes and was in horror of shooting her death scene. That scene was shot last in Cleopatra. And DeMille relates how before the scene he approached a terrified Colbert with a 10 foot python draped over his shoulders. As he got closer and closer Colbert was getting more and more anxious. When he got within three feet of her, he disgarded the python and had one of his retainers produce a small 8 inch garter snake for the asp. Colbert gave a sigh of relief and did the scene.

Though it's outdated in every way by Mankiewicz's film including the spectacle DeMille loved, Cleopatra is still an interesting film to watch.
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Best version of the oft-told story
Bucs196019 October 2001
One never thinks of Claudette Colbert as a sex symbol but she puts that to rest with her great interpretation of Cleopatra. What a siren she is as she vamps her way through this film. Henry Wilcoxon, truly an overlooked actor, is a perfect Antony. I have often wondered why he never made a bigger splash. I'm not as taken with Warren William as Caesar; he seems more at home in films with contemporary settings. The barge scene, with the ever increasing beat of the drums,implying what is happening or about to happen, is full of passion. More obvious scenes in modern movies leave nothing to the imagination....this leaves most of it to the imagination and is, therefore, much more effective. A highly recommended film.
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A Demille spectacular but not a history lesson
L. Denis Brown9 June 2006
Reading the comments on this film today, one finds almost all of them comparing it with the 1963 Mankiewicz/Taylor epic which is in colour and twice as long. A significant proportion of those who have seen both versions have expressed their preference for this earlier B/W film by Cecil Demille. But the comments also seem to indicate many of the keen movie fans writing these reviews have little appreciation that several other versions also exist .Two silent films were made, one produced in 1910 runs for 90 minutes, the other produced in 1917 is now totally lost, probably these are now only of historic interest. There have also been versions from other countries in languages other than English which few North American movie fans will have seen, and television versions that suffered from limited budgets. But the 1945 film 'Caesar and Cleopatra' made by Gabriel Pascal, based directly on the play by George Bernard Shaw and featuring Vivian Leigh as Cleopatra certainly must be considered whenever major film versions of Cleopatra's life are being compared. The different writing credits given to these three films are interesting. Those familiar with the works of Shakespeare might expect a life of Cleopatra to be based on his two plays 'Julius Caesar' and 'Anthony and Cleopatra' (although an earlier starting date would be required), but no direct credit is given to Shakespeare in any of these three films. George Bernard Shaw wrote his play Caesar and Cleopatra covering most of Cleoopatra's life in 1901.This work is probably the most frequently presented on stage, and is regarded by most people today as the precursor of all three films. It certainly contributes a lot to their structure. However Demille is interested only in his story - his credited to his two Hollywood writers - one for the adaption and the other for the screenplay. By contrast credits for the 1963 film are given to the histories written by Plutarch and Suetonius, whilst Pascal's 1945 film is not only based directly on the GBS play but uses a film-script written specially for it by the 82 year old Shaw himself, so writing credits go entirely to Shaw. A master of words, Shaw crafted his plays so that their dialogue could feature as many as possible of his witticisms. He was also a crusader who supported many causes including emancipation and female equality - these were often highlighted in his dramatic works. If history had to be edited a little to enable him to write more sparkling dialogue, so be it.

It follows that the 1963 Mankiewicz version is regarded as the most historically reliable, whilst there are a few problems of accuracy in Pascal's version, particularly in that Cleopatra is portrayed as too young and inexperienced at the start of the film (remarkable since Vivian Leigh who was playing her was 32 at the time); and the Demille version must be accepted as designed to put spectacle ahead of historical veracity. All three films feature great performances, especially in the key role of Cleopatra (and it is very interesting to compare the different images of her which the three great divas present); but many of the supporting roles are also very powerfully acted, and all three films provide examples of what can only be described as the work of great Directors. They also all feature very competent camera work, and there is no justification for not enjoying whichever of them one chooses to view. Our role here is to comment on Demille's version - not the other two. What we should primarily expect from this film is the superlative spectacle for which Demille is so famous. Similarly if we were watching Pascal's film we would be entitled to expect the most sparking dialogue and with Mankiewicz's version we could expect to be seeing the most historically accurate presentation. Unfortunately an increasing number of modern viewers regard full colour presentation as essential for true spectacle so the 1934 version starts with a significant handicap; and the number who have expressed a preference for it when so many would instinctively regard the 1963 colour presentation as inherently more spectacular, is a remarkable tribute to Demille. Claudette Colbert played very few period parts, she was most at home playing the typical Amercan wife and mother, But she was a great actress and her performances as Poppaea (The Sign of the Cross) and Cleopatra are hard to fault. Some viewers have suggested they would have been happier if Cleopatra had been played by an actress with an ethnically Mediterrenean appearance, rather than with the more northerly features of Colbert. I cannot go along with this - whenever we watch acting we accept that we are watching a representation of what might have occurred, not a portrayal of actual individuals or events. In my view Colbert gave a magnificent display of sexuality capable of attracting the attention of even the most dedicated army commander. Demille handled everything else admirably. Other memorable performances come from Warren William as Julius Caesar, Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Anthony, Aubrey Smith as Enobarus, and Ian Keith as Octavian, a key part which is often not adequately appreciated. The battle sequences are kept very brief (budget?) but are much more effective than those in other films from the same period, and the barge scene in which Cleopatra seduces Mark Anthony is widely regarded as a classic. Demille did not go overboard to the same extent that he did in some other films, but a hint of overacting, characteristic of the silent film era, has been continued here and is extremely effective. Particularly noteworthy is Cleopatra's triumphant entry into Rome which here looks like a real city with real people in residence, not just a film set. This is certainly a film that even the most discerning viewers can still enjoy..
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Claudette Colbert -- A True Vision of Lovliness!
mikhail0804 February 2012
Well, I never remember seeing this DeMille blockbuster, so I was happy to see a screening of a restored "George Eastman House" print the other day. Certainly most everyone reading here at IMDb is familiar with the DeMille brand, and most would probably agree that he seldom disappoints his audience. DeMille liked to think big, and it shows by his making some really fantastic entertainments that even today pack a wallop. And obviously, Adolph Zukor invested big bucks to make DeMille's vision come to reality here.

No one would confuse DeMille's "Cleopatra" with a historical documentary. But he does lay out an interesting and nuanced storyline revolving around the Queen of the Nile and two of her lovers -- Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. The movie moves along very nicely, and the boredom sometimes associated with these kinds of historical epics is not apparent.

Colbert is extraordinarily sexy, sporting some of the most revealing costumes and looking just absolutely gorgeous. Her sometimes ironic and sometimes earnest delivery of dialog makes her Cleopatra both slyly humorous and sympathetic. She's absolutely fantastic and utilizes her huge eyes to great effect, being perfectly cast as this legendary vixen she expertly shoulders the weight of the film.

Amazing set pieces abound, and I won't discuss the specifics here, but needless to say, DeMille had the studio put in a gigantic effort to make the elaborate sets, costumes, battles, and every extra look genuine. Marc Antony's first visit to Cleopatra's barge becomes a marvel of choreography, with even Agnes DeMille involved! Yeah, the dialog might be somewhat hokey and dated, but always relevant and insightful into the characters. A slight downside was the obvious use of stock footage in the final battle scene, obviously taken from something filmed at least a decade before -- but that's a small complaint.

The supporting cast is led by Warren William as Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon as Antony who both fill out their roles admirably, and in a way that's not stereotypical. Colbert needs strong men to play off of, and these two are up to the challenge. And Ian Keith supplies a few powerful moments as Cleo's smoldering nemesis Octavian. A special mention too goes to Joseph Schildkraut who has a memorable little cameo as King Herod.

No one paying full admittance back in 1934 would have come away disappointed by DeMille's spectacular "Cleopatra." Wasn't that the core of his populist genius?

***** out of *****
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"Either fighting or loving"
Steffi_P24 June 2009
One of the many problems facing anyone wanting to make an ancient-world epic, is that the times and the people you must depict are so far removed from everything we know today that it is difficult, if not impossible, to produce a picture with any emotional or empathetic weight. Many have tried – the term "intimate epic" is often bandied about when discussing those 50s and 60s behemoths, but I have yet to see one that truly merited the description. But to Cecil B. DeMille, a producer-director who goes with epics like John Ford goes with Westerns, this would be missing the point.

The screenplay of Cleopatra is definitely a dramatic one. Aside from the fact that Hollywood was still cash-strapped by the depression, the story is not really suited to impressive action sequences; it is essentially a human love story and such conflict as does take place would be distracting if it was made exciting. The script, by DeMille's current favoured hacks Waldermar Young and Vincent Lawrence, while full of interaction is far from emotionally involving. But even an ace screenwriter would have been hard-pressed to write something that was. How is a modern day audience supposed to relate to a love affair between an emperor and a Queen who lived two thousand years ago? We can't, but we can be entertained by it.

In any case, DeMille was not a director who could do deep and moving. Gripping as they often are, even the finest of his contemporary dramas are unlikely to provoke tears or satisfy on an emotional level. Instead, DeMille's pictures stir or dazzle us through their poetic rhythm and imagery. Just like a renaissance painting of some tragic figure, we do not feel the subject's pain, but we can appreciate the beauty with which it is portrayed. This was something that came to the fore in the director's 1930s pictures, when budgets were tight, sets small and extras limited. DeMille was forced to use all his technical abilities to make the images speak.

Always a talented choreographer of crowds, and an inventive user of elements within the frame, DeMille here constructs little dances out of camera movement, extras and whatever is on the set to give mood and pace to each scene. One (rightly) well-known instance is at the end of the barge scene, where the camera pulls back smoothly between the rows of oarsmen, adding a bit of romantic atmosphere (not to mention sexual suggestiveness) while, to put it bluntly, Anthony and Cleopatra get it on behind a curtain. But there are other less obvious examples, such as at the party scene where the camera trundles sideways, slaves pottering about in the background, until eventually coming to rest behind a curtain where Caesar's enemies are plotting his downfall. As well as giving a tone to each moment without being intrusive, these manoeuvres keep the picture flowing, and prevent it from becoming a sequence of dull dialogues.

And it's just as well Cleopatra is visually engaging, because the acting is pretty mediocre. Warren William is probably the best of the bunch; very theatrical but good in that context. Claudette Colbert is not bad either – she really flourished in these seductive, assertive roles, although she was better yet playing an out-and-out villain – see for example her turn in Sign of the Cross. Henry Wilcoxon on the other hand is as wooden as the set he stands in – I really don't know what he was doing here. but apparently he hit it off with the director and ended up becoming part of the DeMille stock crew as an associate producer. No-one else among the cast stands out as either good or bad.

So, back to this problem of ancient-world epics – on an emotional level they are impenetrable to the modern viewer, simply because their setting is just that: ancient. Generally producers of these pictures acknowledged this and instead resorted to impressing us with the stupendous and spectacular. DeMille could easily be pigeonholed as doing the same – certainly that is what his reputation suggests – but in fact he does something even more effective. With his flowing, dreamlike presentation, he actually heightens and envelops his audience in the myth and mystery of a bygone age.
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This is one of Cecil B.DeMille's historical drama
Jay Harris11 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Cecil B.DeMille was not the best director in Hollywood history, He was a story teller,He also was not known for being very factual when he made these historical dramas, He changed facts, characters & even history to please both himself & the motion picture public at he time.

Most of the movie goers back then wanted to be only entertained, they did not want much history or even truth, They wanted excitement & to laugh or even cry.Messages were for Western Union.

Mr. De Mille knew this & made his films that way. He did make very entertaining movies for HIS time. The one film of his that won the Oscar for best film was more of a Hollywood salute to him & his way of making lasting films. That circus film of his was fun to watch & thats about all. This is about my general opinion of all his films.

Now CLEOPATRA is a well acted & very well made movie, using many of his usual excellent montage sequence & crowd scenes,

Claudette Colbert was a very good Cleopatra, Both Warren William & Henry Wilcoxsin as Ceasar & Mark Antony were good as always, They were part of CB's stock company. I did catch one obvious casting error, Ian Keith was way to old to play Octavius was under 21 yrs old & not middle aged.

When watching films from the 30's we must realize how different things were & how people did not act like they do today.

Ratings: *** (out of 4) 89 points (out of 100) IMDb 8 (out of 10)
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One of earliest movies I saw.
dsanta2824 June 2001
One of the first movies I ever saw. I was born in 1932 so certainly didn't see in first screening. Remember her milk bath, erotic for its time. Colbert was great as usual. Classiest lady on the screen.
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De Mille At his corniest.
jcgreg18 July 1999
This is one of the corniest films of all time. But it is such Fun ! The banquet scene, the war montage are just priceless. However the lines...only in a de mille movie could such dialogue be accepted. Also note that as in many De mille films, you hear random voices from the crowds. Pay particular attention to Henry Wilcoxin as Anthony. Virile, Strong, Manly and a hoot. Pop some corn and just enjoy!
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great film
kyle_furr7 February 2004
I haven't seen the 63 version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton but I've heard this one's better. I'm sure you already know the plot but if you don't, read it somewhere else. Claudette Colbert is very sexy and good looking in here, which was a surprise and I haven't seen too many Cecil B. DeMille films, but I do remember his cameo in Sunset Boulevard.
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Good for it's time
kenandraf14 August 2002
Good film for the time it was made (1934) with good all around production despite a modest budget.Good acting performances,particularly by Colbert.This film is very outdated now due to more modern Cinema tech and has been overshadowed by the more superior 1963 version.Still a good film to watch for avid Hollywood completists,big fans of historical romance dramas and big fans of the lead actors......
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visually stunning
NPG5 June 2000
A great movie by the history buff DeMille. The cinematography is what I like best of all. Claudette Colbert did an excellent job as Cleopatra but her leading men did poorer. The beginning and end are both well done through. The part where Cleopatra meets Marc Anthony is still hilarious to this day. Overall, a very well done movie.
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Epic and a visual treat
Antonius Block1 February 2017
What an extraordinary year 1934 was for Claudette Colbert. "It Happened One Night", "Imitation of Life", and of course, Cecil B. DeMille's version of the epic story, "Cleopatra". It's lush and extravagant especially for the time period, with absolutely marvelous costumes by Travis Banton, and beautiful art deco sets by Hans Dreier. Warren William is solid as Julius Ceasar and Henry Wilcoxon is passable as Marc Antony, but, wow, Claudette Colbert sizzles as Cleopatra. She finds the right balance between regal grandeur and smooth seduction. This movie just squeaked in before the doors of the Hays Code closed, and thank goodness, because she's so beautiful while slinking around in those revealing outfits. There are some fantastic dance/circus performances as well, and the movie is such a visual treat. The dialogue sometimes gets a little silly, but DeMille knew a good story when he saw one, and he knew that sex and violence sold. His ambition in production, both in creating big scenes and in the small details, really pay off, and it's no doubt that this is one of those early films that shaped Hollywood "epic" movies for decades.
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Colbert and production design rise above it all
kirksworks22 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
With the DVD release of this first sound version of "Cleopatra" in newly restored form, the hype labeling this the best of all filmed Cleopatras is hard to avoid. Although I like this version and enjoy Claudette Colbert, the overacting of other key players and obviousness of Cecil B. DeMille's direction as well as the serious condensation of the story holds me back from loving it.

Although Colbert is witty and conveys a lot through expression (particularly her eyes), I really can't buy her as Queen of the Nile. Though the actress was born in France and schooled in New York, her accent and manner echoes more mid-west America than Ancient Egypt. The same could be said of Elizabeth Taylor, but Taylor's physical features evoke the middle East more than Colbert's. Still, Colbert's performance is enjoyable if taken as Hollywood hokum masquerading as high art - like the Liz Taylor version.

The production design and costumes of DeMille's film shimmer and glitter on screen like an ancient living dream. The look of the film is undeniable. The huge pillars with patterns of reflective design, though black and white, suggest gold everywhere. Colbert's gilded headdresses emblazon themselves to memory, becoming Hollywood fashion icons in the process. The sets of Egypt, Rome, and particularly Cleopatra's barge, are pure silver screen eye candy. The highlight of the film is the stupendous crane shot that starts on Cleopatra and a drunken Antony, then pulls back to reveal the oarsmen rowing methodically in time to the suggestive pound of a drum as the barge sets off back to Egypt, reinforced by a pulsing score. It is both sexual, romantic and remarkably cagey, transforming power from Antony to Cleopatra, cleanly ending the act and setting the stage for the rest of the story. It's a phenomenal sequence, probably the single finest moment in DeMille's career.

So with all this wonderful stuff, what's not to like? It's the character relationships, which come across as simplistic and unbelievable. The time Cleopatra spends with Caesar is supposed to make us buy her passion for him, but it felt rushed and forced. The one high moment is when she kills a man hiding behind a curtain with a knife. Did this man intend to kill Caesar or Cleopatra? She would have Caesar believe the man wanted to kill him, when more likely he was there to kill her. The ambiguity is wonderful, and there should have been more material like this. Yet, even before their relationship solidifies, Caesar is assassinated and Cleopatra is off to Egypt. Warren William as Caesar is physically right for the role, and much older than Cleopatra, which is historically accurate, but the obviousness of his dialog and the "beware the ides of March" foreshadowing is thick enough to be cut with every dagger plunged into Caesar's chest.

Even worse than William is Henry Wilcoxon as Antony, who when told Cleopatra intends to poison him, gives us not only one unrelenting fake over the top laugh, but gives us another when he relates the notion to Cleo herself, even laughing himself sillier. Cringe inducing. It is this sort of heavy-handedness that brings the film down to lower than pulp quality. Yet it is more than Wilcoxon's performance. When Antony is told Octavian is marching to Egypt, Cleopatra, who indeed had intended on poisoning Antony for the sake of Egypt's future, suddenly finds herself filled with admiration when she watches him order his men about. This is a short cut by the writers to transform Cleo's feelings for Antony, but like most sequences (with the exception of the barge sequence where enough time is given to show Cleo seducing Antony with her physical charms and exotic wonders), the writers cut to the chase before any expository groundwork is laid.

The battle of Actium is sandwiched among a montage of land battles. Not all that much is conveyed until the end when we see Antony sitting atop an Egyptian gate, defeated. This episode is far more effective in the 1963 version, with Antony (Richard Burton) charging Octavian's troops single-handedly after his men have deserted him. With DeMille choosing montage as the way to wow the audience, the sequence becomes a bit tedious. There's only so many times you can watch men swing swords at each other before it becomes repetitious. And neither is the montage all that dramatic. Mostly we witness choreographed crowds in action. Actium was a sea battle and that is where the focus should have remained. How Antony was defeated we can only surmise via the montage.

Claudette Colbert made me care for her, in spite of the simplistic relationship development, anachronistic dialog and Cliffnotes ancient history. Had someone like Roger Livsey played Caesar and Laurence Olivier played Antony, perhaps even their own poorly written dialog could have been overlooked as well. So, ultimately, Colbert is the only one who comes out the winner, mid-west Americana Queen of the Nile and all. She's loads of fun to watch.

Still, in spite of the film's shortcomings, I highly recommend it. There is much to admire. Fans of Colbert will not be disappointed, and it's a complete feast for the eyes. I might add that this version as well as the Taylor 1963 version and the 1999 epic with Leonor Varela, all end identically with a camera move back from the dead Cleopatra, the bodies of her handmaidens nearby as the Romans view the scene with disappointment and humility. Apparently, all three directors agreed there was no better way to end than to copy Shakespeare.
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