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Cleopatra (1934) Poster

(1934)

Trivia

In 1934 the Hays Code was only just being implemented so Cecil B. DeMille made sure to flaunt its restrictions while he was still legally able to do so. He opens the film with an apparently naked but strategically lit slave girl holding an incense burner in each hand as the title appears onscreen.
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When Cecil B. DeMille was in pre-production on this film, he asked to screen the original version, Cleopatra (1917) with Theda Bara. No prints could be found on in Los Angeles, so a copy of it was borrowed from the Fox office in New York. After DeMille viewed the film it was sent back to Little Ferry, New Jersey. On July 9, 1937, a fire at the storage facility destroyed almost all of Fox's known archived prints, most likely including Cleopatra. The screening for DeMille's company, on February 15, 1934, may have been the last time anyone saw the legendary film.
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A number of day-to-day schedule problems and delays appear to have been costume-related, in many cases because Claudette Colbert felt they didn't fit her correctly and was sending them back to the costume shop.
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When she first started having discussions with Cecil B. DeMille about playing the part of Cleopatra, Claudette Colbert expressed a lot of unease about her climactic scene with an asp, being terrified of snakes. On the day the scene was to be filmed, DeMille had one of the largest snakes sent over from Los Angeles Zoo and approached Colbert onset with it as she sat in costume on her throne. The actress was terrified and pleaded with him not to come any nearer to her with the enormous snake, whereupon DeMille produced the diminutive little asp and said "How about this instead?" Colbert was perfectly happy to film the scene with such a small snake instead.
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The film largely came about because Cecil B. DeMille's previous film, Four Frightened People (1934) - which also starred Claudette Colbert - had been a huge flop. Paramount head Adolph Zukor wanted DeMille to replicate the success of The Sign of the Cross (1932) and told him he had to make another historical epic next with lots of sex in it.
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Cecil B. DeMille considered Richard Dix, William Gargan and Charles Bickford for the role of Marc Antony. DeMille picked newcomer Henry Wilcoxon when by accident he caught test footage of Wilcoxon.
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Daily Variety reported that the film was badly panned by Italian critics, one of whom called it a "travesty and a burlesque," when shown in Rome. It also was met with "catcalls and derisive laughter" from the audience.
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One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since. Initially withheld because of legal complications, but considered one of the centerpieces in the MCA/Paramount film library, its earliest documented telecasts took place in Lowell, Massachusetts Sunday 6 March 1960 on WBZ (Channel 4), Asheville, North Carolina 3 April 1960 on WLOS (Channel 13), and Johnstown, Pennsylvania 30 April 1960 on WJAC (Channel 6); it soon became a local television favorite enjoying prime weekend telecasts across the country, next in Grand Rapids 11 June 1960 on WOOD (Channel 8), in Pittsburgh 12 August 1960 on KDKA (Channel 2), in St. Louis 16 September 1960 on KMOX (Channel 4), in Miami 23 September 1960 on WTVJ (Channel 4), 16 October 1960 in both Cincinnati on WKRC (Channel 12), and in Salt Lake City on KUTV (Channel 2), in Seattle 22 October 1960 on KIRO (Channel 7), 18 November 1960 in both New York City on WCBS (Channel 2), and in San Francisco on KPIX (Channel 5), and in Buffalo 19 November 1960 on WGR (Channel 2). It was released on DVD 23 May 2006 as one of five titles in Universal's Cecil B. De Mille Collection, and as a single 7 April 2009 as part of the Universal Backlot Series. Now fully restored by UCLA, it's also enjoyed occasional airings on cable TV on Turner Classic Movies.
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Warren William was cast largely on the strength of his performance in The Mouthpiece (1932).
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From the outset, Cecil B. DeMille was determined to bring the Cleopatra story to the masses, feeling that the William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw versions were too highbrow.
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In reality, at the time Octavian was only 11 years old, not an adult man as portrayed here.
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Claudette Colbert had a banner year in 1934, with three of her films being nominated for Academy Awards for Best Film: this picture, Imitation of Life (1934) and It Happened One Night (1934). She, of course, won the Oscar for Best Actress for the last.
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" Cleopatra " was the second most popular movie at the U.S. box office for 1934.
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Costume designer Vicky Williams left the project because she was annoyed by what she perceived as a lack of organization in the department.
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Shot in around six weeks for $842,000.
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This is one of two films based on the life of Cleopatra VII to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The second was Cleopatra (1963).
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Claudette Colbert was sick from April 10, 1934 to April 16, delaying the production.
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Pothinos, portrayed in an extremely virile fashion by Leonard Mudie, was in fact a eunuch.
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Adolphe Menjou and John Gilbert were both offered the part of Caesar.
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Claudette Colbert's well known aversion to being photographed from the right side is not in evidence here. She's constantly seen from every possible angle and there's not a hint of whatever the problem, real or imagined, may have been.
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