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I, Claudius (1937)

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Title: I, Claudius (1937)

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Compilation of lighting and costume tests from various films, most notably Sternberg's The Devil Is a Woman (1935).

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Stars: Travis Banton, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert
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Cast

Credited cast:
...
...
Emlyn Williams ...
Flora Robson ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Alan Aynesworth ...
Asiatacus, Senator
John Clements ...
Valente
Leonora Corbett ...
Roy Emerton ...
Gina Evans ...
Vestal Virgin
Frank Forbes-Robertson ...
Lupus, captain of the guard
Basil Gill ...
Morland Graham ...
Halotus, master of Livia's household
Everley Gregg ...
Domita, Messalina's mother
...
Allan Jeayes ...
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Also Known As:

Io, Claudio  »

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1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In this unfinished film, Charles Laughton plays the Roman emperor Claudius. In The Sign of the Cross (1932) he played Nero, Claudius' great-nephew, adopted son and successor. See more »

Goofs

According to "The Epic that Never Was", Director Josef von Sternberg asked the Costume Designer John Armstrong to prepare a briefing on the Vestal Virgins for him. Armstrong reported the factual details on the Virgins, that there were about six of them and that they dressed modestly. Von Sternberg told him that would not do for his picture, and instructed him to prepare sixty extras to be Vestal Virgins, in what appear to be bikinis, and Armstrong also provided each a semi-transparent circular veil to cover themselves. The resulting scene is quite striking and beautiful and fits in well with the film's intended "epic" proportions. But it is historically inaccurate, by order of the director. See more »

Quotes

Caligula: How wonderful to see you again, dear Uncle Claudius. I thought you were on your farm.
Claudius: I was or-or-
Caligula: You were or-or
Claudius: Ordered to attend.
Caligula: I hear you're teaching your pigs to read. Is that true?
Claudius: My pigs? Why?
Caligula: So as to have readers for all the Roman histories you write.
See more »

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User Reviews

 
What a shame
27 June 2005 | by (Chicago) – See all my reviews

I saw a documentary on this aborted movie; it was included with the DVD edition of the "I, Claudius" series starring Jacobi.

Parts of it were nearly unwatchable, especially the interview with director Josef Sternberg. I got the sense that he was a hated man, at least on the set for this movie. During his interview, he sat on a theatrical stage, puffing on his pipe, and putting long (incredibly long), pompous pauses between his phrases. His body language and posture were aristocratic and haughty. He did not look at the camera, or an interviewer, but instead glared at the table in front of him. Then, at one point, he complained bitterly about how production on the movie was stopped because of "the actors." I don't remember exactly how he phrased it, but the gist of it was that the movie had been sabotaged by the sort of people one can't rely on.

That was the impression Emlyn Williams (who played Caligula) had too. He said that it sounded as if Mr. Sternberg ("oh, I beg his pardon--Mister VON Sternberg") was suggesting that Merle Oberon (Messalina) deliberately threw herself through the windshield of her car (though she wasn't driving and didn't cause the accident), ending up on the pavement with severe lacerations (but happily no worse injuries) simply to destroy the production of of Sternberg's movie.

One can't help but smile at Williams' obviously deliberate and very British dig at Sternberg by omitting the aristocratic "von" and then hastening to emend the error--thereby making only too clear what he thought of Sternberg's aristocratic pretensions.

It was also clear that Sternberg despised Laughton, and Laughton returned the hostility in full force. In fact, I think Sternberg may have despised everyone involved except himself. The actors interviewed had largely left acting behind them when the documentary was made (1965), and besides, Sternberg was a broken reed in the movie industry by that time anyway. So he represented no threat to them. Even so, they are muted in their criticisms of him, showing the kind of class and restraint that one can't imagine among today's blabber-mouth stars. But it's their very reticence that underscores all the more strongly how they felt. Oberon says not a single word that you can pin down as critical of Sternberg, but the exasperation at his remarks about her accident is plain on her face. Even more telling is the complete lack of praise or warmth toward him. They don't claw at him, but nobody has anything nice to say about him, either.

Leaving aside the enmities among the cast and crew, even some 28 years after filming, the rushes that have survived provide a fascinating picture. Laughton was clearly struggling with the role. The documentary narrator (an absurd Dirk Bogarde) pointed out that Laughton felt he'd finally gotten inside his character after listening to a recording of Edward VIII's abdication speech in 1936. Maybe. There are clearly aspects of Laughton's performance that are awe-inspiring. Yet nevertheless, he frequently looks as if he's still searching for the soul of the character. I don't want to make it sound as if I worship Jacobi's performance in the BBC series, because it has its flaws as well, but one thing that I thought Jacobi always carried off perfectly was the halting gait and the awkward stance of a man with one leg too short. Laughton looks like he's trying too hard; he almost looks like one of the characters in "The Holy Grail" riding along with a toy horse.

There's another scene where a laughing Messalina prances by, eyeing him mischievously. He looks back at her with a mooning, foppish grin. It doesn't really work. I have to say that this is partly because the scene itself doesn't make any sense. The beguiling 15-year-old Messalina wouldn't have made google-eyed passes at the 50-year-old lame Claudius. The scene was pure Hollywood invention, to give us our first long look at the laughing seductress. So I can't imagine just how Laughton should have played the scene to make it work. Nevertheless, Laughton's performance here almost reminds one of Curly Howard making eyes at a dame in a dentist's office.

But the scene in which he addresses the Senate is powerful and nearly perfect, and so is the scene when he is received by Caligula shortly after the latter has declared himself a god. Here, he knows exactly what he is about. Again, this probably has something to do with the fact that these scenes made sense and were an integral part of the story.

Also, the few scenes in which Williams (Caligula) and Flora Robson (Livia) appeared were astonishing. Mesmerizing. It's a real shame we can't see more of those two.

It's a shame this movie was never finished. It might have been flawed, but it certainly would have been memorable.


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