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Cleopatra hasn't been on the throne of the pharoahs of Egypt very long when Julius Caesar pays a visit. Caesar finds the prospect of romance more tempting than he expected, since Cleopatra is a rare woman who is bright as well as beautiful. And for Cleopatra, a friendly relationship with the most powerful man in the world may pay dividends in the future. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
Up to the time it was released in 1945 Caesar and Cleopatra was the most expensive British film ever made. It was as though the British cinema was trying to show America it could do a DeMille like epic as good as Cecil B. DeMille or anyone else from Hollywood. It may have been a little too overdone. Director Gabriel Pascal might have gotten a bit carried away with the spectacle and the audience might well have missed some of George Bernard Shaw's inspired dialog.
And Pascal had the advantage of the aged Mr. Shaw personally supervising the production. Of course Shaw insisted on total fidelity to his play and the ideas therein. I understand that J. Arthur Rank wanted to have a little sex and romance in there, like DeMille did do, but Shaw would have none of it.
What sets Caesar and Cleopatra apart from other Cleopatra stories that starred Theda Bara, Elizabeth Taylor, and Claudette Colbert is that Shaw portrayed her as probably what she was, a silly teenager who just happens to be Queen of Egypt. There's a little bit of Scarlett O'Hara in Vivien Leigh's performance as she moves from silly teen to a young women well schooled in statecraft by Julius Caesar.
Claude Rains plays a world weary Julius Caesar and the Shavian quips roll off his tongue with great aplomb. Like George Bernard Shaw's other masterpiece Pygmalion, Rains tutors Leigh and the results far exceed what he could have hoped for.
Production on Caesar and Cleopatra was begun while there was still a shooting war in Europe and V-2s and other such explosive devices were still raining down on the United Kingdom. A couple came real close to the studio in London this was being filmed at.
Stewart Granger got his first real notice in this film playing Apollodorus and Francis L. Sullivan plays a blustering and plotting Pothinos. If you look hard among the various slave women you will find both Jean Simmons and Kay Kendall among the extras.
You will also like both Basil Sydney as Ruffio and Cecil Parker as Britanus, two aides to Caesar who both occasionally give him a reality check.
Caesar and Cleopatra failed to recoup the cost of making it in initial release. J. Arthur Rank misjudged the British public taste post World War II. Maybe a little less expense and more attention to Shaw's words and the film might have been better.
Still it's pretty good as is.
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