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Cleopatra and Julius Caesar carry on an arch flirtation, while spouting
epigrams courtesy of George Bernard Shaw, in this literate, exuberant and
thoroughly enjoyable movie. "Caesar and Cleopatra" stands out against the
typical British production, which tends to be drab and morose. (Other
notable exceptions are the works of Pressberger & Powell, the Korda brothers
Claude Rains is perfectly cast as the cynical, world-weary and "ready for the knife" Julius Caesar. I'm not sure if it's makeup, or perhaps lighting, but Rains's face looks like it was taken from one of those memorial portraits in the Roman catacombs. In any case, while it may be Caesar's countenance we see, it's Shaw's voice we hear. I love Claude Rains in everything, but there's an intimacy with Rains here that makes "Caesar and Cleopatra" one of my Rains favorites.
And Vivian Leigh. What can I say? Her Cleopatra is Scarlett O'Hara, except that while Scarlett's flirtations were matters of the heart, Cleopatra's were purely matters of state. In the beginning Cleopatra is a sheltered, naive...well, princess. By the end, she has learned well at Caesar's knee and possesses the ruthlessness and guile of statecraft - she is a queen.
Another delight is Stewart Granger's swashbuckling Apollodorus, and Flora Robson has a delicious part as Cleopatra's nursemaid Ftatateeta. Robson is well qualified as a tutor of royalty, having herself played Queen Elizabeth in "Fire over England".
Like another classic British spectacle, "The Four Feathers," "Caesar and Cleopatra" is one of the treasures in my film archive which I view repeatedly alone.
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945), based on George Bernard Shaw's play and
directed by Gabriel Pascal, is a very unique movie that combines all
precious aspects of film art. It is not purely a historical movie since
it contains a lot of inaccuracies that appear to be illogical from a
historical perspective. Nevertheless, one has to analyze it in a deeper
understanding, taking into account other factors that make the film a
precious piece of post-war cinema. Therefore, it is impossible to see
it without the consideration of other aspects, or more clearly, other
figures that significantly affect the movie in general: George Bernard
Shaw with his style filled with wit and elegance; and Vivien Leigh with
her extraordinary acting skills. Let me consider the three
aforementioned aspects: history, Shaw and Leigh.
HISTORY: It is true that if you know Cleopatra's story and the events connected with the Roman conquest over Egypt, you will feel confused or even disappointed with the content of this film. Cleopatra definitely did not learn to be a queen from Caesar that much as she does here. She was a very intelligent woman with "foxy" plans as for Caesar and Rome(in this case, I would recommend CLEOPATRA by DeMille (1934) or by Mankiewicz (1963). The film by Pascal presents, in part justifiably, a total mess in Egypt that Caesar finds when he steps into its politics. This is proved by the way Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy are showed - two kids rather than rulers who compete for power. However, there are some strong historical points in the film that must be seen together with shortcomings. First, the film very well presents the Romans together with their leader Julius Caesar wonderfully played by Claude Rains. There is a very realistic scene of Roman legions entering Alexandria, the capital of Egypt. I also liked the way Caesar's personality is developed - someone who is full of contradictions rather than an "almighty" conqueror. These aspects make the film more authentic and ancient heroes more humane. However, it cannot be treated as a historical work for sure.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: But all must be thanked not only to the director but to this great classic playwright. G.B. Shaw is noticeable throughout, particularly through magnificent elegance. The director, Gabriel Pascal, really retains everything that one can find in Shaw's play. Therefore, any Shaw's fan, including the one with richest imagination will not be disappointed thanks to the marvelous elegance in this movie. In other words, the pictures of the film will not leave anything else to wish. The lavish sets, the costumes, simply BEAUTY noticeable in most of the scenes! Wit is another aspect. This is most effective in the scenes with Caesar and Cleopatra. "You will soon learn how to govern" says Cleopatra to mighty Caesar after a day or two of his lessons of ruling. Or the jumps into the sea (Apollodorus, Caesar and .... Cleopatra) - quite unique!
VIVIEN LEIGH: Before seeing the film, I did not expect her to be as good as her Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Now I must say that she is better as Cleopatra. Vivien gives a marvelous performance as a girl dreaming of a handsome man with strong arms who could protect her, and as a girl who later changes into a courageous, mighty queen. "If one man in all Alexandria can be found to say I did wrong, I swear to have myself be crucified on the door of the palace by my own slaves," which she says to Caesar after ordering Pothinus to be killed. And how wonderfully she plays one of the first scenes when she, in very unpredictable circumstances, finds out that the stranger she met at the Sphynx and with whom she talked so trust-worthily, is Caesar himself. UNFORGETTABLE! A lot of people associate only Liz Taylor with film Cleopatra. Not to mention Claudette Colbert, it is a pity they don't find Leigh's performance as worth highest attention.
It would be unfair to skip one more factor: other cast. Vivien shines in her role but others do very good jobs as well. Claude Rains is a very different Caesar than in most other films (actors who played him were, among others, Rex Harrison, William Warren, Fritz Leibner). But he is unforgettable, his face reflects a spirit of antiquity. Flora Robson who gives a memorable performance of Cleopatra's bossy servant Ftatateeta, stresses rather male features of character. She does it wonderfully through her gestures and low voice. And Francis L Sullivan as Pothinus - really worth attention!
All in all, there are many other aspects that make the movie highly recommended. Of course, it is difficult to mention everything in one review. All I can say at the end of my review is:
Do see the film!
If you are Shaw's fan, you will find his spirit throughout.
If you are Vivien Leigh's fan, you will be absolutely amazed by her performance.
If you are fond of historical, lavish epics, there will definitely be something wonderful that you will appreciate in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA. 8/10!
Bernard Shaw does not perhaps adapt too well to the screen, but, in my opinion, this adaptation is particularly successful and probably the best of them all, although one video edition in the UK didn't even risk mentioning Shaw's name anywhere on the box, prefering to market it as mere exotic spectacle. It is of course all that, but as with everything Shaw wrote, much, much more, and is essentially about IDEAS, (not necessarily, as has often been contended, always Shaw's own personal convictions). Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra gives yet another sublime and first-rate performance as she progresses from frightened teenager to an imperious Queen with a real understanding of power. (The scene in which she whips a hapless slave in order to experience the "thrill" of total power, strangely pre-echoes the psychology of the much misunderstood SALO). Mention too must also be made of the superb musical score by Georges Auric, and admiration expressed for the sheer audacity of producer Pascal for making such a lavish and expensive production in poverty-stricken post-war Britain. Well worth watching.
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.
I saw this when it first came out (1945-46) and it struck me then as a
really great film. I saw it again tonight on video and still have the
same opinion. This is NOT an historical film. This is a movie version
of G.B. Shaw's play of the same name, just as "My Fair Lady" is a
musical play/musical movie based on Shaw's "Pygmalion."
The performance by Vivien Leigh (32 yrs. old at the time) as a 15-16 yr. old Cleopatra was stunning as was the performance by Raines as Caesar. This is not a vehicle to describe history but rather, a vehicle for Shaw to present his ideas and comments -- and this movie serves Shaw's intent quite well.
His little barbs tweaking the British culture and character were well delivered. His ideas of what things lead to a civilized life and what things to a spiral of vengeance and barbarism are timeless and as appropriate to the twenty-first century as they were to the very early twentieth when Shaw wrote the play.
The cast was great, and the chemistry between all, especially Leigh & Raines, was superb -- as well as the sets and filming, too.
This movie is one of my favourites of all time. It portrays Julius Caesar in his later years, not as a lusting powermonger, but as a wise and benevolent dictator...tired of blood and betrayal and wishing for a brighter vision of humanity. Claude Raines gives a brilliant performance of Caesar as a dreamer, while Viven Leigh perfectly portrays the naieve yet devious young Cleopatra with her usual believability and vigor. No big explosions...no horrific violence...just a wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful film. A definate classic...not to be missed, especially if you are a fan of the costume and elegance of this period of movie.
Don't believe Leonard Maltin et al. This is a wonderful movie with great
performances by Vivien Leigh (Cleopatra), Claude Rains (Caesar), and Flora
Robson (the maid). A truly literate and witty script and the solid
appearances of Stewart Granger, Francis L. Sullivan, Ernest Thesiger, and
Basil Sidney make this a must see. Anthony Harvey appears as Ptolemy; he
later directed The Lion in Winter! Leigh and Rains are especially good and
their chemistry together is peerless. The sets are also magnificent. A
wonderful "adult" film. This is my by favorite Vivien Leigh
Shaw was a wonderful historian with a deadly eye for irony. Claude Rains brings off Caesar with withering poise and breezy wit, standing tall above the flashing eye of an Egyptian hurricane named Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh). Caesar's aide-de-camp is an affable bear of a man named Rufio (Basil Sydney), who mainly just keeps his eye on Caesar. Cleopatra is likewise sheltered by her scheming counselor Ftatateeta (Flora Robson), a name that not even Caesar can pronounce. Character actor Cecil Parker as Britannus adds quaintness and serendipity to an already splendid alchemy of spotty characters. The film moves by turns through a narrow skein of classical history as the reliquarian Egyptian world gives way to a streamlined Roman one. Along the way, we witness the contending parties encompassed and entangled in a delightful pantheon of wit, irony, satire, morals, manners, and adventure. Overall, a tremendously facile projection of one of England's sharpest satirical voices, G.B. Shaw.
Considering that this movie was made in 1946, when many of its technical
features were in its infancy (including color) it is still a wonderful
interpretation of the play. But to be objective we must place ourselves in
that period in time, otherwise the movie seems dated and some of its
characters out of place.
It is no easy task to interpret a play into film, and this movie even though it wants to give a feeling of outdoors, we (now that we are so sophisticated with our special effects) can tell it is a studio. But let's give credit where credit is due. Vivien Leigh shines by itself, she is the perfect Cleopatra, I find that Claude Reims is also a character to contend with. We might find him with our modern eyes, not physically attractive, and you wonder what Cleopatra sees in him, but let's not forget that, through out the play it is always out in the open the fact that she wants a younger man for herself, this is not a love story between them, but simply the encounter of a couple of very strong, intelligent, determined and ruthless human beings, as such, they are a pair to admire!
Claude Reims seems paternal, sometimes there are other types of attraction as well as rejection, he seems that he never takes her seriously, however he never forgets every word she speaks. Considering that he is supposed to be the most powerful man of its time, it can make any man, a very sexy man! Power is an aphrodisiac (if not lets look our own culture with all our icons in hollywood and in the sports arena, now even politicians are getting into it).
In the other hand Shaw's wonderful wit and facility use of the English language is evident all over the place, he is always so caustic and economic with his subtle criticisms of his own time. We must remember, this movie is about the value of words and the intellect between these two, not about the bloated romance Hollywood has produced so far.
Yes there is a story and an ambiance, but the essence of this play/movie is the underlying meaning of the dialog between them. If you liked "Pygmalion" the other Shaw play made into a movie later reincarnated by Hollywood as "My Fair Lady" you will love this movie.
While I switched the channel, at a sudden I found Vivien Leigh's beautiful
face. Even more that was my favorite Roman(Egypt)Movie. I start watched it,
slowly fascinated by its witty, humorous dialogue, wonderful performances by
all cast, especially the actor who plays Caesar, and Vivien
Unlike other serious Roman Epic, I did burst into laughs so hard several times during the movie. with Modern eye, it could be seen as out of date, laughtable, especially in those scenes where the fight sequences. but I really entertained . I've never known what kind of personality The Caesar had. Neither do about Cleopatra. Caesar described as Human-God who's wise, witty, brave and generous enough to forgive even his enermy. this is not a love story, but a chemisty between these two were great, and delightful to watch.
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