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Mamie Van Doren
Serpent Of The Nile The Loves Of Cleopatra (William Castle, 1953) **
Before he found his niche directing Horror films, Castle tried his hand at all kinds of genres: these included Noirs, Westerns and, most surprisingly, Epics; for the record, I should be catching up with some of his efforts in this vein throughout the Easter period. Made for cheapie producer Sam Katzman, this looks amazingly handsome under the circumstances (for which sets and costumes from Columbia's concurrent "A" spectacle, SALOME', were recycled!) though the film's modest pedigree is evident in the way battle scenes are depicted via montages, while a general disregard for authentic detail exposes its sheer commercial nature (notably the over-lit Roman tents).
The narrative obviously deals with familiar events and historical figures: indeed, it begins with the aftermath of Julius Caesar's assassination. With this in mind, the script works its way around the fact that Cleopatra alternated between romances with Caesar and Mark Antony by having Brutus' fictional lieutenant (who, following the latter's suicide, manages to win Antony's confidence!) replacing Caesar! Curiously enough, the story thus far would be presented again during that same year in the adaptation of Shakespeare's play about the Roman leader/dictator! Anyway, while Rhonda Fleming is tolerable as the Egyptian Queen (though trading her usual redhead look for a long dark wig!), the film nearly collapses under the weight of central miscasting with respect to her two co-stars: would you believe Raymond Burr (appropriately brooding though he may be) as Mark Antony?!; William Lundigan, then, makes for an utterly wooden Roman officer who, being the more handsome, is predictably (but unhistorically) favored by Cleopatra (even from the time he served under Caesar himself!), yet is almost instantly given the cold shoulder by him for what she has done to Antony i.e. causing his falling-out with Augustus Caesar!
I have watched a number of films revolving around these characters (yet another followed this viewing) but, of course, Castle's entry would not pass muster (crucially, perhaps, it did not prove quite as enjoyably bad as I had been led to believe!) alongside the two most renowned renditions: Cecil B. De Mille's impressive 1934 version from which this actually 'recreates' the early barge sequence and the notorious, but undeniably worthwhile, 1963 mega-budgeted fiasco.
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