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In this modestly budgeted and seldom seen version of the story, Rhonda Fleming stands out as the most luscious incarnation of the notorious title queen to date, with the possible exception of Linda Cristal. The film's glorious color makes up for its less than lavish sets, and the brisk pace of the action is a refreshing contrast to the longer, lumbering version. Lundigan makes a handsome if unwilling Roman lover, Burr is an adequate Antony, but Fox is a laughable Octavius who acts more like he came from Rome, N.Y. (Too bad Roddy McDowall wasn't cast in this one.) Altogether an entertaining entry in the Cleopatra sagas.
It's difficult to take this movie seriously, indeed if nothing else it will make you smile it's so campy. Cheap painted scenery, the same waves in all the sea scenes (notice the painted ships don't move), moronic character motivations, and I could go on. Its definitely history on the cheap as only William Castle could imagine it. Don't expect any resemblance to facts other than on the barest surface and even then it's a stretch. But it is FUN. Everyone acts like a 30s Chicago gangster except they wear Roman armor and togas. Rhonda Fleming is absolutely delightful in her over-the-top portrayal of the legendary queen, her form deliciously outlined in all her costumes. She is perfect in this role, the queen of camp playing the queen of the Nile. Raymond Burr's portrayal of Anthony makes you wonder how such a dope could have risen to such a height of power. As for William Lundigan, well he switched allegiances effortlessly, from Caesar to Brutus to Anthony to Cleopatra back to Anthony to Octavius and then I lost track. As for the plot don't expect to make much sense of it. So be warned and beware that you might not be able to take your eyes off this train wreck of a film.
I wasn't expecting much from this cheapie version of the well-known
Anthony and Cleopatra tale, but it is interesting for several different
reasons. I wouldn't go out of my way to see it, but if you in the mood,
this will pass your time.
First, this is an extremely low budget effort. That actually is a plus to me, because the high budget versions tend to lose focus, replacing wit with artifice. The characters wear the standard Roman army Halloween costumes, and everybody who isn't going to be around for a while is played by someone you almost certainly won't recognize. The painted backdrops are a hoot. Raymond Burr, who really hadn't made his name yet, manages to impress as a drunken, weak-willed Antony, while Rhonda Fleming as Cleopatra is stunning and manages to toss in a goblet-throwing temper tantrum here and there.
Second, the camp value of this version is way out there. Fleming plays Cleopatra as a scheming tart with totally unrealistic expectations for her lovers who entertains them with whip-wielding women dressed as Roman soldiers. William Lundigan plays her surprise love interest, Antony's associate who apparently had an affair with her years before as one of Caesar's guards. He grimaces through the film, looking for all the world as if he's looking for a horse to ride off into a Gene Autry film. Nobody looks particularly Egyptian, and Burr sounds more like Perry Mason than a Roman General. It's never really made clear why he went to Egypt in the first place, except that he "likes to have Cleopatra around" while Octavian takes over where the real action is, back in, um, Rome. Michael Ansara is around as Cleopatra's somewhat bumbling heavy to add to the low-rent feel.
Third, if the story interests you, it's refreshing to see a different take on it without all the overblown pageantry and histrionics that mar pretty much all the other versions. They were just people like everyone else, and this flick's perverse achievement is that it indeed makes everyone look pretty ordinary.
As I said, don't go out of your way to see this one. It's bad history done, well, badly. But Fleming is attractive and wears her tight, provocative low-cut '50's numbers well, and the romantic triangle allows her to emote all over the bare-bones scenery. See it only if that would amuse you.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director William Castle, a "Poor Man's" Alfred Hitchcock, uses every trick in the book in an effort to make this film work from a woman dancer painted in gold (pre- "Goldfinger) to a man wrestling a bear ala the Samson vs the lion in "Samson and Delilah" ... but nothing can save this clunker. Rhonda Fleming, a "Poor Man's Cleopatra" appears lost against the likes of previous portrayals provided by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Leigh, and Claudette Colbert. Making matters worse, she changed the color of her hair for this film. The result is about as successful as when Lana Turner traded her blonde mane to become a brunette in "Betrayed". Bad move ... then again Cleopatra didn't have red hair ... so maybe Fleming shouldn't have made this movie at all. Raymond Burr's "Poor Man's" portrayal of Marc Anthony falls flat when compared to the likes of the work of Marlon Brando ("Julius Caesar") Richard Burton ("Cleopatra"), Claude Rains ("Ceasar and Cleopatra"). It's no wonder after a history of playing heavies in many 1950's mediocre films that he finally escaped to the sanctuary of television, and found a much needed success in either a courtroom ("Perry Mason") or a wheelchair ("Ironside"). One can't really blame the sets or the beautiful Technicolor, but the story line and the script were downright outrageous. Cleopatra (Rhonda Fleming) in this film plays the "heavy" and is using Marc Anthony (Raymond Burr) in an effort to defeat Rome. Lucilius (William Lundigan), a former confidant of Brutus, becomes friends with Marc Anthony and tries to save him from "himself" and the wicked Queen. In the meantime, Cleopatra, falls for Lucilius but is not able to win him over to her side. Is there anyone out there who wants to buy a bridge out there in the Brooklyn area? The lines in the script are so bad that the actors almost pinch their noses while reciting them! Try some of these on for size; Marc Anthony (to a slave); "Tell your Queen I'll be there ... and tell her it will take more wine than all of Egypt to make Anthony drunk with words!" Lucilius (to Anthony); "I've heard if a man needs Cleopatra, he doesn't need wine." Or how about this one after Cleopatra has failed in an attempt to have Luciluus assassinated the previous night; Cleopatra (to Lucilius); "Perhaps your heart Lucilius is more fickle." Lucilius (to Cleopatra); "After what happened last night I'm lucky my heart still beats at all." It's no wonder William Lundigan wound up selling Westinghouse refrigerators on television commercials after films like this. In conclusion, this may have been "ok" Saturday matinée movie fare but just as the old style "Classic" type comic books it should not be used as a point of reference in a high school history lesson.
Serpent of the Nile (1953)
** (out of 4)
Sam Katzman used his low budget skills to bring forth this decent telling of the Cleopatra/Mark Anthony tale, which certainly can't hang with bigger productions but you somewhat have to admire what they were able to do here. The film focuses on Cleopatra (Rhonda Fleming) who is loved by Anthony (Raymond Burr) but her eyes are on Lucilius (William Lundigan), a man who soon begins to think she's not the best thing for Egypt. I really wasn't expecting too much out of this film but I actually found myself enjoying it to a certain level. This certainly isn't the greatest version of the film but then again that's not saying too much as all of them have been all over the place in terms of quality and entertainment. My hat certainly goes off to both Katzman and Castle as they took their low budget and delivered a campy little film that won't please history buffs but it might appeal to those who want a little cheese with their films. The best thing this film has going for it is its beautiful color that really jumps off the screen. I loved the colorful look of all the cheap costumes and sets. The non-stop changing of clothes by Cleopatra really makes great use of the color and just check out that lime colored dress she wears towards the end. Fleming makes for an interesting Cleopatra as in some ways she appears more like a bratty teenager expecting the impossible out of her lovers. I thought Fleming brought some sexuality to the role, which was nice but I wouldn't go as far as to say she's great in the role. Burr certainly doesn't sound the part but he's not too bad. Lundigan ends up stealing the film with his charm. The low budget nature somewhat helps the film focus on the love triangle but this low budget also hurts especially during some of the painting scenes, which look incredibly bad.
The thing is this movie overcomes it's problems and is a worthwhile
version of this story. It gets off on a bad foot right away with a bad
action scene, not just cheap, it's bad. All but one scene of historical
battling are really poorly staged. If you can only afford to have ten
guys fighting you'd hope that at least the fighting would be good but
no. These scenes are at times inept and Castle, though cheap by choice
and or by circumstance was rarely an inept director. But the script
knows to keep these scenes to a minimum and Burr and Fleming are
frankly pretty good, especially Burr who quickly makes you forget his
Perry Mason persona. There is a fun and campy girl painted gold dance
scene which also features gals dressed as Roman's with whips. This is
probably the high low light of the film and you don't see it coming.
After this scene the movie constantly becomes better. I stopped hoping
for a campy disaster of a film and found an actual film here, hampered
by the afore mentioned lapses.
This is a different take on this story. The movie begins with Caesar dead on the floor and the story then focuses on Celopatra's political reason for pretending to love men and Anthony's friend trying to stop him from throwing it all away. Anthony is called a man who knows only war and pleasure and he's just tired enough of war to let pleasure overcome him. And all this is handled well by the writing and the performances. Admitting that Lundigen is miscast and doesn't look Roman, you get over this as he and Burr's chemistry as friends and rivals works well.
Besides, there is a scene with guys wrestling a real Bear, not a guy in a suit!! And there is one mostly good action scene involving some daringly placed cameras under the hooves of charging horses and chariots. You get used to the cheap sets and bad matte paintings and get over the usually poor action scenes as the story and characters hold together and gain interest. And there are a lot of costumes for a cheap film.
The stock music score is well put together and it all ends with a rather nice slow dissolve. Castle proves that if he can't be embraced totally he cannot be shunned or dismissed either. Credit to a good script and lead performances and to Wild Bill Castle for keeping it moving and colorful--something he always did.
I really love old sword and sandal movies but really, it is beyond comprehension how any viewer (even in 1954) would not find this film laughable. True, Cleo's costumes were stunning and the Technicolor was dazzling, but that's about where my constructive criticism ends.Did the early Romans invent hair gel? Check out Lucillius's 1950's hairstyle! The fight scenes are truly risible highlighted by at least three Egyptians carefully eying up the padding below to break their fall after having been shot with arrows. The great sea battle of Actium was overlooked because the special effects department had only one model of a sea galley.Please watch this movie if you have the chance - the pleasures it brings will delight you!
This is definitely the WORST Cleopatra film ever made. I will give it
credit for actually mentioning Arsinoë (though they mispronounce her
name), but that's it. William Castle was a genius at campy horror, but
this thing made me want to retch. I only watched it in full to see how
badly they would screw up the ending. Sadly, the ending was the best
Other than being set-dressing and wearing pounds of eye-shadow at a time, this 'wicked' version of Cleo spends the whole movie driveling and simpering over Lucilius like a 12-year-old with a crush. Lucilius ranks as one of the worst Gary Stu's I've ever seen. He's constantly outwitting and overpowering multiple assassins while unarmed and his only injury is for a plot-point. He goes on about loyalty, yet he displays none. He asserts his morals and love of Rome, but it only shows in his contempt for Cleopatra, whom he continues to kiss throughout. So seldom have I ached to punch a film character as much as him.
Antony is the hugest disappointment. I like Raymond Burr, but he was terrible in this. He's glassy-eyed and cardboard (and surprisingly un-sexy for a young Burr). The historical Antony was a man of passion. Though given to cynicism, he had immense empathy for his soldiers and suffered severe mood swings. He was a devoted family man, a moving orator, and a respected leader. His downfall was but a lack of cunning.
Of the other absurdities in this film, the two that most made me roll my eyes were the depictions of Julius Caesar and the Temple of Ephesus. Caesar was not some elderly man of no interest to Cleopatra. He was only 55 at his death and still had a real way with women (and possibly with men as well). Towards the end, he was developing a turkey neck, but otherwise looked pretty much the same as he had during his 40's. As for the Artemesion, it was a Greek-style temple in the lush countryside, not a quasi-Egyptian looking temple in the middle of an otherwise empty desert.
This film is corny and ridiculous, but not in the fun way I usually like. It was just tedious, stupid, and irksome. I'm not sure I could stand it even if it were being riffed on MST3k. It's that bad. Anyone who panned the 1963 film of Cleopatra (which is about 97% brilliant and %3 silly) obviously has not seen this disaster!
Lucilius (William Lundigan) switches allegiances from Brutus (Robert
Griffin) to side with Mark Anthony (Raymond Burr). When Anthony seeks
an alliance with Cleopatra (Rhonda Fleming), Lucilius is not so
convinced. Cleopatra has her own motives............
It's an interesting story and that's the only reason to watch the film. From the beginning, when both the narrator and Lundigan refer to "Cassius" as "Cashius", you realize that it's going to be a moronic production. The acting is staged, the dialogue is phony and the sets don't quite work. It's all a bit tacky....and the music cheapens it somewhat more. I'm sure that Cleopatra's make-up is also wrong but like I say, it's the story that keeps you watching. No need to see it again.
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