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Fritz Lang's Metropolis is rightly regarded as a classic, but many
reviews make note of the 'illogical' story and bad character plotting.
Characters come and go without rhyme or reason, and the plot makes no
sense, they say. Well, yes, but that's not Fritiz's fault, nor the
movie's; Metropolis makes little sense because 55 minutes of the film
was hacked out and destroyed, never to be seen again, by the US
distributors. Of course it's gonna be a dog's dinner with an hour
missing, ya clods!!
The same is true of Cleopatra, and this is basically the only reason the film fell flat on its' 1963 release. It was originally intended to release Cleopatra as two three hour movies, the first dealing with Cleo's relationship with Caesar, the second her affairs with Marc Antony. Fox said no to this idea, and demanded a single four hour film instead. This decision is like taking Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings Trilogy and removing an hour from each film wherever an hours' worth can be removed...a recipe for incoherence and total disaster.
So, with two hours of footage gone, major characters are reduced to glorified walk-ons, vital plot points and motivations are lost, and the story loses what LOTR has...length with the proper pacing. People will sit and watch 4 hours of Return Of The King because it flows properly. People will not sit and watch 4 hours of stitched together rough cuts...that's what Cleopatra is, even in the DVD roadshow edition...because what we have is something that is too bitty and haphzard to sustain interest.
But there is still glory in Cleo....Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau and Rex Harrison all act their socks off, the sea battle is kick ass, and Liz Taylor looks pretty scrummy in Egyptian softcore porn clothes. And only a Gen Xer like me could love that hideously pompous overblown dialogue.
Great film! For what it is. It just should have been TWO films, that's all. Real eyepopping trippy spectacle, done in a 'damn the money, full speed ahead' way that just doesn't happen any more. Like Casino Royale, Cleo is a wonderful disaster.
First of please note this is a review of the recent restored DVD
version of the film not the savagely cut older version of the film.
Having watched the documentary on this film it seems amazing this film was ever completed how the director managed to get anything even vaguely coherent to the screen is a minor miracle in itself. Cleopatra is a luscious period epic and it's clear no expense was spared on either scenery or costumes, gorgeous to look at but somehow unsatisfying at the end. The movie seems to lose it's way half way through as Rex Harrison departs so for me does the quality of this movie.
It's difficult to tell whether this is due to over the top performances from Taylor and Burton or the forced cuts to reduce the running time. Roddy McDowell is the highlight of the 2nd half of the film and i'm sure Joaquin Phoenix must have researched his role for Gladiator here, McDowell's Octavian is chilling in the extreme. But the rest of the 2nd half of the movie descends into melodrama, where the 1st gave us the excellent Harrison restrained and regal as Ceaser the 2nd gives us real life lovers Burton and Taylor locked in an over-acted doomed romance. But throughout the film there are supporting actors giving first class performances that without the cuts would be interesting to see Martin Landau, Andrew Keir, Hume Cronyn and George Cole all have their moments it's just a shame there aren't more of them.
If I could split my vote over the two halves of the movie the first half would get 9/10 the 2nd 6/10 as I can't I'm going with a 7/10 overall.
I'm pleased to read all the positive reviews of this film, which I first
when it was released and have seen perhaps five times since. In 1963 the
movie was almost universally condemned by critics, and I was just about the
only person who admitted that I loved it. Part of that, though, had to do
with the Taylor/Burton affair and the scandal it created. Liz Taylor in
1963 was not only considered the most beautiful woman in America, she was
also thought of as a serial home-breaker and a real threat to the morals of
the American Republic.
Why? I don't agree with many positive comments about the acting. Taylor and Burton were not too bad, but they didn't handle the pompous dialogue as well as Rex Harrison, Hume Cromyn, Martin Landau and especially Roddy McDowell, who was perfection itself and, I believe, accurately portrayed as the very young, ambitious and unscrupulous, but brilliantly intelligent Octavian (later the emperor Augustus).
Sure, some of the dialogue stinks, and the movie seems too long (perhaps because so much of it was cut to fit into fours hours). Nevertheless, for sheer magnificence and recreation of a most critical time in the history of two vanished high civilizations it has never been, and probably never will be, surpassed.
Regarded as the biggest flop (at least until "Ishtar") in motion picture history, "Cleopatra" has been given the short end of the stick since it first premiered in 1963 but it still is a great film. True, it did plague 20th Century Fox to the point of near bankruptcy (until "The Sound of Music" saved it in 1965) and Elizabeth Taylor's health overshadowed the film schedule but there are more good things about the film than there are bad, the backlashing of the film has just blown itself all out of proportion. Richard Burton and Elizabeth's much-publicized offscreen love affair grew to such a feverishly fiery degree that it made their onscreen relationship as Antony and Cleopatra all the more genuine. Rex Harrison as Caesar is first-rate as well and yet he was the only one out of the entire cast that received an Oscar nomination (Richard Burton was one who should have been in the running as well... his performance is equal to his earlier work in "The Robe" and later in "Becket" and "Anne of the Thousand Days"). Miss Taylor is very commanding in the role of her career and as a result few remember Claudette Colbert's earlier turn as Egypt's most memorable ruler in Cecil B. De Mille's 1934 version. The one point I want to make is that the film should have gotten more praise than it did... like "The Wizard of Oz", "Fantasia" and "It's a Wonderful Life" it seems to get more appreciation by it's second generation than it did it's first.
I have always thought it was one of the most underrated Hollywood epics.First of all,it's only partially an epic:most of the scenes are intimate,generally two characters who are constantly tearing each other apart.Joseph L. Mankiewicz,one of the most intelligent director of his time,rewrote the dialogue during the shooting,night after night ,and the results are stunning,considering the difficulties he encountered with his budget and his stars.Cleopatra's dream is perfectly recreated,much better than in De Mille 's version -a good one,though-:It's Alexandre the great 's plan ,this Alexandre from whom she's descended,to make a huge empire,uniting the Orient and the Occident.One of the major scenes takes place near the great conqueror's grave .The second part has Shakespeareans accents:Cleopatra becomes some kind of Lady Macbeth,and Marc Anthony is left alone against the whole Roman army (the Shakespearian trees).The last lines (repeated twice) are some of the finest you can find in an epic movie.And look how Fellini has been influenced by Mankiewicz for the final of his "Satyricon":the photograph turning into a fresco. As for the epic scenes,they are here,of course but they are little over 20% of the movie.And to Cleo's awesome Rome entrance ,you can prefer Ceasar's epilepsy fit.The actors are not as uneven as it's often said.Elizabeth Taylor had already worked with Mankiewicz (the extraordinary "suddenly last Summer") and she learned a lot with him;she's now ready for the great roles of the sixties:"Virginia Woolf","Secret ceremony" "taming of the shrew".Richard Burton had been "Alexander the great" (coincidence!) in a rather academic movie,and here he portrays a clumsy,almost Don Quixotesque Marc Anthony with art.However,Rex Harrison steals the show in the first half.Supporting actors ,including Roddy MCDowall ,a puny but shrewd Octavious,and Richard O'Sullivan ,an effeminate Ptolemy. This visual poem,a feast for the eye and for the mind must be restored to favor.
Cleopatra is a film of myths.
A massively troubled production combined with the extraordinary love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made for plenty of hype.
But what really matters nearly 40 years on is the film itself.
At this distance it is possible to see the film for what it is. A grand example of the final flowering of Hollywood.
In 1963 it seemed old fashioned compared to the excitement of European cinema and what the critics perceived as new (many of their favourite films of that era now just seem dated and pretentious).
But Cleopatra grows in stature with time.
It is far from flawless. And certainly the second half is somehow not right. Whether the missing two hours will reclaim this part of the film is yet to be seen.
But compared with Gladiator or similar modern epics, Cleopatra is a brilliant film with an intelligent script, stunning design, masterly and beautiful cinematography in 70mm (which sure beats 35mm and does justice to the intricate sets and design), an evocative and effective musical score and superb costumes and makeup.
The big three, Taylor, Burton and Harrison are extremely good and in the case of Harrison, who has many of the best lines, brilliant.
The supporting cast and especially Roddy McDowall are equally excellent.
Cleopatra may not be a masterpiece but it is a superbly crafted and beautiful film.
If it fails, it fails because of our expectations.
Sit back, put your feet up and luxuriate in a quality of film-making that you simply don't see today! .... but I have always wondered what Miss Taylor thinks of this extraordinary film?
It is extremely difficult to evaluate this film. On the one hand, the presentation is first class: the sets, props, costumes, location photography, and music are all of the caliber befitting the grandiose ambition of the production. I personally found the acting by the truly all-star cast to be uniformly excellent throughout with McDowall's Octavian and Harrison's Caesar deserving special mention. Taylor deserved the million dollars she got for the title role and Burton's occasional scenery chewing didn't detract significantly from his interpretation of Mark Antony. But the question remains over what might have been. I believe any true film buff would want to pass final judgment on this production only after having viewed the 6 hour plus version in order to determine whether the extensive cuts (even in the new 2 DVD four hour version) were justified. I should add that the third disc of extras contributes greatly to the appreciation (especially where the director controversy and Burton-Taylor relationship is concerned) of what was attempted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mankiewicz shaped the characterization to suit Liz Taylor's role... The
movie follows her from the father-daughter romance with Caesar to the
tempestuous man-woman contretemps with Marc Antony
As the cunning, nubile daughter to Caesar's wise father, Liz is quite pleasing... She's expected to do much more acting as the womanly, passion-driven Queen, but she's more in control of the character when she's playing Caesar's pupil rather than Marc Anthony's teacher... Her high comedy exchanges with Harrison have quiet authority; her doomed romance with Burton never ignites
The brilliant script by Mankiewicz covers the eighteen years leading up to the formation of the Roman Empire, starting with Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) meeting Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) in Egypt, when he arrives as conqueror, and ending with her suicide when defeated by Rome and when her Roman general and lover Mark Anthony (Richard Burton) also ends his life
The visual content of the film is stunning, especially Cleopatra's entry into Rome, carried on a vast throne-platform and bringing with her the son sired into Tarsus, and the vast battle of Actium
The sets and costumes are among the finest ever created for the screen, but it is the literacy of Mankiewicz's script and the strength of his direction that give Cleopatra distinctions of great importance
That a film as good as CLEOPATRA is was created at all under the madness
panic of it's legendary production is indeed an amazing feat. That
has been given such loving care in its restoration in this DVD of the
Show" print and the attendant bonus materials is a wondrous gift to those
who love this film. The documentary, "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed
Hollywood" is in on it's own an engrossing and informative two hour movie.
For anyone who knows little of the history of CLEOPATRA, or who was not
around at the time, this documentary will give them the feeling of what
those last days of old Hollywood was like. And therein one can find the
reasons why this intimate epic is indeed the wonder that it
Many thanks should go to the Mankiewicz family and the producers of
documentary. The print and the sound of CLEOPATRA seems now to surpass
I recall it to be in its first presentation nearly forty years ago. The
depth of the colors and the richness of the shadows are indeed splendid.
this restoration, it is hard to believe this film is as old as it is. The
commentary track is in and of itself like finding the lost treasures of
long dead monarch. For there are wonderful recollections by Martin Landau,
Tom and Chris Mankiewicz, and even the one of the films publicists Jack
Brodsky gets to read sections from his book "The Cleopatra Papers" which
gave a blow by blow description of everyday events on the set. But I must
give special mention to Landau's part. With his keen eye for the art
direction of John DeCuir one sees things in the background and along the
edges of the scene that one never noticed before. Such lovingly detailed
sets and interiors will never be seen again. The costs today are just too
prohibitive. Also his insights into what was cut from the film,
particularly his and Richard Burton's contributions in the second act give
one the idea of what Mankiewicz was intending. Poor Richard suffered the
unkindest cut of all. The presentation of the DVD menus is so clever and
exotic. The creators of this DVD are to be commended in their art
At last we now know what is behind the massive 20th Century Fox logo!
The film itself remains what it has always been. It is a good film that might have been a great one if only Zanuck had trusted Joe Mankiewicz' original vision. It is said that they are still looking for the missing film; one can only hope that they succeed in this task. The performances range from good to excellent. Particular praise must go to Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Martin Landau, Robert Stephens, Andrew Keir, and Roddy McDowall. Lastly in this department there remains Elizabeth Taylor's performance as Cleopatra. At the films release the brickbats were reserved for her and for reasons that had nothing to do with her performance. Many reviewed her behavior as seen through the narrow focus of the tabloids and emerging paparazzi. Even today it is sometimes hard to separate the history of the lady from her film roles. But here is the moment in time, in this film where she became the ELIZABETH TAYLOR she has remained in the mind of the world ever since. In this fact alone she is perfect in the role. But she is more than that. As Cleopatra she is at once regal and commanding, strong and tender, soft and hard. These are all the contradictions that have always been at the heart of Cleopatra herself. She and the Queen are masters of a public enigma wrapped within a mystery. In her performance as written by Mankiewicz Elizabeth Taylor is probably not too far off from the historical Cleopatra. Finally, ever since Judith Crist gave CLEOPATRA the needle in 1963 and in the act made her name, the public, for the most part, has viewed this film a failure. But today, stripped of the scandal, hype and hysteria of its release in June of 1963 it is now possible to view CLEOPARTA as the film it is. A near great film that is the signpost of when Hollywood passed from one age into another. Historically this is an important DVD and I recommend it highly. CLEOPATRA remains as seductive, beautiful, and intelligent as it was in Walter Wanger's original conception. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."
Once again I have watched the complete Cleopatra (or at least the complete Cleopatra available). In addition, because I watched the DVD version of the movie, I also was able to view the outstanding documentary "Cleopatra: The Film that Changed Hollywood". And, once again, I am all but overwhelmed by the movie. Elizabeth Taylor may very well be one of the most under-rated actresses of the last fifty years; her public private life has always overshadowed her acting ability. But it is not her notoriety that puts her in the same league with other two time Oscar winners like Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, etc. In Cleopatra, as in George Stevens' Giant, she runs the gamut from adolescent to matriarch, from calculating queen to devastated lover, and rings every bell in between. But her performance alone does not make the movie. Not only is she supported by Burton, in one of his best screen performances, and Rex Harrison, in one of his best, Taylor's old friend Roddy McDowall gives the performace of his lifetime (how sad that a clerical error cost him his Oscar); we see a young Martin Landau, a young Carroll O'Connor, a young Jean Marsh, give performances worthy of anything they've ever put on screen since. The documentary points out that the original Mankiewicz cut of the film was 6 1/2 hours long and that Fox is currently trying to reassemble the film as originally cut. If they ever succeed in doing so, I would stand in line to see it in theatres and buy it on DVD the first chance I got. As a history freak, it more than satisfies; as a fan of brilliant acting, it wows! Everyone should see it at least once!
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