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Opulent misfire about the Queen of the Nile and her stormy relationships with Julius Cesar and Mark Antony. Runs four hours and seven minutes, and is chock full of nonsense--from the dialogue to the performances to the over-production. Despite widescreen grandeur and isolated moments of intriguing melodrama, the film is frequently laughable and ridiculous, not to mention obscenely overlong. Oscars went to Leon Shamroy for his admittedly fine cinematography; also to the costumes, the art director, and the special effects. For a much stronger film-treatment of the tempestuous Cleo, try Claudette Colbert in the 1934 version. ** from ****
As we all know, Hollywood has produced some extremely expensive bombs,
but, in my humble opinion, this one remains in a class all its own.
While it is certainly possible to spend millions of dollars, create
humongous, ornate sets, and fill those sets with thousands of extras,
the sheer immensity and complexity of the result does not automatically
equal great art. Bigger is not always better. In fact, as in the case
of this movie, it makes for a more spectacular failure.
Perhaps the best way to explain the failure of Cleopatra is to contrast it with another Hollywood epic, Ben-Hur. In the latter film, there is a sublime scene where Ben-Hur is being whipped by a Roman guard on a forced slave march. Ben-Hur falls, and we see Christ (whose face is never shown) helping Ben-Hur with a drink of water. The expressions on the faces of Ben-Hur and the guard as they react to Christ's kindness, is one of the most moving scenes in film history. Only two actors are involved (and the back of a third), but the result is light-years beyond anything Cleopatra achieves.
The acting in Cleopatra struck me as wooden and passionless, which is a fatal defect in a movie about a woman who was supposed to set men aflame with desire. Elizabeth Taylor did not impress me as a great beauty in this film. In fact, she looks kind of short, frumpy and chunky, though it's possible that beauty standards have changed somewhat since 1963.
One of the few good points about the film is that it filled in some glaring gaps in my knowledge of Roman history.
All in all, I would say the movie has a unique, grandiose, and epic kind of badness. You need to slow down and gawk at it, as you would a gruesome pile-up on the highway. You should see it just so you know how bad a Hollywood dog's breakfast can be.
The story of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Focuses on her relationships
with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Mediocre, but an epic in every sense. Incredibly long at over 4 hours, and overly so. Too detailed, yet misses character depth.
On the plus side - great sets and costumes. Considering that this was before CGI, the backdrops are amazing.
Interesting from an historical perspective, and reasonably accurate.
Dialogue is verbose, and makes the 4 hours seem even longer.
Probably the most interesting thing about the movie is this is where the Burton-Taylor combination (on and off the screen) started.
This film tells the story of the last Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, and
how she used the romance and seduction to meet state reasons and seek
to maintain the independence of her country. Directed by Joseph L.
Mankiewicz, which also provides the script with Ranald MacDougall and
Sidney Buchman, has Elizabeth Taylor in the role of Queen of the Nile,
Richard Burton as Mark Antony, Rex Harrison as Caesar and Roddy
McDowall as Octavian Augustus.
This film was severely cut because it would have originally twice the length of the movie has today. It was a film thought to a time when going to the movies was something that lasted an entire afternoon, with long breaks to go to the coffee, socializing, and sometimes more than a movie showing. It's a pity that this film has been so severely amputated, because it lost much of the quality that initially had, and that justified the millions of dollars it cost. In fact, it was the most expensive film in history until very few years ago, and we need to consider that there wasn't computerized resources, everything was done the old fashioned way. Nevertheless, the script is good and kept some consistency, the dialogues and rather theatrical poses looks good in an epic production of this kind and most of the actors fulfill their role well, highlighting Taylor, with a well-aimed and seductive performance, and the most exquisite and detailed costumes that cinema has ever seen so far. Burton did well too, reaching perhaps the biggest movie of his career. The scenes depicting the battle of Actium were excellent and show all the "technology" that the film industry had at the time. The soundtrack of Alex North, while fulfilling it's role, disappointed me because of atonality chosen by the composer.
This film is considered one of the most notable of Taylor and Burton's career's, marking this pair, who falls in love during filming, beginning a troubled marriage that cinema gossip still remember today. Apart from the excessive cuts made by the company, which withdrew the public the opportunity to appreciate this work in all it's splendor, it's a film that always worth viewing, and became still a landmark of the epic cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's a lot of great things in this film...and two negatives, but the
negatives -- though substantial -- do not overwhelm the overall
The first negative: 4 hours and 8 minutes! Why was the film so long? In my view an obsession with minutiae. From what I've read, the film is more historically accurate than most such epics. But did we need so much detail? Does the detail get in the way of telling a good story? Despite a near obsession with Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960s, this is just too long. It's a good example of when less actually improves understanding. I understand that there was some thought of dividing this into 2 films -- the first about Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, the second about Cleopatra and Mark Antony; in my view, that would have been the perfect solution, particularly because the film divides so perfectly upon Caesar's death and the ascension of Antony, and in approximately equal lengths.
The second negative is Richard Burton's acting. Particularly when being expansive, Burton's style of acting probably worked very well on stage where one needs top be heard, but it doesn't work so well on film where one need not yell. Yelling rarely equals good acting.
However, aside from those two downers, there's a lot of great stuff here. For one, it's a lush production...in fact, you can't help but wonder if the real historical settings looked anywhere near this good. The costumes, particularly Elizabeth Taylor's, are stunning.
The rest of the acting -- aside from some of Burton's -- is top notch. This may be Taylor's pinnacle, although it's doubtful Cleopatra looked anything like Elizabeth Taylor. And it occurred to me -- could the leader of Rome and the Queen of Egypt communicate so easily in their different languages? I was more interested in the acting by Rex Harrison. I saw Harrison perform at the Kennedy Center one year, and believe it or not, I could barely hear him even though we were sitting in center-orchestra. Even the Washington Post noted the issue in their review of the play. So, I would have to say that film was more conducive to Harrison's talents...and here, he is superb. And I mean really superb. He dies almost exactly half way through the film, and it occurred to me that the studio could have easily divided the film into two parts, which was actually considered, and they would have made twice the profit by releasing them separately. At any rate, despite enjoying Harrison's performance immensely, I was sorely disappointed in the scenes relating to the assassination of Caesar. Instead of in "real time", the event is seen -- without speech -- through the eyes of a fortune teller. Harrison was robbed of the dialog in what could have been his best scene.
I have never been impressed with Roddy McDowall, and was not here in his role as Octavian.
Although it was not a large part, I particularly enjoyed the role played by the wonderful Hume Cronyn. And it was interesting to see Carroll O'Connor in a very different role than Archie Bunker -- as a Roman senator. Martin Landau, whom I generally did not care for, was very good here as an officer under Caesar and Marc Antony.
The first half of this film relies on superb acting by Elizabeth Taylor and Rex Harrison. The second half of this film relies on superb acting by Elizabeth Taylor and the drama of Marc Antony's spiraling descent toward death.
On balance, a good film, although just for the record -- odd how almost all the Egyptians were White people!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Far from a perfect movie, Cleopatra still remains one of the most
controversial movie ever-filmed because of its successes, The scandals
behind the scenes and the effect that it had on Hollywood budgeting. In
the BBC mini-series I Claudius, the Roman Empress Livia comments. that
she was once known as one of the greatest beauty is in the world, there
was one, but she died years before and she lived in Egypt. That was of
course Cleopatra, and while she probably didn't look like any of the
Hollywood actresses who played her, the legend of her still exists. I
walk through Central Park past the alleged Cleopatra's needle and I
have to remind myself that this was apparently another Cleopatra
because the Queen depicted in this movie was one of many Cleopatra's in
Egypt history, along with the Ptolemies, the cities and other Egyptian
Vivien Leigh, Scarlett O'Hara herself, played Cleopatra in a George Bernard Shaw play "Caesar and Cleopatra" opposite Claude Rains. Vivien Leigh said upon seeing Rita Hayworth walk into a room, how do you compete with that! I am curious just wonder how she would have felt if Elizabeth Taylor had walked into that room because certainly she ranks among the top beauties of all time. And like Vivian and Rita, she was a beauty who could act. well her later performances could be considered overacting, in Cleopatra she is actually very subtle.she is not perhaps the right age, but neither was Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert or Vivien Leigh. Certainly based upon what history has shown, she was also not the right color. But forgiving Hollywood its misrepresentation of history, you have to look at Cleopatra from the perspective that it was made in the early sixties.
At nearly four hours long, Cleopatra ranks in my opinion along with the Ten Commandments as an extremely watchable epic. However, unlike the classic Colbert version of 1963, Cecil B DeMille is not involved in this. Obviously influenced by the success of the Ten Commandments less than a decade before, Cleopatra is a gorgeous fantasy based on the life of a Queen that truly create discussion to this day. Rex Harrison deserved his Oscar nomination to play Julius Caesar, just a year prior to playing Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and winning an Oscar for repeating his Broadway role. He is simply stunning and there is a magnificent chemistry between him and the leading lady. I wish I could say the same about Richard Burton as Marc Anthony and Taylor, because while they might have created heat off screen, they didn't light up on screen as well. Their most memorable pairing was of course Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and that was because their characters were fighting rather than making love throughout the movie.
Excellent detail goes into every moment of this,and in the supporting cast, Roddy McDowall in certainly amazing as Augustus Caesar. the subtleties of Brian Blessed from I Claudius playing the same role goes out the window for McDowell show me performance. this could almost your pre Chris sir to that magnificent BBC epic. Also, look for Hume Cronyn in a small but memorable role as well as Carroll O'Connor. This is a film that has so many great moments that can manipulate you into thinking Madison up a better movie that really is. Certainly, Cleopatra entrance into Rome remains one of the classic movie visuals of all time. She truly rolls here, and it is unfortunate that the film was surrounded by controversy over her affair with Burton well still married to Eddie fisher. When you look at Elizabeth Taylor and remember all of the amazing things that she did in her life time, you can't help adore her.
Excellent photography and consistent and detailed direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz makes this a film that truly should be seen on a big screen rather than on television. But if you are not willing to wait for its anniversary or a special showing, simply just get the movie and put it on, and watch it in several parts before you truly judge it. As I said, it is far from perfect but it is certainly one film that you will certainly never forget.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just have to start by saying I am a big fan of the epic even if I
don't fully understand them on first viewing - I need to rewatch
Lawrence of Arabia specifically. It is unfair to say that these movies
aren't great since so much effort was put into them in order to make
them superior in production value. The sets are massive, they require
the careful direction of many extras in some scenes, and they usually
have great leading performances.
While this film does follow the life and accomplishments of Cleopatra, much of the time we are either focused on Caesar - the entire first half of the film - and Mark Antony, as Cleopatra was able to manipulate these men for her benefit, Antony more so than Caesar. For the film as a whole, I'd have to say that at most a third of the time is devoted to Cleopatra, so I am not convinced that this movie should be considered a character study for Cleopatra or that Elizabeth Taylor should be considered the sole lead. Though we don't see her as much as the title of the film insinuates, I suppose she is the driving force of the film, so it is a barely suitable title.
It is a little annoying that throughout the first half of the film, Caesar refers to himself in the third person, so it took me about half an hour to figure out that he was Caesar.
While I do enjoy epics, I don't think that this is one of the better ones out there, but it is still great for what it accomplishes. As I had stated in the first paragraph, it is impressive to see these films made in the era they come from since the production is massive and seems as though it couldn't possibly be done back in the 60's or even before then. That is what this film feels like - the action sequences are amazing and well-choreographed and very well-put- together in general. Even in unexciting scenes we have a huge amount of things to see within the frame, especially in exterior scenes where Cleopatra is welcomed in Italy and it is more like a community-sized celebration than a simple welcome. It also takes good writing and execution to keep the audience's attention for just over four hours, and I while I had to watch the two halves on separate days it had my attention until the end.
This epic felt like it didn't need to be quite as long as other epics, but it was. In my opinion there could have been more improvement if Cleopatra was given more attention to obviously show she is what the film is all about, so the story lines of Caesar and Antony could have been cut down to give more room for Elizabeth Taylor's leading performance. I shall revisit this film eventually as I plan to revisit all epics I have seen - they are simply amazing films. A dream of mine if I were to become a filmmaker is to try to bring back the epic to the screen for modern audiences whether they can sit for four hours or not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If 'lavish' is the singular term to bestow upon the historical epics of
the Fifties and Sixties, Cleopatra exceeds the term in every way,
making it clear from the get-go of its four-hour running time this,
adjusted for inflation, is definitely one of the most excessive and
expensive movies of them all. 20th Century-Fox sure wasn't thrilled by
that fact at the time, as it nearly pushed the studio into bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, it persisted in the project (since cancellation would
have been its death sentence for sure) and today it remains a testament
to just how staggeringly detailed and rich a movie can be made to look
if enough money is thrown at it. In many ways, Cleopatra is not one,
but two movies: director Joseph L. Mankiewicz always intended for it to
be released in two parts (a decision the home cinema release has
honoured by splitting the movie in half, spread over two discs). The
first would have been called Caesar and Cleopatra, its sequel Antony
and Cleopatra, as the movie conveniently cuts from one male protagonist
to the other around the middle of the film, with the Queen of Egypt the
constant that unites them both in a tale of passion, decadence, lust
Grand diva Elizabeth Taylor plays her most iconic role of all as the young queen that finds herself in the middle of the plots and intrigue at the Egyptian court of her brother who means to dispose of her, only to be saved by the older Roman general Caesar (a thoughtful and intelligent, but undeniably ruthless and pragmatic character portrayed by Rex Harrison) who, compelled by her wit and charm, instead forms an alliance with her and gets rid of her treacherous sibling. Said union spawns a son, Caesarion, which gives her an incentive to make a claim on the rule of Rome when his father is murdered in the Senate. Enter his boorish, no-nonsense second-in-command Mark Antony (the notorious Richard Burton) who has his own notions on the matter, but swiftly is suckered into Cleopatra's web of passion too, an affair destined to end in tragedy. Ironically, Taylor and Burton couldn't keep their hands off each other in reality as well, leading to one of the most scandalous and infamous love affairs in Hollywood history that made Brangelina look second rate. Keeping the affair in line as well as could be managed basically, not at all, thanks to Burton's loudmouth persona to avoid overly devastating public scrutiny, coupled with the ever rising production problems and outrageous costs (driving a movie originally budgeted at 2 million dollars to a whopping 44 million dollars), drove many a Fox executive close to madness, but over the years Cleopatra made a decent recuperation for the studio and even turned a bit of a profit.
Audiences sure got what they payed for: an opulent epic-to-end-all-epics with a scale and scope still unsurpassed, using some of the biggest sets ever created, populated by thousands of extras and a diverse range of wild beasts, all just as background material. And unlike the digitally saturated present day, it was all there in the flesh, making the sets look as spectacularly opulent in real life as they appear on film. Of course the fabulously rich environments where secondary only to Taylor's magnificent performance as the young monarch, at first relying on her sensual beauty and ever underestimated intelligence for her own basic survival, but soon applying both to make her country and herself a top player in Mediterranean politics by going head to head with the might of Rome in a love affair with one of its most powerful men that is bound to destroy an empire, and ultimately herself as tragedy ensues. Taylor definitely dominates each scene and won't allow the bombastic sights to take center stage. She is aided by a grand cast which includes the likes of Roddy McDowall and Martin Landau, only tools for her to play off against as they can't compare with her majesty. Nevertheless, because of the endless show of grandiose sets, sexual plotting and Roman violence it cannot be denied Cleoptra feels like it's dragging on too long, which convinces the audience cutting it into two separate pieces would probably have been for the best. Even so, Cleopatra remains one of the most sensational movies ever produced, its history as wild and epic as the history that inspired it.
Notorious epic about Cleopatra was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made. It was also the biggest flop ever and it almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Today it's not much more than a historical curio that challenges the viewer to watch the entire thing in one sitting. It took me three viewings over the course of twenty years before I could finally do it. On the positive side, the movie looks gorgeous with fantastic sets and costumes. The acting is acceptable across the board but it certainly wouldn't have hurt if the movie had a few more hams to keep things interesting. The biggest problem (but not the only one) is the film's overlength. Different cuts of this range from three to over four hours. The version I just watched was a little over four. Today we've been forced to become used to movies regularly clocking in at two and a half to three hours. I won't get into my opinions on that here but I will say that this is a whole different kind of 'long' than today's viewers are used to. Simply put, this is one of the most boring movies ever made. I would only recommend it to die-hard Elizabeth Taylor fans. She was never lovelier than she is here. If you do decide to watch this, here's a tip: try keeping count of Liz's costume changes. It'll give you something to do when the banal dialogue and plodding pace starts putting you to sleep.
Where IS the rest of it?
That may sound like an odd question given that CLEOPATRA runs four hours, but despite the lavish sets, clever dialogue, generally good performances, etc... there is nonetheless a certain "smallness" about this gargantuan piece of Hollywood history (which, if one adjusts for inflation, remains easily the most-expensive movie ever made). This "smallness" is hard to explain, except that I think it may have something to do with so many scenes occurring inside, with very little external shooting which remains in the final cut.
As I understand, the original version was ~6 hours, which does seem a tad too long, but FOX made Mr. Mankiewicz cut the film down, which he initially did to a length of about 5 hours and 15 minutes... THIS is the version that I'd like to see (but no one's apparently been able to find the footage) but the studio then took it and hacked it down to "only" 4 hours in 1963, some prints running less than 3!! (Elizabeth Taylor is said to have vomited after publicly viewing the slashed-up version in London).
It's also been said that the two stars missing from the four hour version (let alone the shorter one) are Rome and Egypt... I can believe it -- as there is a pronounced lack of a sense of "place" or location in the four hour cut, the version readily available.
If they could reassemble the 5 1/4 hour cut, with that footage back in place, I wonder if the size and scope of CLEO would finally measure up to what it seems to be trying to promise at every moment. Because despite how long it already is, one senses that you've "missed" something throughout the movie.
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