In 48 BC, Cleopatra, facing palace revolt in her kingdom of Egypt, welcomes the arrival of Julius Caesar as a way of solidifying her power under Rome. When Caesar, whom she has led astray, is killed, she transfers her affections to Marc Antony and dazzles him on a barge full of DeMillean splendor. But the trick may not work a third time...Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I wasn't looking forward to this one as much as THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (considered by many as De Mille's best film) but I must say that I was just as impressed by it. The pacing here is smoother, and we do get to see some wonderful action montages towards the end as opposed to the rather middling arena stuff of CROSS.
Claudette Colbert, too gets a lot more coverage this time around and certainly clinches the title role far better than the positively annoying Elizabeth Taylor in the ill-fated 1963 version. However, the male leads here are less interesting, for lack of a better word: Henry Wilcoxon and Warren William are adequate but, naturally, no match for the thespian skills of Richard Burton and Rex Harrison respectively.
The supporting cast is notable (Ian Keith, Irving Pichel, Joseph Schildkraut, C. Aubrey Smith) and the film features a number of great scenes: Caesar's murder (partly filmed in a POV shot), following which is a delicious jibe at Antony's famous oratory during Caesar's funeral as envisioned by Shakespeare; the long - and justly celebrated - barge sequence, in which Antony (intent on teaching Cleopatra, whom he blames for Caesar's death, a lesson) ends up being completely won over by her wiles; Cleopatra's own death scene is simply but most effectively filmed.
Like in THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, the film's production values are truly awe-inspiring and, in fact, Victor Milner was awarded with a well-deserved Oscar for his lush cinematography here. Needless to say, De Mille's take on Cleopatra, despite feeling hurried since it runs for less than half its length, is a more satisfying viewing experience than the stultifyingly dull, overblown and misguided (if still worthwhile and not quite as catastrophic as the history books would have it) later version.
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