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 have been very fond of this movie for years, particularly as compared with Fox's bloated monstrosity of 1963. Colbert is admittedly somewhat miscast (her face is altogether Parisienne), but she handles the part with considerable charm. Warren William, usually a very limited actor, is as good a Caesar as I have seen on film, commanding and uncomfortable by turns; while Henry Wilcoxon is the definitive Mark Antony, laughing, brawling, swaggering, crude and brooding. C. Aubrey Smith as Enobarbus, the last of the hardcore Roman republicans, is perfect. Victor Milner's cinematography is superb, if old-fashioned. There is one magnificent pullback shot aboard Cleopatra's barge, with more and more stuff entering the frame, which as pure cinema is worth more than all four hours of the Liz Taylor version for my money. Shakespeare and Shaw have both been drawn upon here and there, and the movie has generally good (and fun) dialogue, not always one of DeMille's strengths. Consider also the scene of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome: contrary to DeMille's usual reputation, this scene is underplayed, depicting a plausible parade through a very real Roman street with authentic trappings, compared to the outrageously bogus and overblown spectacle given us in 1963. A word is also in order for the music of Rudolph Kopp, an extremely obscure Hollywood composer, who turns in an atmospheric score redolant of the old silent movies. This style is easy to make fun of, but see how effective it is in the highly theatrical opening credits! DeMille used silent film technique well into the talkie era, particularly in crowd scenes, and it still works. The battle scenes are the weakest point, since evidently Paramount ran out of cash and C.B. had to make do with a bunch of short shots put together with Russian cutting; nevertheless, this is still as good a picture on the subject as has yet been made, a bit of extravagant old Hollywood at its most polished.
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