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William K. Howard
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Cleopatra hasn't been on the throne of the pharoahs of Egypt very long when Julius Caesar pays a visit. Caesar finds the prospect of romance more tempting than he expected, since Cleopatra is a rare woman who is bright as well as beautiful. And for Cleopatra, a friendly relationship with the most powerful man in the world may pay dividends in the future.Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
In Caesar's first scene, he appears under a night sky full of clouds and bright stars. The clouds don't move at all and the stars shine bright through them, giving away the fact it's a painted backdrop with lights. Also, very strong shadows exist giving away the use of stage lighting. See more »
Impressive acting is the highlight of 1945's "Caesar and Cleopatra," a British production starring Vivien Leigh, Claude Rains, Stewart Granger, Flora Robson and Francis L. Sullivan. In smaller roles, you can spot Michael Rennie, Kay Kendall and Jean Simmons.
This production was not without its problems - made during World War II, bombings often delayed the filming; there was a five-week break while Vivien Leigh recovered from a miscarriage; and there was a shortage of materials to build the sets. Nevertheless, for a British film, this is a real spectacle and made in color, which was also unusual back then.
Shaw's Cleopatra (Leigh) is a childlike girl/woman who has hitting matches with her younger brother, runs, giggles, talks fast and becomes nervous at the thought of meeting the great Caesar (Rains). In the beginning, she meets him without realizing it. The two have a flirtation while he teaches her how to be a queen. Shaw's Caesar is an old man, a great warrior and a benevolent ruler who rules with a velvet glove rather than a sword.
Rains and Leigh are wonderful in their roles. Rains, as someone stated, with his Caesar haircut, weary face and beautiful profile looks as if he stepped out of that time period. His mastery of Shaw's language is magnificent, and he really holds the film together.
The stunningly beautiful Leigh, white-faced with glorious cheekbones and dazzling eyes, is a whimsical Cleopatra at first. She matures and becomes calmer and more regal as she learns how to be a queen, but she falls back into her childish ways in the presence of Caesar, particularly when he promises to send her Marc Anthony. They say the camera adds 10 pounds - frankly, I'm surprised any of the actors could see Leigh, she is so tiny. She gives a sprightly, energetic performance. Shaw's Cleopatra is 16 (though in reality she is 20 or 21) - Leigh was 32 at the time of filming and comes off like the teenager Shaw wrote.
Stewart Granger as Apollodorus shows off his very hunky physique - no wonder he came to the attention of Hollywood. As two aides of Caesar's, Basil Sydney as Ruffio and Cecil Parker as Britanus give fine performances. Finally, Flora Robson as the protective, tough nursemaid of Cleopatra's, Ftatateeta, sinks her teeth into the role and is a force to contend with.
This movie flopped, probably because audiences thought it was going to be some huge spectacle - it's big for England, but it's not DeMille. Still, it's a real treat to see one of the classics done by two great actors who were well-trained and well-equipped to perform George Bernard Shaw.
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