Sunday, November 11, 2007


Cleopatra; Adventure, USA/ UK/ Switzerland, 1963; D: Jospeh L. Mankiewicz, S: Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, Martin Landau

48 BC. Julius Caesar arrives in Egypt's Alexandria in order to conquer it. Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII rules the country, but Caesar is much more interested in his sister Cleopatra. After the Romans put Egyptian ships and library on fire, Cleopatra grows to hate them, but still starts an affair with Caesar. He gives birth to his son and goes to Rome. After Caesar gets murdered in a conspiracy, she return to Alexandria. Marc Anthony inherited Caesar and starts a relationship with her, but gets forced to marry someone else. A jealous Cleopatra asks him for some land in Asia if he wants an economic collaboration, and he accepts, but causes a mutiny from Octavian. Anthony and Cleopatra commit suicide.

Despite the fact that it won 4 Oscars (special effects, art direction, cinematography, costumes) and was nominated for 4 Golden Globes (including best picture), monumental drama "Cleopatra" wasn't that successful since it's budget from then astronomical 44 million $ managed to attract only 34 million gross in the US in '63, and 48 million until '70, which caused many to incorrectly proclaim it one of the "biggest flops in movie history". Also, it's quality isn't that special anyway: just like a mass of monumental spectacles from that time, "Cleopatra" also seems more like a spectacle for set and costume design and much less like a spectacle for human events, crippled a lot by dry dialogues and theatrical dramaturgy. Yet, it has enough virtues: for instance, the story starts when a hand drawn picture of war turns into a real live action scene from the film, and the authors strive to display little known facts about their mythological historical characters, like when it is discovered that Caesar suffered from epilepsy. When Caesar arrives in Alexandria, he decides to go through a mass of people not with the sword but with money, buying their goods, and many warn him that Cleopatra uses her erotic talents to gain the upper hand. Although it lasts for over 3 hours, the movie treats the title heroine more as if she is a supporting character, which is probably caused by many problems on the set regarding Elizabeth Taylor's sickness back then, and seems narrowed down, showing more about Caesar and Anthony, while director Joseph L. Mankiewicz obviously wasn't in top shape, which can be forgiven keeping in mind that the producers shortened some 120 minutes from his original cut.


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