Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cleopatra (1963)

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, Kenneth Haigh, Andrew Keir, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Robert Stephens, Francesca Annis, Carroll O'Connor

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The motion picture the world has been waiting for!

Plot: In 48 B.C., Caesar pursues Pompey from Pharsalia to Egypt. Ptolemy, now supreme ruler after deposing his older sister, Cleopatra, attempts to gain favor with Caesar by presenting the conqueror with the head of Pompey, borne by his governors, Pothinos and Achillas. To win Caesar's support from her brother, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus, her servant, presents to Caesar. The Roman is immediately infatuated; banishing Ptolemy, he declares Cleopatra Egypt's sole ruler and takes her as his mistress. A son, Caesarion, is born of their union. Caesar, however, must return to Italy. Although he is briefly reunited with Cleopatra during a magnificent reception for the queen in Rome, Caesar is assassinated shortly thereafter, and Cleopatra returns to Egypt. When Mark Antony, Caesar's protégé, beholds Cleopatra aboard her elaborate barge at Tarsus some years later, he is smitten and becomes both her lover and military ally. Their liaison notwithstanding, Antony, to consolidate his position in Rome, marries Octavia, sister of the ambitious Octavian. The marriage satisfies no one. Cleopatra is infuriated, and Antony, tiring of his Roman wife, returns to Egypt. There he flaunts his liaison by marrying Cleopatra in a public ceremony. Sensing Antony's weakness, Octavian attacks and defeats his forces at Actium. Alarmed, Cleopatra withdraws her fleet and seeks refuge in her tomb.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

It's been twenty years since I saw this on laserdisc.  Watching it now on Blu-ray is magnificent.  Unfortunately all of the restoration in the world isn't going to help the main problem with this film - it's over 4 hours long and it feels like it.  The thing is, the acting is great, the sets and costumes are AMAZING, the cinematography is gorgeous and Alex North's score is one of my all-time favorites.  It's just such a large pill to take in one sitting, and I totally dig on historical epics like this.

One of my favorite scenes - Cleopatra's entrance into Rome.

This had to be pushing the envelope for 1963.

Director Mankiewicz had a longer cut of the film that he envisioned as two films titled CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA followed by ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA.  The studio felt that with the record breaking publicity they were getting from the world's obsession with the romance between Burton and Taylor that they needed one, shorter film and that audiences wouldn't see CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA because they wanted to see Richard Burton gettin' it on with Taylor in the second picture.  Boneheads.  It's still a very good picture even if it requires special training on my part to watch it from start to finish in one sitting.  There are a crazy amount of extras on the recent 50th anniversary edition that are going to keep me busy for a long time.  I'm sure I won't have much trouble staying awake for that.

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