Cleopatra (1963)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Richard Burton as Marc Antony, and Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar

Summary: This filmic version of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, is based on Shakespeare's dramas Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. It is not only the tragic story of a queen who attempts to strengthen her kingdom but also the tragedy of two powerful men, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. The film begins with the end of the civil war in the Roman Empire. The rebellious Pompey runs from the battle against Caesar who is eager to get rid of him. Caesar is also responsible for maintaining stability in Egypt ruled by Ptonomy and his sister Cleopatra, but Ptonomy-because of his great ambition--exiles Cleopatra. In Egypt, Caesar receives from Ptonomy Pompey's head as a gift in exchange for not helping Cleopatra return to Egypt. However, Cleopatra has secretly been hidden and protected by Caesar. Caesar is told that Cleopatra is infamous for being sexual and cruel. Caesar decrees that Ptonomy be sent to the camp of the rebels against Rome, and Cleopatra becomes the single ruler of Egypt. Cleopatra has an affair with Caesar and becomes pregnant. In Rome, Caesar is pronounced the ruler of Rome. With a brilliant celebration to welcome them, Cleopatra and her son come to Rome, where Cleopatra attempts to make her son the heir of Caesar, the future ruler of both Rome and Egypt. As soon as Caesar proclaims himself the emperor of Rome, he is murdered by Brutus and other conspirators and than Cleopatra flees back to Egypt. According to Caesar's last will Octavius, Marc Antony and Lepidus become the triumvirs of Rome.

Three years pass. Cleopatra invites Antony to her magnificent ship. In the ship Antony is tempted to express his affection to Cleopatra. He says Caesar's golden coins worn on Cleopatra's neck make her more beautiful and make him desire her even more. He has been always one step behind Caesar, in the shadow of Caesar and envying Caesar, but by possessing her he could be free from his fear. At this point in the film, the first act of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra begins. Antony enjoys a life of pleasure with Cleopatra in Alexandria. Octavius schemes to make Antony come back to Rome and marry his sister Octovia. On hearing of this marriage, Cleopatra is mad with anger and turns her back on Antony and Rome. Because Rome needs Egyptian fruitfulness, Antony makes Cleopatra sign a treaty, but she boldly asks for one third of the Roman territory in exchange. In Alexandria, Antony and Cleopatra get married by Egyptian ritual, and Octavius shows Romans the letter from Antony in which Antony expresses his will to be buried in Alexandria after death, which makes the population of Rome want to fight against Antony. In a sea battle Antony is trapped and lost. Cleopatra is told he has drowned with the ship, and then she departs for Egypt. Seeing her ship leave, Antony abandons his ship and follows behind her to Alexandria. Antony despairingly tells Cleopatra he is the slave of love to her, and Cleopatra says she will die in battle with him. Antony, though fighting bravely, loses the next battle, and his army is totally destroyed. He runs back to look for Cleopatra, and when he hears that Cleopatra has been taken to her tomb, he mortally wounds himself. With his last breath, after being taken to Cleopatra, he dies in her arms. Octavius Caesar wants Cleopatra to go to Rome with him, and she asks him to promise that her son will be the next ruler of Egypt. In her palace, she kills herself.


Other Reviews:

Taylor & Burton Epic, May 22, 2001

Reviewer: Thomas Magnum from NJ, USA

Cleopatra is one of the most infamous movies in Hollywood history. Stars Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor first started their on again, off again relationship on the set, there were numerous production problems, Joseph L. Mankiewitz left as the director before the shooting was complete and dozens of other problems plagued the film. At the time it was the most expensive film ever made, but was a major dud at the box office. In fact the back story to Cleopatra in many ways is more interesting than the movie itself. This 3 disk special edition provides you with a healthy dose of the intriguing behind the scenes information included a documentary that appeared on AMC that is outstanding. The film itself is magnificent to look at, with impressive sets and incredible detail. The acting is pretty good too, with the elegant Rex Harrison standing out as Julius Caesar. The film is quite long, clocking in at over four hours, and does tend to drag in certain spots. The overall packaging of Cleopatra is tremendous and worth checking out.

Quoted from Amazon Customer Review


Historical Epic receives fittingly lavish DVD production,
Reviewer: David C. Read from Los Angeles, CA.May 20, 2001

In the documentary included with this film, entitled "Cleopatra: the Film that Changed Hollywood," the narrator states that after Elizabeth Taylor saw the London premiere of this movie, she went immediately to the restroom and vomited. Actually, it isn't that bad. In fact, it is a very good movie, although Taylor was a little out of her depth in the title role. The scandal of scandals is that it was -and still is- the most expensive movie ever made. The $44 million spent to make this movie in the early 1960s translates into about $260 million in today's dollars. By comparison, "Titanic" came in at about $215 million, but the cost of Titanic was split between two major studios. Fox absorbed the entire cost of this runaway production; "Cleopatra" virtually shut down the company, almost putting it out of business. How the production got so out of hand is one of the subjects covered in the fascinating "film that changed Hollywood" documentary. Among the reasons: the producer, Walter Wanger, sold the studio on a much larger production than had originally been contemplated; principal photography was begun without a usable script in hand; Elizabeth Taylor's contract specified a foreign location, and several million dollars were wasted on an abortive shoot in England; two different directors were used; the second director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was writing a new screenplay at the time the movie was being shot, so instead of the scenes being filmed in some sort of economically efficient order, they were shot as they were written. Along the way, control of the studio changed hands from Spiros Skouras, who had come up through the ranks of exhibitors, to Darryl F. Zanuck, one of the original founders of the 20th Century Fox. Also along way, Mankiewicz decided he was actually shooting two movies, "Caesar and Cleopatra" and "Antony and Cleopatra," each of which was to be about three hours long. Zanuck viewed a screening that was over five hours long, didn't like the film, didn't like Mankiewicz' concept of releasing it in two parts, and insisted that it be released as one film. After much contentious wrangling between the two men, Mankiewicz produced a version that was about 4 hours 8 minutes. This was the movie that was premiered in the U.S. It was too long to be exhibited more than twice a day, however, and Zanuck ordered it to be shrunk to about 3 hours 14 minutes. (This was the version that was premiered in London and caused Liz Taylor to throw up). The film was not generally well received by critics when it was released in 1963. It was also snubbed by the Academy, which, probably out of revulsion at the waste and scandal surrounding Cleopatra, gave the best picture Oscar to "Tom Jones." A smaller film in every way, Tom Jones looks like a made-for-television movie compared to Cleopatra. Alex North, who produced the truly outstanding, evocative music for the Cleopatra was robbed of an Oscar that he should have received. Tom Jones had no memorable music whatsoever. In 1995, Fox executives explored the possibility of releasing a restored version of Cleopatra at a length of about 6 hours. With Mankiewicz having passed away in 1993, it would have been impossible for anyone else to find the excised footage and edited it in the way Mankiewicz originally envisioned it. What we do get on this disk, however, is the 4:08 version of the film, as originally premiered in the U.S. This is a very good DVD product, widescreen, on two discs, with bonus material, including the excellent do.

Quoted from Amazon Customer Review