Sunday, February 8, 2015

1963 - CLEOPATRA, absurd epic drama

Cleopatra is usually discussed from the standpoint of the production and not the end result the film itself.  The film was notable at the time for paying Elizabeth Taylor the biggest salary a movie star had received up to that time.  The film ate up the talents of two directors Rouben Mamoulian and finally the writer/ director Joseph L. Mankiewicz whose career never recovered.

Excess was the name of the game with 20th Century Fox studio spending 31 million dollars on costumes and sets.  The film was started twice with sets built at Pinewood studios and then completely rebuilt in Italy at Cinecitta Studios.  Mankiewicz directed during the day and wrote the script at night.  It's actually kind of a miracle the film is even half coherent.

Considering all the money spent this film is mostly a rehash of previous epics without the wild excess that can usually be found in these films.  Mankiewicz was clearly trying to make an intelligent epic but forgot to include any of the crazed fun that a director like Cecil B. DeMille brought to his version of Cleopatra.  This version seems to be mostly a rehash of Shaw and Shakespeare's plays about Cleopatra.

Considering the big time cast only Rex Harrison comes off best as Caesar.  Once his character is assassinated in the Roman Senate the film has to focus on the love story between Anthony and Cleopatra which consists of the hammy Richard Burton overacting and Elizabeth Taylor not even bothering to act at all.  In fact the first half of Cleopatra is pretty good with Harrison getting all the good lines.  The second half is pretty terrible with Elizabeth Taylor's unending and ridiculous costume changes and Burton's goofy emoting over the plus sized Taylor.

248 minutes.

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