Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall, and Sidney Buchman based on ancient histories and a book “The Life and Times of Cleopatra” by Carlo Maria Franzero
1963/Switzerland/UK/USA
Twentieth Century Fox/MCL Films S.A./Walwa Films S.A.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Marc Antony: [his last words] A kiss… to take my breath away…

An all-out spectacle without the energy to support it.

As the story begins, Cleopatra’s (Elizabeth Taylor) brother Ptolemy has ousted her from their joint throne.  The joint monarchy in Egypt was guaranteed by Rome.  When Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) arrives in Alexandria, the wildly ambitious Cleo schemes to make herself undisputed queen of Egypt and, if possible, first lady of an Imperial Rome.  She gets part way there with a “marriage” to the already wed Caesar and later birth to his only throne.  The Romans are not enthusiastic about Caesar’s new plans to make himself Emperor and he is famously assassinated.

Years later, Marc Antony (Richard Burton) arrives in Egypt on a military mission.  He beholds the comely Cleo and it is deja-vu all over again.  With Roddy MacDowell as Octavius.

Everything about this three-plus hour movie struck me as false.  The acting and dialogue manage to veer wildly from 1963 to Shakespearean and back again in a single scene.  The production is the thing here.  Although I doubt that ancient times were quite that splendid, it is still something to behold.

Cleopatra won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Effects, Special Visual Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Harrison); Best Sound; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Score – Substantially Original.

Trailer