Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra (1963)

Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison

Cleopatra jockeys for power in the face of the growing power of Rome, working her charms on the great Julius Caesar and later his protege Mark Antony.

This is a picture that lives in infamy. It nearly killed 20th Century Fox and was one of the big motivators for ending the old studio system of film production. Honestly, the story of the making of this movie is arguably more interesting than the movie itself, but you can look into that yourself. Now, not all of the film's bloated budget was spent judiciously, but you can definitely see the money put into it with massive sets, elaborate costumes and hundreds of extras. Cleopatra's procession into Rome is one of the big scenes showing off this opulence. There's a lot of sizzle, but how about the steak? Well, to be honest, it's a bit of a mixed bag. I saw the 4-hour roadshow version, which gets a bit wearying. I know Elizabeth Taylor is a good actress, but this isn't the best showcase of her talents. There's a tendency for overacting and melodrama that doesn't really do it for me. Rex Harrison as Caesar and Roddy McDowall as Octavian are a real treat to watch (which makes Richard Burton's Mark Antony pale in comparison) and most of the rest of the cast is decent, but I think the slapdash scripting hurts the overall quality of the film. As an important piece of the history of cinema, it's worth watching, but for better treatments of similar subject matter, I recommend Mankiewicz's earlier adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Gabriel Paschal's adaptation of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra.

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