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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Caught on Tape: Cleopatra

Cleopatra is one of THE figures in history that everyone knows something about. Her story is epic – she loved and was loved by two great men in history. She ruled Egypt and lost Egypt and gave her life in the process. As she is this epic character, there have of course been some great movies made about her. All of the films I included below are classic films. Each film features a superb cast of amazing classic actors. Almost all the films have some award nominations and look simply stunning. The only one I have seen is the Elizabeth Taylor film (which I will be reviewing tomorrow), but I can tell you that I certainly want to see more of the rest!

Cleopatra (1963)

“The winner of four Oscars, this epic saga of love, greed and betrayal stars Elizabeth Taylor as the passionate and ambitious Egyptian queen who's determined to hold on to the throne and seduces the Roman emperor Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison). When Caesar is murdered, she redirects her attentions to his general, Marc Antony (Richard Burton), who vows to take power -- but Caesar's successor (Roddy McDowall) has other plans.”

This is one of those classic films that you just HAVE to see. Certainly a movie to watch in a couple parts as it is so long but worth the time. Cleopatra is played by the great Elizabeth Taylor and also stars two other acting heavy weights as her lovers, Rex Harrison (who I love!) and Richard Burton. While the film has many historical inaccuracies (regarding characters and time) and some of the acting is a little over the top, I still find it to be an enjoyable movie from the golden age. And Elizabeth Taylor certainly had some amazing costumes in this movie.  You can find my review here.

Cleopatra (1934)

“Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille helms this spectacle about ancient Egypt, with Claudette Colbert as the queen of the Nile and Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon in the roles of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, respectively. The sumptuous sets and thrilling battle scenes helped make the film an event, and Cleopatra's seduction of Marc Antony on her lavish barge ranks as a must-see moment in the world of cinema. The film won an Oscar for editing.”

Another go around by the same name but filmed by the well known Cecil B DeMille. Filmed in black and white there is even more of a sense of the classic nature of the film than the 1963 version. Claudette Colbert plays Cleopatra and I think that she might be a better fit than Taylor (sacrilege, I know). Not that I think either woman plays a very convincing looking or sounding Cleopatra. The costuming is gorgeous. There is some risqué imagery (for the time period just prior to the Hays Code) but nothing near what we would see if this movie were made today. I have heard/read that the seduction scene between Cleopatra and Marc Antony makes the entire film. I eagerly look to get my hands on a copy of this film.

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

“In this Oscar-nominated film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play, the aging Caesar (Claude Rains) comes to Alexandria to tutor young Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh) in the ways of rule, allowing her to wrestle the throne away from her brother, Ptolemy. But as time progresses, Caesar's feelings for Cleopatra turn romantic and he vows to marry her. Stewart Granger co-stars in this epic drama directed by Gabriel Pascal.”

As the previous two films featured Cleopatra’s relationships with both Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar, this film focuses on her relationship with Caesar. Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw this is another one of those beautifully filmed epic movies that you have to just see. Vivien Leigh (from Gone with the Wind fame) is Cleopatra. I have read that Claude Rains plays the best Julius Caesar on film. A theatrical box office failure but a great movie to see.

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)

“Screen legends Charlton Heston and Hildegard Neil inhabit the title roles in this adaptation of William Shakespeare's timeless tragedy. The epic tale follows Cleopatra and Marc Antony's doomed romance, from the Parthian War through intrigues that span continents and empires. Written and directed by Heston himself, the film also features performances by Eric Porter, Fernando Rey, John Castle, Carmen Sevilla, Douglas Wilmer and Freddie Jones.”

This film is an adaptation of the play by Shakespeare and as we all know, Shakespeare was not well known for his historical accuracy. Charlton Heston stars as Marc Antony and Hildegard Neil stars as Cleopatra. As the title suggests, the focus of this film is the tragedy of the love of Antony and Cleopatra. As written in the play, Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters. Despite this film having two great leading actors – it was a commercial failure in the USA and received poor reviews. I haven’t seen this film so I can’t judge it – have any of you seen it?

The only clip that I could find of this was the opening credits scene – which shows the beautiful imagery but not much of the characters.

Who is your favorite portrayal of the Queen of the Nile? Which of these films have you seen or have earned a place in your movie hall of fame?

Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Cleopatra (1963).

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I can't believe I've only seen the Taylor Cleopatra -- now I'm desperate to see both the '34 and '45 versions!

  2. Audra - I didn't know about any others either. If you have Netflix, Caesar and Cleopatra is available as an instant download. I look forward to watching these as well.

  3. The Cleopatra exhibit in town last year had rolling clips and a wall covered with still photos and paintings of the various Cleopatra's through time. It's amazing how she has such a grasp on people even today. And Octavian thought no one would ever think of her again, HA!
    Enjoy the movie and thanks for this list :)

  4. Jenny - Oh I wish I could have had the chance to see that exhibit! That sounds soooo cool! It really is crazy how she is so well known today!


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