Cleopatra (USA/UK/Switzerland, 1963)

elizabeth_taylor_cleopatra_movie_poster_2aDirected by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. I wanted to watch this one because I haven’t really seen any of those giant golden-era Hollywood period  spectacles that are so legendary and which directly set the precedent for the modern blockbuster. As far as that goes, I’m sure Cleopatra doesn’t really count—too late to be truly “classic”, and I’m fairly sure it’s a remake of a silent epic. Irregardless, this is the one people talk about whistfully: “Liz Taylor…Richard Burton…those sets…ohhhhhhh Hollywood was great before CGI….”, then fainting. If running time is directly proportional to a film’s quality (as everyone today seems to think), then this is a GREAT film—all 4 hours of it! But seriously, no it isn’t. It’s easy to get swept into because of the visuals, which can really only be appreciated on a large screen: the exquisitely exotic costumes, against staggeringly impressive scenery, populated by hundreds or thousands of real-life extras. This is truly a spectacle to behold. But I’m not sure if you really see anything as legendary as the legendary chariot race in Ben Hur (which I also haven’t seen). I’m not really sure that you see anything, quite frankly, other than a lot of soap operatics, first between Liz and Rex Harrison (Caesar), then between Liz and Richard Burton (Marc Antony). It’s not like we can get any plot twists in this historical epic—we know how it ends. The enjoyment is supposed to come from watching the dramatic flux between these actors, but I just didn’t find it to be all that interesting. Part of my unenthusiastic response might come from the fact that, for a movie called Cleopatra, ostensibly about one of the strongest female figures in history, Cleo herself clocks in at well under half of the dialogue and screen time in this four-hour sausage-fest. It’s mostly Caesar talking to his generals, Antony talking to his generals, Caesar talking to Antony, and many debates in the all-male Roman senate, led by Roddy McDowell (whose voice I always love to hear), with not much room left for a female perspective. I know, I know, it was 1963. They weren’t gender sensitive yet. Mad Men was still in pre-production. But most of her scenes revolve around how hopelessly in love she is with Caesar, then Antony, without giving her a good reason to be so, other than “because.” Perhaps the distance of time has jaded this epic Hollywood romance for me. I do appreciate its scale and its visual grandeur, but I don’t appreciate much else about it.

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One response to “Cleopatra (USA/UK/Switzerland, 1963)

  1. Pingback: Ben-Hur (USA, 1959) | Offhand Reviews·

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