First off, if you’ve seen the 1963 version of this film, you don’t need to see this one. If you’ve seen this one, you shouldn’t waste six hours of your life on ‘63’s. The main differences are color, actors and length.
With an elementary understanding of ancient history, you already know the plot to Cleopatra. Julius Caesar (Warren William) has been expanding the Roman Empire, but Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) still holds Egypt. Cleopatra seduces Caesar with the idea of combining their empires and they both rule as king and queen, which of course grants Caesar to more royalties with the beautiful Queen of the Nile. How could he say no?
But the Roman Senate with Brutus and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) realize what a horrible idea this is and plot to kill Caesar. (Et tu Brute?) With Caesar dead, it looks like Cleopatra’s plan to become Empress over Rome is dead as well, so she scampers off to her elaborate boat to Egypt. Marc Antony is elected to negotiate with her, but Cleopatra’s more cunning than that and it’s onto seducing Roman leader number two.
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, Cleopatra is a sight to see. From the sprawling sets, the elaborate parades and the throngs of girls in grass skirts that serve as cheap animal entertainment it’s all pretty eye popping, even in black and white. The battle scenes are surprisingly exciting and more graphic than I expected. The great use of quick editing and some well choreographed shots really goes a long way here. Just further proof that you don’t need everything CGI or slow motion to make it exciting.
The musical score goes a long way in this film, especially in one of my favorite scenes on board Cleopatra’s ship. The shot starts on her throne and moves backwards through the ship showing a beautiful display of her servants running around, men rowing on two levels and finally the man beating the drum to row to. It’s all done to sweeping music, with drum beats being very dramatic crashes. It’s one of those moments where your eyes just grow wider and wider, you wish they could just float right out of your head.
I think most people today would be surprised how much they would enjoy this film. It is not boring, yet, most of us know what’s going to happen. I found it very visually inspiring, perhaps one of the best visual black and white films I’ve seen.
And everything is big. Big sets, big action, big idea and all done very well.
If you think you’d rather watch the ‘63 version of Cleopatra, just don’t. That review won’t be coming up for a while, but here’s a little tip: six hours is far too long to put up with Elizabeth Taylor’s overacting. I felt like it was trying to one up DeMille and Ben Hur at the same time. The attempt can be best described as EPIC FAIL. See a great piece of DeMille’s work instead.
“It certainly couldn’t be me, queens don’t hiccup.”