Cleopatra (1963)

cleopatra63

Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, Hume Cronyn, Carroll O’Connor

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Summary: The legendary queen of Egypt leads Julius Caesar and Marc Antony astray

Other Nominations: Actor (Harrison), Original Score, Sound Mixing, Color Art Direction*, Color Cinematography*, Color Costume Design*, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

Positives

-Good lord, the production values. The costumes and sets are unmatched in quality and number-Taylor had 65 costume changes alone, and there are no matte paintings I could see, they just build all these sets in full. The giant parade for Caesar when he comes back to Rome is pure excess in terms of extras, costumes, sets, props, etc. The color is also outstanding and some of the best I’ve seen, along with some great widescreen cinematography that shows off just how amazing these sets are.

-Taylor shows more skin than anyone had in the code-era movies I’ve seen for this project, which is a positive even if she has aged considerably in the last 7 years or so since I saw her in Giant.

Negatives

-At over four hours long, it is the longest movie I will have to watch for this project; to compare, 1934 version of Cleopatra I watched for that year was 1 hour 40 minutes, and the (now lost) 1917 Theda Bara version this was a remake of was 2 hours, 5 minutes. The story did do much for me the first time I saw it, and it doesn’t help to stretch that same story out 2.5x longer. The basics are the same, but “expanded” and we get a lot more of Cleopatra ruining Mark Antony in the second half, along with a couple of big action scenes; ultimately, the first half is actually pretty good, but the second half is mostly awful.

-The acting is very much a mixed bag: Harrison and McDowell are good, Burton is eh, but Taylor continues to disappoint me except for her looks, although she still has one more chance (in a movie I have seen before).

-The dialogue is just awful, which is shame considering Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, A Letter to Three Wives) co- wrote and directed the movie. The main reason for this is that there was never a finalized script by the time he got on board the movie and they never gave him time off to properly write one.

Other Stuff

-More people know about the hideous production that almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox than the actual movie, which is fine because it’s more interesting. It started with a $7 million budget with Taylor, Peter Finch as Caesar and Stephen Boyd as Antony with Rouben Mamoulian as director and filmed in England starting in 1960. Filming halted after 16 weeks when Taylor fell ill and almost died, needing a tracheotomy to save her life; in many scenes, you can clearly see the scar on her throat from it, including the load screen for the movie on Netflix Instant (where I watched it). When they resumed, Finch and Boyd had to leave due to other commitments, Mamoulian was fired, and they had to move filming to Italy because the cold English weather was harming Taylor’s recovery and the damp weather was also ruining the sets. By this point, they had already spent $7 million with nothing to show for it. They brought in Mankiewicz, Harrison and Burton, the last of whom started a very public affair with Taylor despite them both being married which caused an uproar. Fox fired Mankiewicz during post-production, but had to hire him back because the film lacked a finalized shooting script and he was the only person who could edit it. Adjusted for inflation, it cost $340 million dollars, which is about $90 million more than Captain America: Civil War cost even though it had no special effects. It eventually did get in the black by 1973 due to international releases, re-releases and sales to TV however.

Overall

This is the grandest movie ever made in terms of sets and costumes, but even that failed to maintain my interest after a couple of hours (or 3 or 4…) because most everything else about it isn’t very good. This is a movie better to watch clips of big scenes from Youtube (like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNjrfXOgZkM) than watch the whole movie.
Rating: C-

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