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In 48 B.C., Caesar pursues Pompey from Pharsalia to Egypt. Ptolemy, now supreme ruler after deposing his older sister, Cleopatra, attempts to gain favor with Caesar by presenting the conquerer with the head of Pompey, borne by his governors, Pothinos and Achillas.
To win Caesar's support from her brother, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus, her servant, presents to Caesar. The Roman is immediately infatuated; banishing Ptolemy, he declares Cleopatra Egypt's sole ruler and takes her as his mistress.
A son, Caesarion, is born of their union. Caesar, however, must return to Italy. Although he is briefly reunited with Cleopatra during a magnificent reception for the queen in Rome, Caesar is assassinated shortly thereafter, and Cleopatra returns to Egypt.
When Mark Antony, Caesar's protégé, beholds Cleopatra aboard her elaborate barge at Tarsus some years later, he is smitten and becomes both her lover and military ally. Their liaison notwithstanding, Antony, to consolidate his position in Rome, marries Octavia, sister of the ambitious Octavian.
The marriage satisfies no one. Cleopatra is infuriated, and Antony, tiring of his Roman wife, returns to Egypt. There he flaunts his liaison by marrying Cleopatra in a public ceremony. Sensing Antony's weakness, Octavian attacks and defeats his forces at Actium.
Alarmed, Cleopatra withdraws her fleet and seeks refuge in her tomb. .
Elizabeth Taylor ... Cleopatra
Richard Burton ... Marc Antony
Rex Harrison ... Julius Caesar
Pamela Brown ... High Priestess
George Cole ... Flavius
Hume Cronyn ... Sosigenes
Cesare Danova ... Apollodorus
Kenneth Haigh ... Brutus
Andrew Keir ... Agrippa
Martin Landau ... Rufio
Roddy McDowall ... Octavian - Caesar Augustus
Robert Stephens ... Germanicus
Francesca Annis ... Eiras, Cleopatra's handmaiden
Grégoire Aslan ... Pothinus (as Gregoire Aslan)
Martin Benson ... Ramos
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
XVid / AC3
That a film as good as CLEOPATRA is was created at all under the madness and panic of it's legendary production is indeed an amazing feat. That CLEOPATRA has been given such loving care in its restoration in this DVD of the "Road Show" print and is a wondrous gift to those who love this film.
The film itself remains what it has always been. It is a good film that might have been a great one if only Zanuck had trusted Joe Mankiewicz' original vision. It is said that they are still looking for the missing film; one can only hope that they succeed in this task.
The performances range from good to excellent. Particular praise must go to Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Martin Landau, Robert Stephens, Andrew Keir, and Roddy McDowall. Lastly in this department there remains Elizabeth Taylor's performance as Cleopatra. At the films release the brickbats were reserved for her and for reasons that had nothing to do with her performance. Many reviewed her behavior as seen through the narrow focus of the tabloids and emerging paparazzi.
Even today it is sometimes hard to separate the history of the lady from her film roles. But here is the moment in time, in this film where she became the ELIZABETH TAYLOR she has remained in the mind of the world ever since. In this fact alone she is perfect in the role. But she is more than that. As Cleopatra she is at once regal and commanding, strong and tender, soft and hard. These are all the contradictions that have always been at the heart of Cleopatra herself. She and the Queen are masters of a public enigma wrapped within a mystery.
In her performance as written by Mankiewicz Elizabeth Taylor is probably not too far off from the historical Cleopatra.
Finally, ever since Judith Crist gave CLEOPATRA the needle in 1963 and in the act made her name, the public, for the most part, has viewed this film a failure. But today, stripped of the scandal, hype and hysteria of its release in June of 1963 it is now possible to view CLEOPARTA as the film it is. A near great film that is the signpost of when Hollywood passed from one age into another.
Historically this is an important film and I recommend it highly. CLEOPATRA remains as seductive, beautiful, and intelligent as it was in Walter Wanger's original conception. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."
* A clerical error on the part of the Academy cost Roddy McDowall an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
* Adjusting for inflation, this is the most expensive movie ever made to date (mid-1999). Its budget of $44 million is equivalent to 270 million 1999 dollars.
* Elizabeth Taylor had 65 costume changes for this film, a record for a motion picture. The figure is exceeded by Joan Collins, who had 85 costume changes in the TV movie "Sins" (1986) (mini). Coincidentally, Collins was set to star as Cleopatra before Taylor was signed.
* In 1958 Joan Collins was cast in the title role, but after several delays she became unavailable. Collins had previously starred in a similar role in Land of the Pharaohs (1955). After Collins' departure, Audrey Hepburn was considered as a replacement by producer Walter Wanger. Wanger then offered the role to Elizabeth Taylor. He called her on the set of her latest film, Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and related the offer through Taylor's then husband Eddie Fisher who had answered the phone. As a joke, Taylor replied "Sure, tell him I'll do it for a million dollars." This then unheard-of sum was accepted and in October 1959 Taylor became the first Hollywood star to receive $1 million for a single picture.
* Soon after shooting began in England, Elizabeth Taylor became ill and could not work. As her presence was required for almost every scene production soon closed down. Director Rouben Mamoulian finally resigned on January 3, 1961. He was followed by stars 'Peter Finch' and Stephen Boyd, who had to honor prior commitments.
* Taylor's illness prevented her from working again in England's weather for at least 6 months. Therefore the production moved to Rome. The sets and the footage already shot were scrapped. (See also Carry on Cleo (1964)).
* Various employees of Rome's Cinecitta studios where this was filmed stole several millions of dollars worth of equipment and props while production took place.
* A group of female extras who played Cleopatra's various servants and slave girls went on strike to demand protection from amorous Italian extras and their bottom-pinching fingers. The studio eventually hired a special guard to protect the extras.
* Rex Harrison had a clause in his contract stipulating that whenever a picture of Richard Burton appeared in an ad, so would his. A large sign was put up on Broadway showing only Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. After Harrison's lawyers complained, the studio fulfilled the contract by placing a picture of Harrison on one corner of the billboard.
* The original list of choices for the role of Marc Antony were Stephen Boyd, Richard Johnson, Michael David, Peter O'Toole, 'Peter Finch' and Laurence Harvey. Boyd was cast as Antony while Finch was cast as Caesar. However, both men had to leave the project due to the lengthy delays and their obligations to other projects. Boyd was replaced by Richard Burton and Finch was replaced by Rex Harrison.
* Filming began in 1960.
* John DeCuir rebuilt the massive set of Alexandria three times.
* Joseph L. Mankiewicz hoped that the film would be released as two separate pictures, "Caesar and Cleopatra" followed by "Antony and Cleopatra." Each was to run approximately three hours. 20th Century-Fox decided against this, and released the film we know today. It runs just over four hours. It is hoped that the missing two hours will be located and that one day a six-hour 'director's cut' will be available.
* Widely regarded as one of the biggest flops of all time, reality is quite different: the film made its money back despite the horrendous costs, but not all at once--it took several years. It was one of the highest grossing films of the 1960s. According to the late director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, many of the best scenes were cut and there are between 90 and 120 minutes of character development and story missing.
* At $194,800, the budget for Elizabeth Taylor's costumes in this film was the highest ever for a single screen actor. Her 65 costumes included a dress made from 24-carat gold cloth.
* Susan Hayward was the first choice to play Cleopatra.
* Histories by Plutarch, Suetonius, Appian, other ancient sources, and Carlo Mario Franzero's book "The Life and Times of Cleopatra" are credited as the basis of the screenplay.
* Among Elizabeth Taylor's demands were the requirement that the film be shot in the large format Todd-AO system. She owned the rights to the system as the widow of Michael Todd. This meant even more money being paid to Ms. Taylor.
* Elizabeth Taylor's contract stipulated that her million-dollar salary be paid out as follows: $125,000 for 16 weeks work plus $50,000 a week afterwards plus 10% of the gross (with no break-even point). When the film was restarted in Rome in 1961, she had earned well over $2 million. After a lengthy $50 million lawsuit brought against Taylor and Burton by 20th Century Fox in 1963 and a countersuit filed by Taylor, the studio finally settled with the actress in 1966. Her ultimate take for the film was $7 million.
* In 1966, ABC-TV paid 20th Century-Fox a record $5 million for two showings of the film, a deal that finally put the picture into the black.
* When the film finally broke even in 1973 (due to a $5 million sale to TV), 20th Century-Fox "closed the books" on "Cleopatra", therefore keeping secret all future profits from the film to avoid paying those who might have been promised a percentage of the net profits.
* Martin Landau was booked to play Euphranor, but when they could not find anyone to play Ruffo, Landau was recast
* Marlon Brando was sought for the role of Marc Antony but was attached to Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).
* Originally Cleopatra was envisioned as a modest $2,000,000 project starring Joan Collins. However, once Elizabeth Taylor was cast, the film was transformed into a giant epic.
* This film has been cited as one of the factors that brought an end to the Italian-made "sword and sandal"/"mythological muscleman" epics that had been popular since the late 1950s. Specialized suppliers raised their prices for goods and services supplied to this production. The higher prices were beyond the budget of Italian producers so production values for their films dropped and audiences declined.
* Twentieth Century Fox was in financial trouble in the late-1950s due to disappointing box office returns of some major releases. Orders were given to search the Fox script library for a proven property that could be remade. The project chosen was Cleopatra (1917), a Theda Bara film that had been a smash hit for the studio. What the studio needed was a producer willing to handle the project. At about the same time, veteran producer Walter Wanger approached Fox with an idea for a project he had been planning for several years: the story of Cleopatra. In the words of David Brown, "We fell on him."
* Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was fired during the editing/post-production phase. Since there was no actual shooting script (Mankiewicz was writing as he was shooting), Twentieth Century-Fox soon realized that only Mankiewicz knew how the story fit together. He was brought back to complete the project.
* Martin Landau learned Italian during the shoot.
* Robert Stephens said in a radio interview that most of his part was deleted from the final print.
* Michael Hordern said on a chat show he was under contract for 18 months
* During the making of the movie, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton started their love-hate relationship which lasted until his death.
* Alex North was chosen to score the film after Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Chris told him that North had done a magnificent job in composing a score for Spartacus (1960).
* While at Cinecitta studios filming the scene of Cleopatra's triumphant and spectacular entry into Rome, a scene requiring thousands of extras and the transportation of a huge barge carrying the Queen of Egypt, Joseph L. Mankiewicz had to cut the scene, roll back the barge, and begin again because one of the production's Panavision cameras had caught an enterprising film extra, in the heat of the Roman summer, hawking gelato to his fellow extras.
* The scar from Elizabeth Taylor's tracheotomy, performed during filming, is visible in several shots.
* During Cleopatra's entry into Rome, the shots of Cleopatra's barge and the parade that precedes it were filmed several months apart, so that the light would be hitting Cleopatra directly.
* The filming of Cleopatra's entrance into Rome was delayed for six months due to lighting problems resulting in the recasting of the American child actor who was playing her four-year-old son with an Italian child (complete with accent) as the original boy had grown a foot taller during the long delay.
* When Fox employees were searching for a successful Fox property that could be remade, they decided upon Cleopatra (1917), a silent epic starring Theda Bara. However, they could only made their judgment from an archived copy of the original script and some stills from the production. There were no prints surviving of the movie itself.
* Elizabeth Taylor's contract gave her director approval. When Rouben Mamoulian resigned from the production, Taylor would only approve two men as possible replacements: George Stevens and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Stevens was already at work on The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
* When producer Walter Wanger was removed from the production, it marked the end of his career in the motion picture industry.
* Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz referred to this as "the toughest three pictures I ever made".
* Mitchell, not Panavision, cameras were used on “Cleopatra”.