Sunday, March 22, 2009

MOVIES: #10 Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor. What more do you need to make watching the 1963 epic, Cleopatra, worthwhile?

For me, Cleopatra has always defined 'epic' when it comes to movie-making. The most expensive movie ever made (at the time, and for a long time after), Cleopatra literally put THOUSANDS of movie extras on the screen, and then let the focus fall on the most beautiful woman in the world. Now, to me, that title belonged to mom, but the violet-eyed Taylor was a REAL close second. I knew that, and I was all of seven at the time.

This was a BIG-TIME MOVIE for a little kid. And it got even better when it was shown eventually on TV. Over two nights! It was THAT long. The theatrical version ran over three hours and the TV version (the so-called director's cut, a novelty back then), was almost TWICE as long. What could be more epic than that?

We all know the story. Little girl becomes the queen of Egypt largely through accident and the fact she's more cut-throat than her brother. At the same time, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony were taking control of Rome. Rome meets Egypt and Cleopatra, who finesses her way through what WOULD have been a destructive war by bedding Rex Harrison's Caesar. Of course, Richard Burton as Antony was her true love (on and off screen). Caesar's death plays into the course of events and we have a rip-roaring finale down to the meeting between asp and breast.

Fascinating stuff, even for a pre-teen. It's gotten better over the years, as I appreciated the inter-play between Burton and Taylor and what was going on off the set. The number of actors who later became stars in the movie in their own right is legion. Too many to list here. But I have to tell you, I liked some of the lesser-known guys in this. George Cole and Cesare Danova give standout performances in supporting roles to the big stars. Look for them as Flavius and Apollodorus, respectively.

It takes a night, or two, to really, really watch the full Cleopatra. There'll be flaws that you will notice, including a switch in style of talk midway, because the original plan WAS for two separate movies. But despite all those warts, this is still a movie where you see the money ON-screen.

And the most beautiful woman in the world...after mom.

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