Tuesday, February 12, 2002


What a delight! I'd seen bits and pieces of this over time and had no real interest in watching the whole thing until I read a positive review online some time ago. I'm glad I went back to it. In the beginning, it has that "hopelessly dated historical epic" feeling to it which more or less sunk THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII for me. But if you stick with it long enough, and accept the sometimes dated look and acting mannerisms, Cecil B. DeMille comes through with flying colors.

I've only seen two other DeMille pictures, SIGN OF THE CROSS and the 1956 TEN COMMANDMENTS (I think I've seen most of his silent TEN COMMANDMENTS as well, but I don't remember much about it). CLEOPATRA feels very much like a Biblical epic, even though it has nothing to do with the Bible that I know of. Claudette Colbert is Cleopatra--it took a while to get used to her. Sometimes, she plays it like Sex Kitten of the Nile and goes a little over the top, but as with the look of the movie, I got used to her fairly quickly. Warren William is Caesar, her first Roman conquest. Even though he shaved his mustache off, I still saw him as an amoral business executive (a la EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE & SKYSCRAPER SOULS) in togas. The supporting cast is fine, with the reliable C. Aubrey Smith (and his eyebrows), Irving Pichel, and Joseph Schlidkraut in small roles.

The standout aside from Colbert is Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony. IMDb says he played supporting parts in MRS. MINIVER and TEN COMMANDMENTS, but I don't remember him. However, he made a strong impression in this film: he's rather sexy with a solid build and handsome features. His highlight is when he's seduced by Cleopatra in a fabulous sequence set on her barge. It's played like a musical number, complete with dancers and trumpets and swirling drapes and phallic symbols, and the definite pre-Code implication of sex that would probably not have been possible a year later. I got quite caught up in the storyline--this is the first time I've ever been clear about what Cleopatra is famous for, although I assume gargantuan liberties were taken with history (though we do get Warren William getting his on the Ides of March, muttering, "You too, Brutus?"). The sets and costumes are first-rate all the way through, and DeMille's camera is far from static. Highly recommended.

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