Cleopatra Returns In All Its Fabled Glory

Categories: Film

Only in Hollywood could the year's highest-grossing feature also be the biggest flop, but that's what happened with Cleopatra, the 1963 Joseph Mankiewicz-directed epic of Egyptian headdresses, cleavage, and makeup, all done with a distinctly 1960s American slant.

The main attractions were Richard Burton's voice, Liz Taylor's tits, and able turns by Rex Harrison (who was Oscar nominated) and Roddy McDowall (who would have been, but they forgot to submit him for consideration. True story.)

The whole thing lost a fortune, but before that happened it made quite a fortune. Everyone on earth wanted to see Liz and Dick being all grand and kissy faced, and in fab costumes yet. I was one of the lucky kids who not only got to see the film, but came home with a Cleopatra ring which my father bought me in the lobby. It fell apart pretty quickly, but I treasured all the pieces, just as I kept the remnants of the troubled film itself in my memory box for all time.

I felt the movie was eye popping, exciting, and a bit boring and incoherent. And long.

And it's coming back! To Cannes and then to 200 theaters!

Everybody now: "Caesar, what's boining?"

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I bid on the headress Liz wore , at the Debbie Reynold's auction in Bevrerly Hills , last year. When it went past $50,000, I had to bow out. It eventually sold for $123,000 !!! The movie's a stinker, but the costumes are amazing.


Darryl F. Zanuck had them go back into production to put more battle scenes into it!

And then he cut scenes which motivated action, such as Cleo seeing Caesar's ring -- which she had given to their son -- on Roddy Mc Dowall's finger, which she knew meant the kid was dead.

The restored version is better than the one first released. Plus, the DVD extras include scenes and costume tests shot in London, where Liz caught pneumonia, had her tracheotomy. And then they started all over in Rome.

And does anyone besides me love that last scene and Alex North's mournful theme music?

My favorite line is when McDowall asks Liz,"Is there anything I can do for you?" and Liz replies,"Yeah -- you can getcha armies outta here!"

"Cleopatra" is a fabulous folly.


@SouthernDave I had no idea. If they just cut those scenes and let that action happen "off", it would help the pacing enormously. 


As The Great Library of Alexandria burns; "do you smell smoke?"

Anthony sits drunk in her pyramid staring at Caesar's statue;  "not so much a room-mate as a tomb-mate".

It's a joy, a spectacle, gorgeous and no CGI; they actually did it all, and she's very good in it, could have done with fewer battle scenes though.


When I think of this movie it reminds me of one of those enormous cruise ships ever so slowly moving into port. A big lumbering, visually impressive....nothing. 

What a mess.