Cleopatra (1963 film)
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Rouben Mamoulian (uncredited; fired and replaced by Mankiewicz)
Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)
|Produced by||Walter Wanger|
|Screenplay by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Ben Hecht (uncredited)
|Based on||The Life and Times of Cleopatra
by C.M. Franzero
by Plutarch, Suetonius, and Appian
|Narrated by||Ben Wright|
|Music by||Alex North|
Jack Hildyard (uncredited)
|Editing by||Dorothy Spencer
Elmo Williams (uncredited)
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||248 minutes|
|Box office||$57,777,778 (US)|
Cleopatra is a 1963 British-American-Swiss epic drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The screenplay was adapted by Sidney Buchman, Ben Hecht, Ranald MacDougall, and Mankiewicz from a book by Carlo Maria Franzero. The film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau. The music score was by Alex North. It was photographed in 70 mm Todd-AO and DeLuxe Color by Leon Shamroy and an uncredited Jack Hildyard.
In all of cinema history, Cleopatra is one of the most expensive films ever made (adjusted for inflation). It received mixed reviews from critics, although critics and audiences alike generally praised Taylor and Burton's performances. It was the highest grossing film of 1963, earning US $26 million ($57.7 million total), yet made a loss due to its cost of $44 million, making it the only film ever to be the highest grossing film of the year yet to run at a loss; for this, the film has been considered a moderate (but not total) box office failure. The film later won four Academy Awards, and was nominated for five more, including Best Picture (ultimately losing to Tom Jones).
The film opens in 48 BC shortly after the Battle of Pharsalus where Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) has defeated Pompey. Pompey flees to Egypt, hoping to enlist the support of the young Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII (Richard O'Sullivan) and his sister Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor).
Caesar pursues and meets the teenage Ptolemy and the boy's advisers, who seem to do most of the thinking for him. As a gesture of 'goodwill', the Egyptians present Caesar with Pompey's head, but Caesar is not pleased; it is a sorry end for a worthy foe. As Caesar settles in at the palace, Apollodorus (Cesare Danova), disguised as a rug peddler, brings a gift from Cleopatra. When a suspicious Caesar unrolls the rug, he finds Cleopatra herself concealed within and is intrigued. Days later, she warns Caesar that her brother has surrounded the palace with his soldiers and that he is vastly outnumbered. Caesar is unconcerned. He orders the Egyptian fleet burned so he can gain control of the harbor. The fire spreads to the city, burning many buildings, including the famous Library of Alexandria. Cleopatra angrily confronts Caesar, but he refuses to pull troops away from the fight with Ptolemy's forces to deal with the fire. In the middle of their spat, Caesar begins kissing her.
The Romans hold, and the armies of Mithridates arrive on Egyptian soil. The following day, Caesar passes judgment. He sentences Ptolemy's lord chamberlain to death for arranging an assassination attempt on Cleopatra, and rules that Ptolemy and his tutor be sent to join Ptolemy's now greatly outnumbered troops, a sentence of death as the Egyptian army faces off against Mithridates. Cleopatra is crowned Queen of Egypt. She dreams of ruling the world with Caesar. When their son Caesarion is born, Caesar accepts him publicly, which becomes the talk of Rome and the Senate.
Caesar returns to Rome for his triumph, while Cleopatra remains in Egypt. Two years pass before the two see each other again. After he is made dictator for life, Caesar sends for Cleopatra. She arrives in Rome in a lavish procession and wins the adulation of the Roman people. The Senate grows increasingly discontented amid rumors that Caesar wishes to be made king, which is anathema to the Romans. On the Ides of March in 44 BC, the Senate is preparing to vote on whether to award Caesar additional powers. Despite warnings from his wife Calpurnia (Gwen Watford) and Cleopatra, he is confident of victory. However, he is stabbed to death by various senators.
Octavian (Roddy McDowall), Caesar's nephew, is named as his heir, not Caesarion. Realizing she has no future in Rome, Cleopatra returns home to Egypt. Two years later, Caesar's assassins, among them Cassius (John Hoyt) and Brutus (Kenneth Haigh) are killed at the Battle of Philippi. The following year, Mark Antony (Richard Burton) establishes a second triumvirate with Octavian and Lepidus. They split up the empire: Lepidus receives Africa, Octavian Spain and Gaul, while Antony will take control of the eastern provinces. However, the rivalry between Octavian and Antony is becoming apparent.
While planning a campaign against Parthia in the east, Antony realizes he needs money and supplies, and cannot get enough from anywhere but Egypt. After refusing several times to leave Egypt, Cleopatra gives in and meets him in Tarsus. Antony becomes drunk during a lavish feast. Cleopatra sneaks away, leaving a slave dressed as her, but Antony discovers the trick and confronts the queen. They soon become lovers. Octavian uses their affair in his smear campaign against Antony. When Antony returns to Rome to address the situation brewing there, Octavian traps him into a marriage of state to Octavian's sister, Octavia. Cleopatra flies into a rage when she learns the news.
A year or so later, when Antony next sees Cleopatra, he is forced to humble himself publicly. She demands a third of the empire in return for her aid. Antony acquiesces and divorces Octavia. Octavian clamors for war against Antony and his "Egyptian whore". The Senate is unmoved by his demands until Octavian reveals that Antony has left a will stating that he is to be buried in Egypt; shocked and insulted, the Senators who had previously stood by Antony abandon their hero and vote for war. Octavian murders the Egyptian ambassador, Cleopatra's tutor Sosigenes, on the Senate steps.
The war is decided at the naval Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 BC where Octavian's fleet, under the command of Agrippa, defeats the Anthony-Egyptian fleet. Seeing Antony's ship burning, Cleopatra assumes he is dead and orders the Egyptian forces home. Antony follows, leaving his fleet leaderless and soon defeated. Several months later, Cleopatra manages to convince Antony to retake command of his troops and fight Octavian's advancing army. However, Antony's soldiers have lost faith in him and abandon him during the night; Rufio (Martin Landau), the last man loyal to Antony, kills himself. Antony tries to goad Octavian into single combat, but is finally forced to flee into the city.
When Antony returns to the palace, Apollodorus, not believing that Antony is worthy of his queen, convinces him that she is dead, whereupon Antony falls on his own sword. Apollodorus then takes Antony to Cleopatra, and he dies in her arms. Octavian captures the city without a battle and Cleopatra is brought before him. He wants to return to Rome in triumph, with her as his prisoner. However, realizing that her son is also dead, she arranges to be bitten by a poisonous asp.
She sends her servant Charmian to give Octavian a letter. In the letter she asks to be buried with Antony. Octavian realizes that she is going to kill herself and he and his guards burst into Cleopatra's chamber and find her dressed in gold, and dead, along with her servant Iras, while an asp crawls along the floor. Octavian is angry that she is dead and leaves. One of Octavian's guards asks the dying Charmian if the queen did well in killing herself and Charmian answers, "Extremely well, as befitting the last of so many noble rulers" and dies.
- Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
- Richard Burton as Mark Antony
- Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar
- Roddy McDowall as Octavian, alias Augustus
- Martin Landau as Rufio
- Hume Cronyn as Sosigenes
- George Cole as Flavius
- Carroll O'Connor as Servilius Casca
- Andrew Keir as Agrippa
- Gwen Watford as Calpurnia Pisonis
- Kenneth Haigh as Brutus
- Pamela Brown as the High Priestess
- Cesare Danova as Apollodorus
- Francesca Annis as Eiras
- Richard O'Sullivan as Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII
- Gregoire Aslan as Pothinus
- Martin Benson as Ramos
- Jean Marsh as Octavia Minor
- John Hoyt as Cassius
The eventual production costs of this film almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Originally budgeted at $2 million, the budget eventually totaled up to $44 million—the equivalent of $320 million in 2013 dollars (see the List of most expensive films to produce), still making the movie one of the most costly ever produced. This was partly owing to the fact that the film's elaborate, complicated sets, costumes and props had to be constructed twice, once during a botched shoot in London and once more when the production relocated to Rome.
Filming began in London in 1960 under Rouben Mamoulian. Mankiewicz was brought into the production after Mamoulian's departure. Mankiewicz inherited a film which was already $5 million over budget and had no usable footage to show for it. This was in part because the actors originally chosen to play Julius Caesar (Peter Finch) and Mark Antony (Stephen Boyd) left owing to other commitments. Mankiewicz was later fired during the editing phase, only to be rehired when no one else could piece the film together (since Mankiewicz was hired so late in the production, he was rewriting the screenplay during principal photography; there was never an actual shooting script as such).
Elizabeth Taylor was awarded a record-setting contract of $1 million. This amount eventually swelled to $7 million because of the delays of the production, equivalent to over $47 million today. Taylor became very ill during the early filming and was rushed to hospital, where a tracheotomy had to be performed to save her life. The resulting scar can be seen in some shots. All of this resulted in the film being shut down. The production was moved to Rome after six months as the English weather proved detrimental to her recovery, as well as being responsible for the constant deterioration of the costly sets and exotic plants required for the production. (The English sets were utilized for the British comedy Carry On Cleo.) During filming, Taylor met Richard Burton and the two began a very public affair, which made headlines worldwide. Moral outrage over the scandal brought bad publicity to an already troubled production.
The cut of the film which Mankiewicz screened for the studio was six hours long. This was cut to four hours for its initial premiere, but the studio demanded (over the objections of Mankiewicz) that the film be cut once more, this time to just barely over three hours to allow theaters to increase the number of showings per day. As a result, certain details are left out of the film, such as Rufio's death and the recurring theme of Cleopatra's interaction with the gods of Egypt. Mankiewicz unsuccessfully attempted to convince the studio to split the film in two in order to preserve the original cut. These were to be released separately as Caesar and Cleopatra followed by Antony and Cleopatra. The studio wanted to capitalize on the publicity of the intense press coverage the Taylor-Burton romance was generating, and felt that pushing Antony and Cleopatra to a later release date was too risky. The film has been released to home video formats in its 248-minute premiere version, and efforts are under way to locate the missing footage (some of which has been recovered).
On the whole the film followed the history of the period fairly closely, and took fewer liberties with historical accuracy than several other epics. However there are a few minor inaccuracies:
- The film features Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, first as an admiral under Julius Caesar, then later under Octavian. Agrippa (Andrew Keir) appears to be the same age as Caesar and much older than Octavian. Historically, Agrippa was about the same age as Octavian (as were Keir and McDowall).
- Following the assassination of Caesar, Agrippa is depicted in two scenes as seated in the Curia wearing a senatorial toga. In reality, Agrippa was a hereditary member of the Equestrian order and therefore prohibited under Republican law from either non-invitational attendance in the Curia, or the wearing of patrician insignia.
- The claim that Caesar wanted to be made Emperor is false. Though Caesar was hailed by the title of imperator during his lifetime, the Roman sense of the term was far different from that denoted by the word "Emperor," being used to describe a great military commander rather than a supreme monarch.
- Cicero never attended the Senate during the period of Caesar's dictatorship, nor was he actively involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.
- The position of Dictator was not symbolic, nor did he need to have his actions ratified by the Senate, as claimed in the movie.
- Caesar picking up his child Caesarion in front of other Romans would not have been sufficient to have the boy become a Roman citizen, and consequently Caesar's heir. For that, both parents would have had to be Roman citizens themselves, and Caesar never acknowledged him as his son.
- The scenes of Cleopatra's magnificent entry into Rome are enacted in front of (and through) a detailed and life-size replica of the Arch of Constantine, built in AD 315 – more than three and a half centuries after the event.
- The arch was never in the Forum.
- Her arrival and procession would not have entered the Roman Forum itself, as portrayed in the movie, since during the Republic, all foreign rulers were prohibited from crossing the Pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city, into Rome proper.
- Several scenes include philodendrons, plants of South America that were unknown in the Roman world.
- When Rome declares war on Ptolemaic Egypt, Octavian (Roddy Mcdowell) is portrayed exiting the Curia and spearing Cleopatra's ambassador Sosigenes of Alexandria (Hume Cronyn). There is no historical basis for this depiction, or even Sosigenes being a prime functionary for Cleopatra's regime (he was an astronomer).
- Much of the interior decor of Cleopatra's palace in Alexandria is anachronistic. Some items of furniture are exact copies of those found in the tomb of queen Hetepheres I (c. 2600 BC). Statues seen on Cleopatra's barge are copies of one found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c. 1330 BC).
The music of Cleopatra was scored by Alex North. It was released several times, first as an original album, and later versions were extended. The most popular of these was the Deluxe Edition or 2001 Varèse Sarabande album.
Reception and impact
The film earned Elizabeth Taylor a Guinness World Record title, "Most costume changes in a film"; Taylor made 65 costume changes. This record was beaten in 1996 in the film "Evita" by Madonna with 85 costume changes.
Critics remain divided about the film; Rotten Tomatoes reports 46% (12 "Fresh", 14 "Rotten") of critics reviewed it positively. A reviewer for Time said, "As drama and as cinema, Cleopatra is riddled with flaws. It lacks style both in image and in action." American film critic Emanuel Levy said, "Much maligned for various reasons, [...] Cleopatra may be the most expensive movie ever made, but certainly not the worst, just a verbose, muddled affair that is not even entertaining as a star vehicle for Taylor and Burton."
Even Elizabeth Taylor found it wanting. She had said, "They had cut out the heart, the essence, the motivations, the very core, and tacked on all those battle scenes. It should have been about three large people, but it lacked reality and passion. I found it vulgar". 
Positive reactions came from such publications as American entertainment-trade magazine Variety, who wrote, "Cleopatra is not only a supercolossal eye-filler (the unprecedented budget shows in the physical opulence throughout), but it is also a remarkably literate cinematic recreation of an historic epoch." Billy Mowbray for the website of British digital channel Film4 remarked that the film is "A giant of a movie that is sometimes lumbering, but ever watchable thanks to its uninhibited ambition, size and glamour."
Rex Harrison as Caesar was the only one of the three principal actors to receive unanimous good reviews for the film. Harrison was also the only one to receive an Oscar Nomination.
References in other works
The French comic book Asterix and Cleopatra, published first in serial form the same year the film was released, parodies the film. In particular, the cover of the comic book mocks the film's massive casts and sets by claiming it is the "Greatest story ever drawn" and that "14 litres of India ink, 30 brushes, 62 soft pencils, 1 hard pencil, 27 rubbers, 1984 sheets of paper, 16 typewriter ribbons, 2 typewriters, 366 pints of beer went into its creation!" Cleopatra herself is drawn to look somewhat like Elizabeth Taylor.
The Italian comedy film Totò e Cleopatra ("Totò and Cleopatra", 1963), directed by Fernando Cerchio, is a parody of the original classic, featuring Italian comedy star Totò as Mark Antony and French actress Magali Noël as Cleopatra. Although a farce from beginning to end and completely deviating from both the plot of the original and historical events, the film does effectively satirize some of Cleopatra's elements, such as the lavish and costly production and the tormented nature of Antony and Cleopatra's relationship.
Awards and nominations
- Best Picture – Walter Wanger (nominated)
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Rex Harrison (nominated)
- Best Cinematography, Color – Leon Shamroy (WON)
- Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color – John DeCuir, Jack Martin Smith, Hilyard Brown, Herman A. Blumenthal, Elven Webb, Maurice Pelling, and Boris Juraga (Art Direction); Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox, and Ray Moyer (Set Decoration) (WON)
- Best Costume Design, Color – Irene Sharaff, Vittorio Nino Novarese, and Renie (WON)
- Best Sound Mixing – James Corcoran (Twentieth Century Fox Sound Department) and Fred Hynes (Todd-AO Sound Department) (nominated)
- Best Film Editing – Dorothy Spencer (nominated)
- Best Special Effects – Emil Kosa, Jr. (WON)
- Best Music, Score – Substantially Original – Alex North (nominated)
- Best Motion Picture - Drama
- Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama – Rex Harrison
- Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture – Roddy McDowall
- Best Director - Motion Picture – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
- List of American films of 1963
- Roman Republic
- Ancient Egypt
- Ptolemaic dynasty
- Sword and sandal epics
- Carry On Cleo
- List of historical drama films
- List of films set in ancient Rome
- List of longest films by running time
- List of films based on military books (pre-1775)
- "CLEOPATRA (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1963-05-30. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
- "Cleopatra (1963)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p253
- John Patterson "Cleopatra, the film that killed off big-budget epics", The Guardian, 15 July 2013
- Null, Christopher. Cleopatra Review
- Cleopatra from Johnny Web
- compare: File:Tutanhkamun tomb statue edit 1.jpg with File:1963 Cleopatra trailer screenshot (63).jpg
- "Cleopatra - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
- "Cleopatra Review".
- "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
- "The 36th Academy Awards (1964) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-23.
- "NY Times: Cleopatra". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
- Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood, a 2001 television documentary
- Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), The Cleopatra Files: Selected Documents from the Spyros P. Skouras Archive (Stanford, 2013).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cleopatra (1963 film).|
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- Cleopatra at the Internet Movie Database
- Cleopatra at the TCM Movie Database
- Cleopatra at Box Office Mojo
- Cleopatra at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Restored Cleopatra