Cleopatra (1917 film)

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This article is about the 1917 film. For other uses, see Cleopatra (disambiguation).
Original release poster
Directed by J. Gordon Edwards
Produced by William Fox
Written by Adrian Johnson
William Shakespeare (plays Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar)
Victorien Sardou
Émile Moreau (play Cléopâtre)
Starring Theda Bara
Fritz Leiber, Sr.
Thurston Hall
Music by José Martínez
Cinematography John W. Boyle
Rial Schellinger
George Schneiderman
Edited by Edward M. McDermott
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • October 14, 1917 (1917-10-14)
Running time
125 mins. (11 reels)
Country United States
Language Silent
English intertitles
Budget $500,000

Cleopatra (1917) was an American silent historical drama film based on H. Rider Haggard's 1889 novel Cleopatra and the plays Cleopatre by Émile Moreau and Victorien Sardou and Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare.[1] The film starred Theda Bara in the title role, Fritz Leiber, Sr. as Julius Caesar, and Thurston Hall played Mark Antony. The film is now considered lost, with only fragments surviving.


As described in a film magazine,[2] Cleopatra (Bara), the Siren of Egypt, by a clever ruse reaches Caesar (Leiber) and he falls victim to her charms. They plan to rule the world together, but then Caesar falls. Cleopatra's life is desired by the church, as the wanton woman's rule has become intolerable. Pharon (Roscoe), a high priest, is given a sacred dagger to take her life. He gives her his love instead and, when she is in need of some money, leads her to the tomb of his ancestors, where she tears the treasure from the breast of the mummy. With this wealth she goes to Rome to meet Antony (Hall). He leaves the affairs of state and travels to Alexandria with her, where they revel. Antony is recalled to Rome and married to Octavia (Blinn), but his soul cries out for Cleopatra. He sends her a message to arm her ships and meet him at Actium, where they battle the opposing forces. They are overpowered, and flee to Alexandria. There they are captured by Octavius (De Vries), and Antony dies in Cleopatra's arms. Before Cleopatra is to be dragged behind the wheels of Octavius' chariot, Pharon the priest, who has never ceased to love her, brings her the serpent that she joyously brings to her breast, dying royally with her crown on her head and scepter in her hand as becomes Egypt.


Production notes[edit]

Theda Bara as Cleopatra

Cleopatra was one of the most elaborate Hollywood films ever produced up to that time, with particularly lavish sets and costumes. According to the studio, the film cost $500,000 (approximately $8.3 million in 2009) to make and employed 2,000 people behind the scenes. Theda Bara appeared in a variety of costumes, some quite risqué. The film was a great success at the time.

The picture was filmed on the Dominquez slough just outside of Long Beach, California. The throne prop used in the film ended up, years later, in the possession of Leon Schlesinger Productions, the production company behind the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons; its disposition after the acquisition of that company by Warner Bros. is unknown.[3]


Like many American films of the time, Cleopatra was subject to cuts by city and state film censorship boards. For example, the Chicago Board of Censors required cuts, in Reel 1, three scenes of the Queen posing before Caesar with her navel exposed, ascending stairs to throne and suggestively leaning against him, two scenes of Queen laying on couch with Caesar standing near, Reel 2, Queen in objectionable costume turning as she embraces Caesar, first and last scenes of Queen at astrologer's table looking into crystal, Reel 3, first scene of Queen at harp and on couch before she goes to dais, two closeups of Queen on dais bending over, two full length views of Queen in chariot exposing her legs, two views of Queen on couch awakening from sleep, Reel 4, entire incident of Queen's meeting with Pharon except scene at beginning of conversation at point where she raises cloth as she starts towards balcony to where she leaves Pharon, all front views of Queen showing her breasts outlined by snake breast plates, closeup of Queen in spangle costume at doorway as she descends stairs and approaches Pharon, closeup kissing scene between Queen and Pharon and Queen's actions following, scene of Queen and Pharon before couch where she turns and exposes legs, three scenes of Queen in objectionable costume before and after Pharon raises knife, two closeups of stabbing guard, all scenes of Queen coming down stairs, two scenes of Queen on low couch, two scenes before and two scenes after taking parchment from Pharon, Queen on couch taking Pharon's hand and scene following embrace, Queen standing while Pharon reads parchment, Queen advancing towards Pharon, closeup of Queen seizing knife and all views of it descending, Reel 6, five closest views of Antony and Queen showing her breasts, Reel 7, Queen standing before Antony, Queen on couch after Antony leaves, three scenes of Queen in leopard skin costume with one breast exposed, full view of Queen in leopard skin costume on couch, Reel 8, the intertitle "Antony, one last word. Will nothing save you from this wanton?" etc., four scenes of Queen and Antony on couch before curtains are drawn aside, Reel 10, Queen walking to throne in costume exposing body.[4]

Preservation status[edit]

Fragment of Cleopatra

The majority of the film is now considered lost,[5][6] as no known complete negatives or prints of it survive. Only brief fragments of footage from the film are known to exist today.[7][8]

After the Hays Code was implemented in Hollywood, Cleopatra was judged to be too obscene to be shown. The last two prints known to exist were destroyed in fires at the Fox studios in 1937 (along with the majority of Bara's other films for Fox) and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[7][9] Only a few fragments survive today.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McCaffrey, Donald W.; Jacobs, Christopher P. (1999). Guide to the Silent Years of American Cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 82. ISBN 0-313-30345-2. 
  2. ^ "Reviews: Cleopatra". Exhibitors Herald (New York: Exhibitors Herald Company) 5 (19): 27. November 3, 1917. 
  3. ^ Magill's Survey of Silent Films, Vol. 1. A-FLA p. 322, edited by Frank N. Magill c.1982 ISBN 0-89356-240-8 (3 book set ISBN 0-89356-239-4) Retrieved December 11, 2014
  4. ^ "Official Cut-Outs by the Chicago Board of Censors". Exhibitors Herald 6 (12): 29. March 16, 1918. 
  5. ^ The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog:Cleopatra
  6. ^ Cleopatra at; Lost Films Wanted
  7. ^ a b c Solomon, Aubrey (2011). The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography. McFarland. p. 1. ISBN 0-786-48610-4. 
  8. ^ Progressive Silent Film List: Cleopatra at
  9. ^ Klepper, Robert K. (1996). Silent Films On Video: A Filmography Of Over 700 Silent Features Available On Videocassette, With a Directory Of Sources. McFarland & Co. p. 8. ISBN 0-786-40157-5. 

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