Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cleopatra (1963)



Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, Kenneth Haigh, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau














































That a film as good as CLEOPATRA is was created at all under the madness and panic of it's legendary production is indeed an amazing feat. That CLEOPATRA has been given such loving care in its restoration in this DVD of the "Road Show" print and the attendant bonus materials is a wondrous gift to those who love this film. The documentary, "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood" is in on it's own an engrossing and informative two hour movie. For anyone who knows little of the history of CLEOPATRA, or who was not around at the time, this documentary will give them the feeling of what those last days of old Hollywood was like. And therein one can find the reasons why this intimate epic is indeed the wonder that it is. Many thanks should go to the Mankiewicz family and the producers of the documentary. The print and the sound of CLEOPATRA seems now to surpass what I recall it to be in its first presentation nearly forty years ago. The depth of the colors and the richness of the shadows are indeed splendid. In this restoration, it is hard to believe this film is as old as it is. The commentary track is in and of itself like finding the lost treasures of the long dead monarch. For there are wonderful recollections by Martin Landau, Tom and Chris Mankiewicz, and even the one of the films publicists Jack Brodsky gets to read sections from his book "The Cleopatra Papers" which gave a blow by blow description of everyday events on the set. But I must give special mention to Landau's part. With his keen eye for the art direction of John DeCuir one sees things in the background and along the edges of the scene that one never noticed before. Such lovingly detailed sets and interiors will never be seen again. The costs today are just too prohibitive. Also his insights into what was cut from the film, particularly his and Richard Burton's contributions in the second act give one the idea of what Mankiewicz was intending. Poor Richard suffered the unkindest cut of all. The presentation of the DVD menus is so clever and exotic. The creators of this DVD are to be commended in their art direction. At last we now know what is behind the massive 20th Century Fox logo! The film itself remains what it has always been. It is a good film that might have been a great one if only Zanuck had trusted Joe Mankiewicz' original vision. It is said that they are still looking for the missing film; one can only hope that they succeed in this task. The performances range from good to excellent. Particular praise must go to Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Martin Landau, Robert Stephens, Andrew Keir, and Roddy McDowall. Lastly in this department there remains Elizabeth Taylor's performance as Cleopatra. At the films release the brickbats were reserved for her and for reasons that had nothing to do with her performance. Many reviewed her behavior as seen through the narrow focus of the tabloids and emerging paparazzi. Even today it is sometimes hard to separate the history of the lady from her film roles. But here is the moment in time, in this film where she became the ELIZABETH TAYLOR she has remained in the mind of the world ever since. In this fact alone she is perfect in the role. But she is more than that. As Cleopatra she is at once regal and commanding, strong and tender, soft and hard. These are all the contradictions that have always been at the heart of Cleopatra herself. She and the Queen are masters of a public enigma wrapped within a mystery. In her performance as written by Mankiewicz Elizabeth Taylor is probably not too far off from the historical Cleopatra. Finally, ever since Judith Crist gave CLEOPATRA the needle in 1963 and in the act made her name, the public, for the most part, has viewed this film a failure. But today, stripped of the scandal, hype and hysteria of its release in June of 1963 it is now possible to view CLEOPARTA as the film it is. A near great film that is the signpost of when Hollywood passed from one age into another. Historically this is an important DVD and I recommend it highly. CLEOPATRA remains as seductive, beautiful, and intelligent as it was in Walter Wanger's original conception. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."