Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Rated: M (15+)
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Did the Queen of the Nile really wear such provocative gowns as Elizabeth Taylor parades so majestically in the title role of the four-hour long epic that is Cleopatra? As her cleavage plunges ever deeper revealing scantily clad breasts, both lifted and separated as befitting the sixties silhouette, one wonders if this was where Hollywood tape originated? If so, J. Lo has Lizzie to thank. But there is more than just chiffon to this sword and sandal saga. It was, in its day, the most expensive film ever made and some might say the biggest flop. Coming in at around US$44 million (with one million going straight to Miss Taylor) the movie almost bankrupted Fox Studios. Nevertheless, as you sit through what was originally intended to be two three hour films, you can’t help marvelling at the balls of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Like Cecil B. De Mille, who also trained his cameras on this alluring Egyptian subject, Mankiewicz displays a keen eye for excess. Cleopatra’s entry into Rome is truly something to behold; chariots gallop ahead of sexy dancing girls and leaping African warriors, while huge pyramids are wheeled in through the gates. Then a phalanx of gold winged Egyptian maidens flies in heralding the arrival of the daughter of Isis and her son on a giant black sphinx hauled in by a hundred slaves. As one of the senators says to Rex Harrison’s amused Caesar; “Nothing like this has come into Rome since Romulus and Remus!”.
When Richard Burton comes into the picture as Mark Antony and Cleopatra takes him as her lover things really start to heat up. The pair were having a rampant off screen affair at the time which naturally livened up the on screen chemistry. Computer Generated Imagery might have overwhelmed our cinematic senses but Cleopatra, with all its extravagant Oscar-winning production design and real live extras engaged in hand to hand combat, is still an awesome spectacle to behold.