Monday, 13 April 2009

Cleopatra (1934)

If you're looking for a more or less accurate story of Cleopatra's life and loves, then Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 classic might not be your best choice. On the other hand, if you are looking for Egyptian Art Deco, spectacle over substance, Claudette Colbert in shiny costumes or a complete disregard for History, timescale or logic, then this is the film for you.

I very seldom laugh at a film. Like them too much for that, but I caught myself doing that at some of the preposterous things going on the screen - Anthony sending a message to Cleopatra in which they should meet at noon in a square in some city I forgot, Julius Caesar (Warren William) coming back to Rome and surprising everyone. I understand that film doesn't require to follow the facts, but in this case it becomes unintentionally funny. I expected the climax of the film to be the Battle of Actium. Well, it seems they must have ran out of money. It's simply a montage of soldiers in land, marching, and occasionally the shot of a few miniature boats moving around. I would never know from this it was a battle at sea. It really isn't worth of DeMille.

Of course there were interesting things. Claudette Colbert tough gal from NY, I mean the Nile, is actually the main reason why the film is engaging. She's quite charming, beautifully dressed and lit, although lacking the power and charisma of Elizabeth Taylor. Colbert herself is much, much better in that year's "It Happened One Night" for which she won an Oscar. There also a few good lines, and the Egyptian art deco feel is actually quite cool. But I guess it pretty much ends there.

I was also expecting the film to be a full-on pre-code. Except it isn't really. IMDb lists an October 1934 release date, which is past the cut date of 1st July 1934 when the Hays Code became the Law. It's a strange hybrid in a sense - neither pre-code or post-code, an aborted epic from DeMille. As Angelina Jolie's character in "Changeling" says, it's an overrated film.

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