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DeMille's Cleopatra- Pre-Code?


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I've seen some sites that say the pre-code era went through the end of 1934, and I was just wondering if anyone knew this for sure. I just watched DeMille's Cleopatra, which although it's not really that good of a movie, it is, as Pauline Kael said, "compulsively watchable." In fact, it was refreshing to watch, because so much of it seems ridiculous- the speaking of American idioms in the ancient world and the ample amount of skin that we get to see are just a few of the examples. Obviously by setting this up as a historical drama, DeMille could get away with showing more. It's really almost exploitative, but it's so fun to watch.

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DeMille and other directors were noted for exploiting the paganism of ancient times so they could put some sex into their modern films. For example, there are some topless flower girls throwing rose petals in the air at the head of the big parade in the 1927 ?Ben Hurr? film. This sparked a great renewed interest in the subject of ?history? among many male movie fans.

 

A book I have says the code went into effect in June of 1934. Some pre-code films seem to have continued to be distributed without a code review, but others were recalled and edited and re-released.

 

Regarding authentic dialogue... well, they had to speak English since no one understood ancient Latin or Egyptian.

 

I?ve never known for sure if the basic story about Cleopatra was true or not, or if the modern versions of the story are made up or based on the Shakespeare play about her. Who could have been around at that time to write an objective history of her? History books in those days had to be hand-written and they were usually only read by a couple of dozen people.

 

Did you notice the multi-colored ostrich feathers fanned out on the wall behind her when Mark Anthony first met her on her boat?

 

I often wonder if the entire story of Cleopatra was fabricated by Shakespeare or some other early writer.

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Yes, Shakespeare was a powerful lens through which almost all interpretations tend to pass. However, and though I have not the time or memeory to document them, there are actually quite a few ancient sources about Cleopatra-though mostly from a Roman perspective where she is quite reviled. Shakespeare had historical materials to work with.

 

I had friends who were scandalized because the HBO series "Rome" contradicted the Shakespeare/DeMille/Liz Taylor version and, sticking closer to ancient sources, presented her as a less than glamorous figure. The fact is by the time Cleopatra was queen of Egypt it was not a glorious pharonic kingdom but a decadent, third world back water of civilization when contrasted with Rome and Greece. She was brought back to Rome as a prisoner.

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Dramatizing historical figures is always such a problem when contemporary accounts are next-to-nothing. Plutarch presented a fairly negative view of Cleopatra that Shakespeare probably read while Dryden built on Shakespeare's and Shaw wrote what Shaw normally wrote: words to please himself. I like DeMille's visions of history because they're entertaining and filled with good-looking people (Wilcoxon and Colbert do make a striking couple). If you like history, movies rarely ever come close, especially DeMille's, and there's a whole book on the subject, but I thoroughly agree with Kael's comment and could probably apply it to every other post-1932 DeMille film, apart from This Day and Age, which I haven't seen.

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I have seen the 1934 "Cleopatra" (and loved it) but never the 1963 (?) with Elizabeth Taylor, though of course I've heard all the scandal and gossip and so forth surrounding it. For those who have seen both, which would you say is better? Not necessarily more accurate, but more entertaining and watchable.

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I would say the 1934 version is a much better movie.

 

The ?63 version had the advantage of good color, good set decorations, and wide screen, but it was 3 hours of boredom.... talk, talk, talk. And Elizabeth Taylor sounded just like her character in ?Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.? I kept waiting for Burl Ives (as ?Big Daddy?) to walk in to her palace and start cussin?. The only good thing I thought was in the ?63 version was the big set and big fancy platform that Taylor used to enter Rome.

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?I think I hear him, "Mendacity...men-da-ci-tee...Cleo-sister-woman!"

 

Rusty?

 

Yep, that?s it.

 

If the real Cleopatra had sounded like Elizabeth Taylor did in that movie, and if she had nagged those Roman men so much, they would have whooped the daylights out of her.

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DeMille's film fell in the narrow window of sound films made before the Production Code took full effect. DeMille's silents often had wry, clever eroticism, but he never quite recaptured it when sound came in; by contrast, his contemporary at Paramount, Josef von Sternberg, leapt past him in this area, though his films were never as popular as DeMille's, and his career began to sputter in the mid-1930s.

 

CLEOPATRA may be his most cinematic sound film, and is filled with wonderful moments but, to his dying day, he never really got the hang of talkies; his films were always quite clumsy verbally.

 

Joe Mankiewicz's 1963 version of CLEO is, in my opinion, one of the most maligned films ever made (I have a soft spot for it for a number of reasons, one of which is that I own Pompey's Ring, the prop that unifies the whole dramatic Caesar-Cleopatra/Antony-Cleopatra structure). It hews fairly close to Plutarch, relying also on the less-reliable writings of Suetonius, but with obvious -- and necessary - digressions from history for the purposes of effective drama. The film does have three clear problems, though

 

1. The most compelling character, and performance -- Rex Harrison's Caesar (the finest performance of that actor's distinguished career) -- is gone midway through the film. History has presented dramatists with this unfortunate fact, and there's obviously nothing anyone can do about it.

 

2. Antony spends much of the second half of the film moping about, claiming that everyone compares him to Casear and finds him wanting. While it's true he was no Caesar, he was a charismatic leader, a hell of a soldier, and probably the worst possible choice to rule Rome. The film fails to make this clear, and suffers for it.

 

3. Taylor. She's just not up to the demands of the role. It needed a Glenda Jackson or Vanessa Redgrave but, unfortunately, neither had the requisite sex-appeal or boxoffice clout.

 

Still, it's a terrible shame that Mankiewicz never had the opportunity to fashion the pair of 3 1/4 films (CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA he envisioned (and filmed), and we'll probably never have the opportunity to see them, either (though Fox has consistently expressed interest in restoring the film to this version as much as is possible).

 

Message was edited by:

CineSage

 

Message was edited by:

CineSage

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CineSage,

 

Quote:

"Still, it's a terrible shame that Mankiewicz never had the opportunity to fashion the pair of 3 1/4 films (CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA he envisioned (and filmed), and we'll probably never have the opportunity to see them, either (though Fox has consistently expressed interest in restoring the film to this version as much as is possible)."

 

Several years ago, AMC broadcast "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood".

The show went into some detail concerning the first shooting schedule.

 

I understand most of the footage from the first go-round was discarded. What ended up on the screen was from a second shooting schedule. True?

 

CineSage...you seem to know a lot about the 1963 Cleopatra version. Do you know if Fox still has the footage from the first shooting schedule of Cleopatra?

 

 

Rusty

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