Cleopatra (1934)

  • Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
  • Travis Banton did the costumes, and they’re gorgeous.
  • I wish Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) seemed less like a giddy school girl & more like a regally intelligent woman. I could see a silent movie Cleopatra being much more effective, based solely on the voice – viewers could fill in the appropriate voice within their minds, rather than being constantly auditorily reminded, for instance, that this particular Cleopatra was born in 1903 and grew up in Manhattan.
  • (Then again…she just stabbed Pothinus (Leonard Mudie) through a curtain with a javelin, so her level of credibility appears to be on the rise.)
  • There’s this party scene towards the beginning, set in Rome & hosted by Calpurnia (Gertrude Michael) – and it’s essentially a 1930s party, except they’re all wearing Roman costumes. This movie is full of things like that – people speaking & socializing in a way-too-modern way. My first instinct was to criticize this – but I actually think there’s a lot to be said for successfully making an extremely antique story (& partial history lesson) as accessible as DeMille makes this one.
  • Cleopatra & Caesar (Warren William) never kiss on screen, which I find strange. The few scenes Colbert & William have together get kind of wasted, I think – considering that this same year, the two of them did IMITATION OF LIFE & were electric in it.
  • Will Hays had not quite figured out his code yet, huh? There are lots of nearly naked women in this from start to finish – and I feel like the film really spins off its wheels, code-wise, when Cleopatra invites Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) aboard her ship. A table of food is brought out, and Cleopatra’s like ‘No, Marc Antony – you don’t want that roasted chicken – just wait for the fresh clams we’re bringing in from the sea.’ Then, a fishing net is hoisted up over the side of the ship/palace and 8 or 9 scantily clad women writhe (no, seriously – they literally writhe) out of it at Antony’s feet. They present him with clam shells filled with jewels, and are then chased off the scene by some sort of jungle-cat performance…in which lots of beautiful women dressed in skin-tight leopard outfits roll around on the floor & wrestle each other, while a male cat tamer (?) cracks a whip in the air nearby.

…Thanks for that, Cecil B. DeMille.

I’m so glad we give someone a Golden Globe award in your honor every year.

  • Not long after the jungle-cat/clam scene, Antony is talking to Cleopatra about her relationship with Julius Caesar & how she must miss him, now that he’s been brutally murdered. Cleopatra responds by telling him that Caesar didn’t really love her, but that she’s not so bothered by that because

“I admire men who don’t love women. Women should be but toys for the great.”

…Uh.

So.

That’s cool.

  • Later, a practically naked Cleopatra reclines next to a kneeling Antony – a scene we view through the strings of a harp…which is being played so that when the harpist’s hand drags over the strings, it is perfectly aligned with the (again – practically naked) torso of Cleopatra. This is brilliant, in a really, really creepily voyeuristic sort of way.
  • (Will Hays…where are you, man?!)
  • C. Aubrey Smith does a nice a job in the minor role of Enobarbus (Marc Antony’s friend/advisor).
  • The battle montage towards the end is edited pretty impressively, too.
  • Antony’s death scene is well acted, mostly on the part of Claudette Colbert. (Colbert’s final scenes are actually her best – she acts with more poise & more maturity than she does in the beginning.)
  • This film wasn’t my favorite. Some of the classically epic DeMille touches are fun to see, but there’s not much that’s super exciting to witness, otherwise.
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