Cleopatra (1963)

ClassyCo

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Title: Cleopatra

Tagline: The motion picture the world has been waiting for!

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, Kenneth Haigh, Andrew Keir, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Robert Stephens, Francesca Annis, Grégoire Aslan, Martin Benson, John Doucette, Michael Hordern, John Hoyt, Carroll O'Connor, Andrew Faulds, Michael Gwynn, Peter Grant, Marne Maitland, Richard O'Sullivan, Gwen Watford, Douglas Wilmer, Marie Devereux, Herbert Berghof, Jacqueline Chan, Isabel Cooley, Mike Steen, Finlay Currie

Release: 1963-06-12

Runtime: 248

Plot: Determined to hold on to the throne, Cleopatra seduces the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. When Caesar is murdered, she redirects her attentions to his general, Marc Antony, who vows to take power—but Caesar’s successor has other plans.

The production of this film completely fascinates me. I've been watching "The Film That Changed Hollywood" documentary about the movie the past couple of days. It never ceases to amaze me to hear about the twists and turns this film took throughout its production.

Any thoughts?

 

benbess

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Considering all the problems that hit this production, I still think it's a very good movie. I personally think it's Elizabeth Taylor's greatest role. The ending that she brings to this has haunted me for many years.
 
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Jack P

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Had the film been allowed to be two films, it's greatness I think would have been recognized and separated from the real-life story of the production that has long overshadowed it. The problem was that the decision to make it just one film resulted in the loss of two hours of narrative that IMO threw everything off slightly. Especially when it came to Burton's performance as Antony because a lot of what was cut centered on necessary context for Antony's relationship with Cleopatra. In the end, what was left made Burton's performance come off more as art imitating life. The Caesar half of the film didn't suffer as much narrative wise but still had some key gaps (for instance all the scenes involving Ptolemy's army in the field; also the narrative gap that explains who Titus the moneylender is and why his body is suddenly dumped on Caesar as a warning).

Taylor I think is great for the most part but she too lost a lot of humanizing moments. That said, whereas Claudette Colbert had been a sexier, more vampish Cleopatra in more revealing outfits, Taylor was more credible as Cleopatra the larger-than-life leader.

This website is a must for discovering what was cut from the film and why the loss of this footage remains tragic:

http://elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth Taylor - Restored Cleopatra Main Page.html
 
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cinemiracle

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Considering all the problems that hit this production, I still think it's a very good movie. I personally think it's Elizabeth Taylor's greatest role. The ending that she brings to this has haunted me for many years.[/QUTE

This film has been discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site for several years. Certainly not Elizabeth's Taylor's finest role and probably her most disappointing . I also managed to see her on stage in THE LITTLE FOXES in London many decades ago. The film was a flop where I worked,despite it being shown on our 60 ft wide curved TODD-AO screen.We showed the 4 hour version to the Film Censor but 20th Century Fox later cut the the film down to 3 hours before it was released,leaving it very disjointed. They did the same with all 70mm prints World Wide I understand, and even in NYC after it had been running a year in the 4 hour version.
 

Robert Crawford

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I have to admit it's been years since I last viewed this movie in its entirety. It's one of those films that I need to watch in two viewings.
 

ClassyCo

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Considering all the problems that hit this production, I still think it's a very good movie. I personally think it's Elizabeth Taylor's greatest role. The ending that she brings to this has haunted me for many years.
I don't think I could agree with Cleopatra being Taylor's greatest role, but each to their own there. I'd be more apt to call her Maggie the Cat her shining achievement.
 

ClassyCo

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Had the film been allowed to be two films, it's greatness I think would have been recognized and separated from the real-life story of the production that has long overshadowed it. The problem was that the decision to make it just one film resulted in the loss of two hours of narrative that IMO threw everything off slightly. Especially when it came to Burton's performance as Antony because a lot of what was cut centered on necessary context for Antony's relationship with Cleopatra. In the end, what was left made Burton's performance come off more as art imitating life. The Caesar half of the film didn't suffer as much narrative wise but still had some key gaps (for instance all the scenes involving Ptolemy's army in the field; also the narrative gap that explains who Titus the moneylender is and why his body is suddenly dumped on Caesar as a warning).

Taylor I think is great for the most part but she too lost a lot of humanizing moments. That said, whereas Claudette Colbert had been a sexier, more vampish Cleopatra in more revealing outfits, Taylor was more credible as Cleopatra the larger-than-life leader.

This website is a must for discovering what was cut from the film and why the loss of this footage remains tragic:

http://elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth Taylor - Restored Cleopatra Main Page.html
There are so many problems. So many things were cut.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first cut of the film ran over five hours. Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, notoriously critical of a film's running time, was appalled at the length and immediately demanded cuts. For the movie's premiere in New York, approximately 75 minutes had been shredded from the five hours, but issues still arose. Because Zanuck was weary about the film recouping is $44 million investment, he wanted further cuts to assure multiple viewings in the same day to multiply box office receipts. Before the movie premiered in Britain, it was cut to just over three hours, thus rendering more than half the film on the cutting room floor.

Elizabeth Taylor hated the movie as released. She avoided the American premiere, and only attended the British premiere to appease studio executives. Reportedly, she was so appalled by the movie's outcome on the screen that she exited the theater to vomit in the ladies' room. Taylor wasn't cordial about her distaste for the film, angering the studio who I'm sure felt slapped in the face by the actress they ended up paying close to $7 million for a single role.
 

Jack P

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Using the shooting script of the deleted scenes featured at the website I linked earlier, I did this summary of what was lost in Act 1 (Caesar) and Act 2 (Antony) and how it had a detrimental effect on the film as a whole, but in particular with Act 2.

Act 1 Cuts

=All of the additional scenes involving Ptolemy's general Achillas (John Doucette) who is seen only in the scene of Caesar's arrival. We get some narrative references to his troops fighting Caesar later but we lost the critical scenes establishing him taking his armies out and EVERY scene showing him in the field as the Roman armies counterattacked.

=An underlying subplot of the affection Cleopatra's faithful attendant Apollodorous has always had for her. All of which is necessary to understanding his farewell line at the end of the film about how he has always loved her.

=Also lost was a LOT more complexity concerning the assassination of Caesar and the machinations Cleopatra was engaging in. Probably the most incomprehensible moment of the final Act I narrative is when suddenly the body of a character we have never seen in the film, Titus the moneylender is found dead and Cleopatra says this could be a warning against her. The character of Titus was played in his one scene by Finlay Currie, the grand old man of these epic films ("Quo Vadis", "Ben Hur"). Titus was a moneylender that a number of Senators were in debt to. In a cut portion of the scene before Cleopatra leaves for Rome, it's established she has a past relationship with Titus and thus Sosigenes, when going to Rome is to buy up all the debts so that the Senators will now be in debt to Cleopatra instead of Titus. Thus, the reason for the Senators resentment against Cleopatra isn't so much her relationship with Caesar but the additional machinations she's engaged in. The final narrative is perhaps "simpler" but now we get an insight into how much of the nuance in Taylor's performance was lost when key scenes like this went.

Act 2 Cuts

=At the beginning, we lose a critical Antony-Rufio scene that establishes Antony's fascination with controlling the wealth of the East and why for now he believes he's neutralizing Octavian by putting him in charge of Rome's affairs. Also important in this scene is how at this point, Antony is only going to see Cleopatra if she comes to him.

=Also lost before the first critical Antony-Cleopatra meeting is dialogue establishing the extent of his financially ruinous campaigns in the East and the carousing he's undergone. Marina Berti from "Quo Vadis" who saw her part in "Ben Hur" (as Heston's Roman love interest) reduced to one brief dialogue-free glimpse loses her entire scene as a queen in Tarsus Antony has romanced as part of his wasteful extravagance, thus putting him in the position of having to go to Cleopatra without saving face. The critical importance of these scenes is that they establish more clearly just how much Antony *needs* Cleopatra at this point and how he is scarcely the man Caesar was. Without them, the critical Antony-Cleo scene where they fall in love is lacking the necessary build-up to sell Antony's torment about being in Caesar's shadow.

=Related to this is that the final edit of the Antony-Cleo meeting eliminates more of the gamesmanship Cleopatra plays to force Antony to come to her. In the final edit it is streamlined so that Antony capitulates in effect after Sosigenes makes the point about how he must come to her on the barge in Egyptian territory. But again, while it might be simpler film narrative we lose more nuance to Cleopatra's skills as a politician and that also has the effect of taking away the muti-dimensional nature of Taylor's whole performance.

=Also lost after Antony and Cleopatra fall in love is an intimate moment of Antony bonding with Caesarion by playing games with him and a happy Cleopatra soon joining in, giving them a "family" moment. Another scene important to character nuance lost. And right after this scene is *another* important lost one of Sosigenes noting that for the first time Cleopatra has truly fallen in love.....at the expense of the ambitious dream she had with Caesar. And consequently we are getting the key set-up for what will be the eventual downfall of the two because their relationship is rooted in love and not ambition.

=Some more complexity to the scene showing Octavian laying the trap for Antony so that the people will declare war on him. And also lost in the scene where Octavian produces Antony's will is a key piece of dialogue with Germanicus that establishes just how Octavian came into possession of Antony's will. The final edit might leave the viewer with the impression Octavian could have had it forged to pursue his plan, but the dialogue establishes that Octavian was able to "take it by force" from the Holy temple where it would have been stored with the vestal virgins.

=Also lost was a VITAL scene explaining why Antony fights the battle of Actium on water instead of land, when if as his generals say, fighting it on land would result in a possible victory but on water, it is more likely going to end in failure. After Antony boldly declare his intentions and sends his protesting generals away, there is a scene with Cleopatra where Antony confides that his generals are right and that he is only doing what Cleopatra has ordered him to do. He is very uncertain about the plan, but Cleopatra has insisted that going by water will allow Octavian to be taken in retreat. And HERE we get the vital set-up for Antony's morose behavior when Cleopatra flees the battle and his behavior afterward. He submitted himself to her whims and desires on what to do in order to keep her happy, even at the expense of war with Rome, and thus when she left during the battle it brought everything crashing down. Without this set-up, Burton's performance as Antony later on comes off like that of an art-imitating-life besotted fool. But with this scene, we would believe what happens later. Also lost is a scene between Octavian and Agrippa where Octavian summarizes why Cleopatra's only hope of claiming the victory as the dominant partner of the relationship is for it to be fought at sea instead of Antony's way on-land.

=We also lost the final of the "incantation" scenes prior to the battle. There were to be five incantation scenes in the film but the only one that remained in full was her vision of the assassination of Caesar. This final one was to end with Cleopatra not being able to see the future outcome of the battle of Actium and for the first time being left afraid and fearful of her future. Again, another moment for Taylor's performance lost.

=More intimate scenes pre-battle between Antony and Cleopatra lost.

=Even a good moment for McDowall was lost after he is informed Antony is dead. In the film it ends with him shouting it out but then we were to have another moment of quiet introspection by him on what this now means for his life. It may in fact be the most humanizing touch his character gets in the whole film (brilliant as McDowall is, there is in the final cut a little too much of a one-note upstart quality to his performance that makes the viewer forget that ultimately as Emperor Caesar Augustus he *was* responsible for the most productive period of the history of the Roman Empire).
 

ClassyCo

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The studio should have let Mankewicz issue the two movies: Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra, but they had only one thing on their minds──money!

Money was the word, or profits rather. Fox had nearly bankrupt itself to keep Cleopatra and dividing the film to instill artistic integrity just wasn't high on their priority list by mid-1963. They had been invested in "this thing" for almost four years, and they wanted to get at least some of their money back.

Their driving force was the Taylor-Burton fling, which had grabbed the headlines for the past two years. Their fear was the two wouldn't last long romantically, and the publicity surrounding them would be fizzled out by the time Antony and Cleopatra would make it to theaters.

There was immense pressure on Mankewicz from Zanuck to comprise the two stories into one film. Even so, Zanuck wasn't a fan of Burton himself, finding his performance in the film weak and unconvincing. Many agree that the finished product presents Antony and Cleopatra's relationship as mirrored through the scandal that was Burton and Taylor at the time.

Cleopatra, as a comprised film, premiered in June 1963. It received mixed reviews and, depending on your view, failed at the box office during its first run. It wasn't until the movie was re-released in theaters and on TV that it made a profit, and it wasn't until 1968─69 that Fox itself had fully recovered from the debt it had went into because of the film.

 

Jim*Tod

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THE SOUND OF MUSIC rescued Fox financially and then its incredible success led them to make, along with other ailing studios, a series of very expensive mega bomb musicals which sunk their fortunes by the end of the decade.
 
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Jack P

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The unfortunate thing is that almost all of this additional footage is lost. Efforts to find it over the decades turned up only a small amount (Cleopatra's first scene which shows her in the field with her troops; some more scenes of the dancers during the procession. Even so all of the footage was silent and unmixed). This and the original cut of "Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes" remain my top two "lost" films.

Alex North did an an amusing inside joke for the final notes of the cue where Antony makes his first appearance in the film. Listen carefully to the last three notes and it's the title song from "Camelot" which Burton left the production of to do the film. (Roddy McDowall had also been in "Camelot" as Mordred).
 

DVBRD

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I decided to add some recent information about the original six-hour cut as told by Robert Harris in a thread regarding "The Alamo."

There was a search for Cleopatra elements a number of years ago, funded by Fox. It came up empty. About that same time my assistant, Joanne, and I, created an excel spread sheet of what had actually been shot, and what is missing. The source was Mr. Mankiewicz’ daily continuity and camera reports.

If there’s interest here, I see no reason not to share the file.

Cleopatra was never cut as a two part project beyond a 35mm work picture and track for internal screening. There never was a final product.
And here's the spreadsheet.

Cleopatra work spreadsheet...

Numbers and dates interrelate with final draft screenplay, daily continuity sheets, and camera reports.

View attachment 72901


View attachment 72902
View attachment 72903
 

benbess

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Probably all the lost footage was thrown out about the same time that they put all of their 3-strip Technicolor negatives in the dumpster. What stupidity.
 

DVBRD

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As someone who is researching the making of Cleopatra in order to write a book about it, I'm glad you shared this! I've gotten copies of the camera reports from Walter Wanger's papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, but really haven't had the time to go through all 500+ pages of it as yet.

An August, 1962 memo from Walter Wanger noted the runtimes for the two halves as:

Caesar and Cleopatra: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Antony and Cleopatra: 2 hours, 50 minutes

And that first half was already shorn of the early scenes in Ptolemy's tent and Cleopatra's encampment. Both of those sequences had been filmed fairly early (Cleo's encampment was the first scene filmed). By January-62, Joe Mankiewicz had cut these scenes, as well as a slew of others in the first half of the script to bring down the length by at least 15 pages. There's several notes made by JLM that he wanted to rewrite and retake the first scene in Cleopatra's encampment. His concept of the character's relationship to Isis had changed, they were in a rush to "get anything on the screen, whether they were ready or not," and the original actor to portray Ramos was replaced because his English was terrible. He lobbied for this retake as late as June-62, but I've found no notes or script pages indicating this revised version was ever scripted. It certainly was never shot.
 
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