Cleopatra was a film made by legendary maverick film director Cecil B. DeMille in 1934. It also was later done again in 1963 infamously with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the roles of Cleopatra and Mark Antony respectively. In the 1934 version it stars Claudette Colbert (who was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s) and Henry Wilcoxon.
The film tells the story of the man hungry Cleopatra and her affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony partly out of love and partly for their power. She firsts meet Caesar because her brother Pothinos throws her in the desert to die because he gonna sign off Egypt over to Caesar. She sneaks back in a carpet and wins Caesar over with her body and they fall in love. She later kills Pothinos after she spots him trying to assassinate her.
Caesar and Cleo go back to Rome. The other Romans officials start distrust both of them and eventually assassinate Caesar. Marc Antony and Octavian are later named the co-rulers of Rome. Antony is “disdainful of women” but Cleopatra eventually wins him over much to disgust of Rome.
The film is considerably shorter than the more famous Liz/Burton version, over half the length shorter of that’s 4 HOURS!!! running time at a relatively brisk 101 minutes. It’s not a super fast paced film but very few from the 1930s were. It does however play along nicely.
It was made soon after the production code was introduced. It was the 80th film approved and because this it got away with a lot more than some films not a long afterwards got away with. It has very overt sexual undertones that in some cases DeMille just covers the act in progress. Which is very effective and a good and inventive way to get away with very risqué matter.
The film has lavish sets and design, which is expected from DeMille production. The sets are beautifully detailed with wonderful backdrops, dozens upon dozens of extras and beautifully choreographed. Some of the battle scenes however suffer from bad super imposed images but hell it’s the 1930s, technology has come a long way. The costume design by is also stunning and amazingly revealing for a film from 1934.
The performance from Claudette Colbert oozes sensuality, dominance, heroism and power. The male roles are all very mundane and weak compared to Cleopatra’s strength and dominance over them. Colbert did a best actress Academy award that but not for Cleopatra but for the proto-screwball comedy It Happened Here. It did however win a much-deserved award for cinematography and was nominated for Film, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR!!! (a category they no longer have), sound and editing.
Overall the film is a gloriously over the top film from one true pioneers of cinema Mr. DeMille who would later go on to make such films as The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show On Earth.