4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Cleopatra Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Let’s celebrate the Ides of March with four shots from four films about Caesar’s one true love, Cleopatra!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Cleopatra (1917, dir by J. Gordon Edwards)

Cleopatra (1934, dir by Cecil B. DeMille)

Cleopatra (1963, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz )

Cleopatra (1970, dir by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto)

Pre Code Confidential #10: Cecil B. DeMille’s CLEOPATRA (Paramount 1934)


cracked rear viewer

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When I hear the words ‘Hollywood Epic’, the name Cecil B. DeMille immediately springs to mind. From his first film, 1914’s THE SQUAW MAN to his last, 1956’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, DeMille was synonymous with big, sprawling productions. The producer/director, who’s credited with almost singlehandedly inventing the language of film, made a smooth transition from silents to talkies, and his 1934 CLEOPATRA is a lavish Pre-Code spectacular featuring sex, violence, and a commanding performance by Claudette Colbert as the Queen of the Nile.

1934: Claudette Colbert in title role of Cecil B. DeMille's film Cleopatra.

While the film’s opulent sets (by Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier) and gorgeous B&W cinematography (by Victor Milner) are stunning, all eyes will be on the beautiful, half-naked Colbert. She gives a bravura performance as Cleopatra, the ambitious, scheming Egyptian queen. She’s sensuous and seductive, wrapping both Caesar and Marc Antony around her little finger, and devious in her political machinations. If I were compare her to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Joseph…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: An Epic Birthday Salute


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking. When it came to directing epics movies, there was Cecil B. DeMille, and there was everyone else. The quintessential Hollywood director was born on this date in 1881. Here are four shots from some of DeMille’s greatest films:

King of Kings (1927)

                                                          King of Kings (1927)

Cleopatra (1934)

                                                              Cleopatra (1934)

Samson and Delilah (1949)

                                                      Samson and Delilah (1949)

The Ten Commandments (1956)

                                         The Ten Commandments (1956)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Cleopatra, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Caligula, Titus


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Welcome to a special Ides of March edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films.  These 4 shots are taken from 4 diverse films about the Roman Empire (which, of course, was a direct result of events that occurred long ago on the Ides of March).

4 Shots From 4 Films

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)

The Fourth Annual Academy Awards: 1917


Lisa and I continue to reimagine the Oscar history, one year at a time. Today, we look at 1917. The U.S. enters World War I, the Pickfords take over Hollywood, and, for the first time, the entire membership of the Academy gets to vote.

Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars

The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

On March 4th, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office and began his second term of President.  Just a few months earlier, he had run for reelection on a platform of maintaining American neutrality in the war that was ravaging Europe.  His slogan was “He Kept Us Out Of War,” and it was enough to allow him to survive one of the closest elections in U.S. History.

One month later, the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered into what would come to be called World War I.

Whereas the previous year had been dominated by films, like the Award-winning Civilization, that promoted neutrality and world peace, 1917 saw the release of several films that were designed to support the American war effort.  The pacifism of Civilization was forgotten as the box office embraced…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #26: Cleopatra (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Cleopatra_posterWhile watching the 1963 best picture nominee, Cleopatra, I had many thoughts.  The film lasts over 4 hours so I had a lot of time to think.

For instance, I often found myself impressed by the sheer size of the production.  I marveled at the recreation of ancient Greece and Rome.  I loved looking at the ornate costumes.  I loved feeling as if I was taking a look back at what Rome may have actually looked like at the height of the Roman Empire.  Making it all the more impressive was that this film was made in the days before CGI.  When the film’s Romans walked through the streets of Rome, they weren’t just actors standing in front of a green screen.  They were walking down real streets and surrounded by real buildings.  It reminded me of the awe and wonder that I felt when I was in Italy and I was visiting the ruins of ancient Rome.

(I don’t know if any of the cast accidentally flashed everyone like I did when I visited during Pompeii on a windy day but considering how short some of the skirts on the men were, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did!)

And, as I marveled at the recreation of Rome, I also thought to myself, “How long is this freaking movie?”  Because, seriously, Cleopatra is an amazingly long movie.  It’s not just the film is over four hours long.  It’s that the film feels even longer.  Gone With The Wind, The Godfathers Part One and Part Two, Once Upon A Time In America; these are all long films but, because they’re so great, you never find yourself checking the time while watching.  Cleopatra is the opposite of that.  Cleopatra is a film that, at its slowest, will make you very much aware of how many seconds are in a minute.

I found myself marveling at the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  If anything, this is the most shocking thing about Cleopatra.  If Cleopatra is famous for anything, it’s famous for being the film where Elizabeth Taylor (cast in the role of Cleopatra) first met Richard Burton (who was playing Mark Antony).  Their affair dominated the gossip headlines.  (If TMZ and YouTube had been around back then, there would be daily videos of Richard Burton punching out paparazzi.)  Cleopatra was the first of many big-budgeted, overproduced films that Taylor and Burton co-starred in.

(Then again, they also starred in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a film that is almost the exact opposite of Cleopatra.)

In the role of Mark Antony, Burton spends most of the film looking absolutely miserable.  Elizabeth Taylor, meanwhile, seems to be having a lot more fun.  It’s almost as if she understood what Cleopatra was going to become so she went out of her way to give the type of over-the-top performance that the film deserved.  The same can also be said about Rex Harrison, who plays Julius Caesar and who, perhaps because he appears to have shared her attitude, actually does have some chemistry with Taylor.

Actually, if anyone gives a truly great performance in Cleopatra, it’s Roddy McDowall.  McDowall plays the future Emperor Augustus with a mesmerizing intensity.  Again, McDowall’s performance is not exactly subtle but Cleopatra is not a film that demands subtlety.

As the film finally neared its end, I found myself wondering how Joseph L. Mankiewicz went from directing two close to perfect films, A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve, to directing this.  Even more amazing, Mankiewicz had previously directed one of the best Roman Empire films ever, 1953’s Julius Caesar.  (When compared to Cleopatra, the low-key and thoughtful Julius Caesar appears to have been filmed on an entirely different planet.)  Well, in Mankiewicz’s defense, he was not the original director.  He was brought in to replace Rouben Mamoulian, who had previously attempted to make the film with Joan Collins, Ben-Hur‘s Stephen Boyd, and Peter Finch.  When Mankiewicz was brought in, the cast was replaced with Taylor, Burton, and Harrison.  Between the expensive stars, the troubled production, and all of the offscreen romantic melodrama, Mankiewicz probably did the best that he could.

Today, Cleopatra is mostly interesting as an example of a film from the “Only Gigantic Productions Will Save Us From Television!” era of Hollywood filmmaking.  Cleopatra started out as a $2,000,000 production and ended up costing $31,000,000.  It was the number one film at the 1963 box office and it still nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.  While the film does have some kitsch appeal, the critics hated it and it’s easy to see why.

And yes, it was nominated for best picture of the year, a tribute to the size of the production and the determination of 20th Century Fox to get something — anything — in return for their money.

Cleopatra is a bit of a chore to sit through but it can be fun if you’re in a snarky mood.  It’ll do until the inevitable Angelina Jolie remake comes along.

Elizabeth Taylor, R.I.P.


I was at work this afternoon when my boss — who had just gotten to the office after spending the day in court — approached my desk and said, “Lisa, you like old movies, don’t you?”

“Kinda sorta,” I replied and I tried to say that with just a hint of a coy little smile to let him know that I absolutely love movies — new and old — but I’m not sure if he noticed.

“Did you know Elizabeth Taylor died today?” he asked.  I guess I didn’t answer quickly enough because he then added, “She was a movie star, might have been a little bit before your time.”

Well, just for the record, I do know who Elizabeth Taylor was.  And even though she pretty much retired from acting before I was even born, she was hardly before my time because — whether it was by appearing in classic films like A Place in the Sun and Giant or films like Cleopatra and Reflections in a Golden Eye that were so bad that they somehow became good — she became one of those timeless icons.   

I think there’s probably a tendency to be dismissive of Elizabeth Taylor as an actress because her private life, in so many ways, seemed to epitomize every cliché of old school Hollywood scandal and glamorous excess.  However, you only have to watch her films from the 50s to see that Elizabeth Taylor actually was a very talented actress who, even more importantly, had the type of charisma that could dominate the screen.

I think that’s why it was so strange to hear that Elizabeth Taylor had died.  It was a reminder that, as opposed to just being an image stored on DVDs that can be viewed as often or as little as one might choose, she was actually a human being just like the rest of us.