Double Dare Preview: Cleopatra (1963)
This month, Gods of Egypt landed in theaters with a resounding thud. Two years ago, Exodus: Gods and Kings had much the same fate. Why can’t Hollywood make a decent film about ancient Egypt? From all-white casts, outrageous production costs, bloated scripts, and a general ignorance of actual Egyptian history, it seems that epics set along the Nile tend to quickly drown. To commemorate another failed production, I’m assigning Erik the original turkey from Thebes, Cleopatra!
A fairly faithful representation of the historical events that nearly split the Roman Empire, this film stars Elizabeth Taylor as the young Queen of Egypt, who is thrust upon the world stage when a triumphant Julius Caesar makes her his consort and the mother of his heir. When Caesar returns to Rome with his Queen and their young heir, the senate is terrified that he means to become King, and creates a plot to remove him from power. The resulting power vacuum leads to a three way war between aspirants to the highest seat in Rome, and Cleopatra is caught in the center as she tries to protect Egypt and her young son from the machinations of powerful forces trying to ally themselves with her throne.
Cleopatra became almost instantly notorious for its opulent sets, exploding budget, and the sultry romance between two of its lead stars, Taylor and Richard Burton, who were both married to other people and famously indiscreet. Taylor herself was paid a queen’s wages to star in the feature, and when a near fatal illness ground the filming to a halt, the entire set had to be moved to a dryer climate to assist her recovery. All told, this boondoggle nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, who went through directors and cast like tissue paper in order to try and get this train wreck into the station. When the project finally wrapped, it was over six hours long. The studio decided to cut the film with a machete, and the resulting mess led to a disjointed narrative where gaudy court scenes abruptly transitioned into a massive military battles and back again, with little to no exposition. Despite winning several Oscars and making the most money of any film that year, it still was a terrific flop and nearly crushed the studio out of existence.
Time to Fall on Your Sword!
So that is the project I am assigning as this month’s double dare review. Whether Erik wishes to spare himself some pain by watching the shortened version (at the expense of any coherence) or opts to sit through the restored 50th anniversary edition that tops out at just over four hours, I’m sure this historical farce is going to be one epically torturous affair for the record books!