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Cleopatra (75th Anniversary Edition)
DVD disk
04.10.2009 By: Aaron the H
Cleopatra (75th Anniversary Edition) order
Director:
Cecil B. DeMille

Actors:
Claudette Colbert
Warren Wilhelm
Henry Wilcoxon

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In an effort to solidify and expand her throne, the titular queen of Egypt uses her looks and her wits to seduce some of the world’s most powerful men; she may not have intended to fall in love in the process.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I've got to admit, when I received this DVD to review, I groaned. It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for older films, but I was just hoping for the oft-discussed 1963 mega-budget Liz Taylor fiasco instead. I don’t know why, just did. But, now that I’ve watched this original 1934 version, I think I perhaps jumped the gun. Cleopatra is truly an epic affair for the ages.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about the history of the real Cleopatra. I knew she once ruled Eqypt, and that she was somehow involved with a dude named Marc Antony, wayyy before he started humpin' J. Lo. What I didn’t expect was a cunning, conniving, emotionally complex beauty who, at her core, actually just wanted to be loved (and to give love in return). Claudette Colbert gives a multi-layered performance and looks gorgeous as the famed Queen of the Nile. Her costumes, even in black & white, were some of the most visually stunning wardrobes I’ve seen in recent memory. The set design was equally lavish, especially when you consider that this film was made for under a million bucks. Yeah, I know things were cheaper back then, but still!

The script did have some goofy dialogue, but the storyline was enthralling and well-paced; definitely not your typical “boy meets girl” affair. Cleopatra goes from scheming seductress to heartbroken widow, then back again (and eventually back AGAIN!). Unfortunately, other than Colbert’s performance, the acting wasn’t exactly top notch. Most notable is Henry Wilcoxon as Cleopatra's longtime lover Marc Antony, who comically goes from stoic warrior to laughing buffoon in one hot second (and then back again). But hey, such is the effect of a beautiful woman, am I right? Pioneer director Cecil B. Demille has often been called “Hollywood’s Greatest Showman”, and he lives up to that hype here. While he no doubt possessed an incredible ability to make sweeping spectacles, his actors’ performances often felt a bit over-the-top and theatrical (to be fair, Demille did hail from a theater family). One tactic I admire is how he blurs the lines of good and evil in this film. Rather than take the traditional route and create clear heroes and villains, Demille chooses to make his characters at times honorable and other times deplorable, which is probably the way things really were.

Demille also succeeds brilliantly at giving the film an epic feel (what he’s most famous for). The film's main battle scene is an insane, brutal montage of fast cuts and gritty, bizarre shots that made me question whether Darren Aronofsky really invented the “Hip Hop Montage” afterall (you’ll see what I mean). The film in general was refreshingly violent and sexual for 1934, so mucho props to Demille for taking risks and pushing the envelope at a time when the Production Code was getting primed and ready to start laying down the law.
THE EXTRAS
Audio Commentary by Filmmaker/Critic F.X. Feeney - An extremely interesting commentary from a guy with a cool name whom I’ve never heard of. Feeney is eloquent, very knowledgeable on all things Cecil B. Demille, and gives us great insight into the early days of filmmaking. He’s a true fan of this film, and if you consider yourself a film history buff, you’ll love what he has to say.

Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen (9:16) - A profile on one of cinema’s first great starlettes. Provides some really cool, vintage behind-the-scenes shots. Does a good job of showing how talented, beautiful, and brilliant Colbert actually was. Interviewees share some great stories about her and DeMille’s working relationship.

Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood’s Epic Director (10:03) - Another well-made tribute, this time to the film’s iconic, groundbreaking director. Shows some GREAT behind-the-scenes footage of the man (who basically created the image we all have of a director) on set.

Forbidden Film: The Production Code Era (9:47) - An absorbing bit about the history of censorship in Hollywood, and the cracking down on controversial material that began right around the time Cleopatra was released (and then beyond that). It was fascinating to learn that in the early days, films got away with much more than they would for the better part of the 20th century.

Theatrical Trailer (4:16) - Easily the longest trailer I’ve ever seen, this baby is a trip. Quite a difference from the standard quick-cut, music-heavy, overly-narrated stuff we get today. It's hosted by Cecil B. Demille. Yup, that’s right, a hosted trailer.

Lastly, the DVD case contains 3 sweet collectible mini-posters for the film (think over-sized postcards).
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Cleopatra is an epic, mesmerizing experience and a true cinematic artifact. I’d highly recommend this film and the DVD’s accompanying special features if for no other reason than to throw a little history and film culture on the shelf next to your Star Wars DVD anthology (actually, Princess Leia does seem to have a little Cleo in her).
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