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Storyline was only OK, by todays standards. Vivien Leigh was shockingly poor - playing a (very) immature teem Cleopatra
Claude Rains is magnificent as Caesar . . . which is all that really matters.
Claude Rains downplays the "Caesar, Furious Worldbeater" reputation here, and rather accents a gentle father chiding his errant child allure as the most famous Roman meets the most famous Egyptian (Vivian Leigh), who is only a child of 13 at first meeting. Bernard Shaw's script then entertainingly (curiously, too) highlights the father - daughter dynamics in this most lush of British productions, most forgotten of the Cleopatra portrayals, and inconsiderately so. It is better than you might think, and veddy British as well.
Claude Rains, the ever beautiful Vivian Leigh and the incomprarable George Bernard Shaw...,. Wow, how can this film possibly suck? How indeed...
I like this movie because I love Vivien Leigh-but without her, the movie would be nothing.
The sets and costumes are stunning, especially given it was done in the '40s, but Shaw's odd superficial take on the history is sexist, at best. Cleopatra is nothing but a dumb young woman and lucky for her, Caesar invades and can teach her how to be a Queen - no romantic passion needed. Yawn. As a true fan of Leigh, this has been on my list to watch for years. Now it's not. 1+ star, for the moviemaking
Once upon a time, there was an Egyptian princess, Cleopatra(Vivien Leigh), who was in a fierce battle with her brother Ptolemy(Anthony Harvey) for the kingdom. Just before the Romans are about to arrive to start eating babies, Cleopatra wanders out into the desert to make a sacrifice at a sphinx where she meets Julius Caesar(Claude Rains) who makes a fine point not to believe everything she hears. However, he would like the Egyptian treasury opened to him.
"Caesar and Cleopatra" starts well enough and continues on firm ground through its first act in dramatizing the life of human immortals as portrayed by living legends. That's supported by George Bernard Shaw's witty dialogue in smartly showing how empires extend their power. Just as much, there are some things that never change like sibling relations and the insanity of Egyptian politics, albeit under completely different circumstances. But after all of that promise, the movie sputters to a halt, just about the time when the usually reliable Stewart Granger shows up(not his fault, really). So, instead of thought provoking debates, we get lots of talk until everybody just decides to call it a day.
Vivian Leigh xeroxes her whiny & childish, occasionally brash and conniving delivery as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, this time in lush, form-fitting Nubian garb. Claude Rains as Caesar is her worldly foil, though the sexual steam is notably absent. Rather he's more the mellow mentor, her Roman daddy, sugaring Cleo with the legion defending her claim to the throne. Partially to dodge MidCentury censors, what goes on with Caesar in Cleo's bedroom is just barely implied. As though there was a single viewer in America that didn't already know. The closest Caesar comes to commenting on the sensual is his repeated promise to eventually send Cleo the lover she requires, in the form of Marc Antony.
Unfortunately, the George Bernard Shaw script deals out this historical meeting of minds mostly as a light-hearted romp; actual drama is in very short supply. Perhaps Leigh played these lines well on Broadway six years later, but on the big screen it's a mixed bag at best. As with Liz Taylor's filming of Cleopatra (1963), this film was one of the most expensive to-date ever footed by a studio - and it flopped at the box office.
TRIVIA: In one scene, Leigh rushes across the marbled floor of the palace to impulsively flog a slave. In doing so, she tripped and fell. Two days later, she miscarried her child with Laurence Olivier as a result. She blamed, and never forgave, director Gabriel Pascal.
Claude Rains' patient Caesar and Vivien Leigh's haughty Cleopatra are the performances that manage to carry this picture for me. George Bernard Shaw's adaptation of his own play is otherwise indulgent, overstuffed, and even a bit dull in spots -- a breezier adaptation with the same actors might've made for a better film. Director Gabriel Pascal manages an epic scope in exterior scenes, but some of the interiors still feel a bit stagey.
Reasonably epic, and well written. Informative despite the poetic license used to make this an engaging film. Leigh was good and Raines surprised.