After its 75th Anniversary DVD release in 2009, Cecil B DeMille’s version of Cleopatra finally makes its way to Blu-ray this September courtesy of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series. Awarded for an Oscar for Best Cinematography and nominated for a further four awards including Best Picture, is a lavish and epic feature with a compelling performance from the beautiful, Claudette Colbert as the titular temptress.
The story follows Cleopatra’s rise to power in 48 BC and her political/ social relationships with Roman general, Julius Caesar (Warren William) and successor, Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon). It chronicles her exile from Egypt by the power hungry, Pothinos (Leonard Mudie), Caesar’s return to Rome with Cleopatra, the Ides of March and rivalry (and war) between Marc Anthony and Octavian (Ian Keith). The movie concludes with a full scale war between Rome and Egypt. Although Rome have the upperhand in terms of numbers, it is the distrust between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony that leads to their eventual downfall.
Cleopatra is a fast moving epic with a wonderful lead in Colbert. Not only is she a highly attractive actress but she is totally convincing as the strong, ambitious leader that is capable of charming the socks of almost any man that she deems suitable in progressing her rise in power. Unfortunately the two male leads, Henry Wilcoxon and Warren William don’t come across as favourable. The strength of the 1963 version was the chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (as Marc Anthony). Colbert and Wilcoxon do not come close to offering this type of chemistry. This is due to Wilcoxon’s wooden and oafish portrayal of the Roman general. Warren William is also poor in the Julius Caesar role. Rex Harrison had charisma and a presence in the 1963 production whereas William has none.
DeMille’s version excels in the terms of the visuals. Sequences including Marc Anthony’s arrival at the Egyptian queen’s luxurious boat and a romantic encounter filmed through the plucked strings of a harp are first rate. The director was well aware how strict the censors were in the early 1930’s and the Hays Code only tightened this grip. DeMille worked around these rules by using suggestion and sensual images during some of the riskier scenes.
The Blu-ray transfer does not add much to the final print. There is still a lot of interference and crackling present. Other than the Blu-ray extras, there would be little reason for those that own the 75th Anniversary DVD to buy this version also. However for those that are yet to view DeMille’s movie, this would be a worthy addition to their classic collection.
CLEOPATRA is to be released in the UK on Blu-ray in a Dual Format (DVD & Blu-ray) edition and a limited edition Dual Format SteelBook as part of Eureka Entertainment’s MASTERS OF CINEMA Series on 24 September 2012. It will also be available on DVD.