Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Cleo & Alex revisited

I always enjoy settling down to watch CLEOPATRA again - particularly if recording it from widescreen HD television, so one can zip past an occasional dull bit. Ditto Robert Rossen's 1956 ALEXANDER THE GREAT - a more turgid telling of the Alexander story than Oliver Stone's 2004 dazzling magnum opus which I like a lot - check posts on ALEXANDER at Colin Farrell label.
CLEOPATRA got a bad press at the time and was considered a turkey for a long time, but its a fascinating movie -- the first half at any rate as Rex Harrison is a dynamic Caesar and there are impressive set pieces - that great panning shot over Alexandra as Caesar arrives (Stone must have hommaged this in his ALEXANDER as he also shows us Alexandra where the aged Ptolomy is dictating his memoirs), and all those early scenes with Taylor and Harrison and of course that entry into Rome! 20th Century Fox certainly lavished care and attention and money on the sets and costumes and crowd scenes - all those people were really there. Taylor is impressive with that make-up and all those costume changes (a great wardrobe by Irene Sharaff, like that contrasting blue and red she wears when seeing Caesar's assassination in the flames, with high priestess Pamela Brown) and I love the score by Alex North - my best friend had the soundtrack album so we used to play it a lot. Leon Shamroy's cinematography captures the opulence of the sets.
I like that closing scene to the first half too as Cleo sails away and the music swells up. Her barge entering Tarsus in the second half is a wow too .... but here Burton rants and Taylor gets shrill ("I asked it of Julius Caesar, I DEMAND it of you"..), then the final scenes in the tomb are marvellous. I first saw this on its general release, maybe in '64 or '65, and those close-ups of Taylor on the big screen as the asp bites are someone one remembers .... Legend has it that Mankiewiz was writing the script by night and shooting during the day, after the film relocated to Italy and the famous scandal erupted. The dvd and blu-ray packages are good too, packed with all those features and documentaries including footage of Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd, initially cast, and Joan Collins' screen test as Cleo ...... it would not have been the same. 
CLEOPATRA remains impressive and a lot of fun, without the cachet of  Kubrick's SPARTACUS or Mann's EL CID or FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, or those other great epics of the time like Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or Visconti's THE LEOPARD

ALEXANDER THE GREAT, 1956, is another movie I remember fondly, first seeing it as a kid at a Sunday matinee, some great images linger: Danielle Darrieux as Alexander's mother Olympias on the battlements as the troops depart, and that great moment with the dying Darius (Harry Andrews) abandoned after the battle. A blond Burton does his best, and again there is a good cast including Claire Bloom, Peter Cushing, Andrews and Stanley Baker. Here are a cache of lobby cards:  
From that era, we also like Robert Wise's HELEN OF TROY, Fleischer's THE VIKINGS , Cecil's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, LeRoy's QUO VADIS and of course Wyler's BEN HUR, and I will add in SOLOMON AND SHEBA too ! Then there' those Steve Reeves movies ..... 

1 comment:

  1. I like ALEXANDER THE GREAT. I just wished it had a better ending but the supporting cast, including Peter Cushing, is stellar.