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  Cleopatra Comin' At Ya
Year: 1934
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, Joseph Schildkraut, Ian Keith, Gertrude Michael, C. Aubrey Smith, Irving Pichel, Arthur Hohl, Edwin Maxwell, Ian Maclaren, Eleanor Phelps, Leonard Mudie, Grace Durkin, Claudia Dell
Genre: HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) wishes to be Queen of Egypt, but she has a rival in her brother who this morning has had her kidnapped and taken out to the middle of the desert to die. But she is made of sterner stuff, and with the help of her right hand man she makes her way back to the city where she knows she will have to make an impression on the visiting Julius Caesar (Warren William) who plans to conquer the North African territory. Cleopatra must find a way of bringing him around to her point of view, and the best way to do this is to make a grand entrance: unfurled in a carpet...

It's the beginning of a beautiful friendship, if a short one. This was Cecil B. DeMille's Egyptian epic, with a cast of thousands and every cent of its budget brought to lavish life on the screen. Unfortunately this is one of those films where the spectacle of the scenery and the costumed extras upstaged the rest of the actors, and no wonder when you heard the clunky, cod-classical dialogue they had to utter. Nevertheless, this was what audiences expected of a historical blockbuster in the thirties, and you could not accuse DeMille of not giving the public what they wanted.

It's just that to modern eyes this Cleopatra moves as slowly and stately as one of those barges sailing down the Nile; if you thought the Elizabeth Taylor version was an endurance test, try sitting through one of those near-endless scenes of Cleo making small talk with either Caesar or Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon) without impatiently shifting in your seat. On the plus side, every so often there will occur a sequence to rouse you from your boredom-induced stupor, and frequently that will be because of its daftness: the bits with the entertainment for these powerful rulers are the main source for this.

This means dancing girls and plenty of them, all dressed as skimpily as the Production Code would allow (Colbert tests the censors with her barely there clothing, too), with some done up as leopards to be whipped, or simply throwing shapes around the palace throne room. This can be diverting, but the really impressive stuff comes with the staging of the battle scenes at the end, and it's a long wait till then. Well, it's only an hour and a half, but it feels longer, especially if you're familiar with this well-worn and oft-told tale, and the intrigue seems very hackneyed.

And yet, in spite of all this attention-testing business, there are interesting aspects, mainly due to Colbert's portrayal of a woman fighting to survive in a world where her gender are continually denigrated by men. Caesar and Marc Anthony look down on her until they grow enchanted with her charms, and she is able to get her way and save her country, which she is the embodiment of. At least, she does for a while, because we know it had to end tragically for her, but for most of the movie Cleo more than holds her own against the bluster of her enemies and allies. As usual with DeMille's historical works, the decadence is indulged in, ostensibly to say how terrible these people were, but actually to say, "Wasn't this great?!", and for all the tedium Colbert does make for a heroine you can cheer for. Music by Rudolph G. Kopp.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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