Cleopatra (1963 film): Wikis


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original film poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced by Walter Wanger
Written by Carlo Mario Franzero
Sidney Buchman
Ben Hecht
Ranald MacDougall
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Narrated by Ben Wright
Starring Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton
Rex Harrison
Roddy McDowall
Martin Landau
Hume Cronyn
George Cole
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Jack Hildyard
Editing by Dorothy Spencer
Elmo Williams
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) June 12, 1963 (1963-06-12)
Running time 192 minutes
Language English
Budget $44 million
Gross revenue $57,777,778[1]

Cleopatra is a 1963 film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The screenplay was adapted by Sidney Buchman, Ben Hecht, Ranald MacDougall, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a book by Carlo Mario Franzero. The film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall and Martin Landau. The music score was by Alex North. It was photographed in 70 mm Todd-AO by Leon Shamroy and Jack Hildyard.

Cleopatra chronicles the struggles of Cleopatra VII, the young Queen of Egypt, to resist the imperialist ambitions of Rome.

Despite being a critical failure, it won four Academy Awards. It was the highest grossing film of 1963, earning US $26 million, yet made a loss due to its cost of $44 million, the only film ever to be the highest grossing film of the year yet to run at a loss.



The film is infamous for nearly bankrupting 20th Century Fox. Originally budgeted at $2 million[2], it was made at a cost of $44 million — the equivalent of $307.5 million in 2009 dollars (see the list of most expensive films to produce), making the movie the third-most costly ever produced worldwide and the second most expensive in the United States after Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which had a budget of US$300,000,000 (accounting for inflation in each case). This was partly due to the fact that the film's elaborate, complicated sets, costumes and props had to be constructed twice, once during a botched shoot in London and once more when the production relocated to Rome.

Filming began in London in 1960. Mankiewicz was brought into the production after the departure of the first director (Rouben Mamoulian), who had in mind African-American actress Dorothy Dandridge for the lead role.[3] He inherited a film which was already $5 million over budget and had no usable footage to show for it. This was in part because the actors originally hired to play Julius Caesar (Peter Finch) and Marc Antony (Stephen Boyd) left due to other commitments. Mankiewicz was later fired during the editing phase, only to be rehired when no one else could piece the film together.

Elizabeth Taylor was awarded a record-setting contract of $1 million. This amount eventually swelled to $7 million due to the delays of the production, equivalent to over $47 million today. Taylor became very ill during the early filming and was rushed to an emergency room where a tracheotomy had to be performed to save her life. The resulting scar can be seen in some shots. All of this resulted in the film being shut down. The production was moved to Rome after six months as the English weather proved detrimental to her recovery, as well as being responsible for the constant deterioration of the costly sets and exotic plants required for the production (the English sets were utilised for the spoof Carry On Cleo). During filming, Taylor met Richard Burton and the two began a very public affair, which made headlines worldwide. Moral outrage over the scandal brought bad publicity to an already troubled production.

The cut of the film which Mankiewicz screened for the studio was six hours long. This was cut to four hours for its initial premiere, but the studio demanded (over the objections of Mankiewicz) that the film be cut once more, this time to just barely over three hours to allow theaters to increase the number of showings per day. As a result, certain details are left out of the film, such as Rufio's death.[4] Mankiewicz unsuccessfully attempted to convince the studio to split the film in two in order to preserve the original cut. The film has been released to home video formats in its 243-minute premiere version, and efforts are under way to locate the missing footage (some of which has been recovered).

The arduous process and enormous cost of completing Cleopatra resulted in the end of the sword and sandal epic.


The movie opens shortly after the Battle of Pharsalus where Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) has defeated Pompey. Pompey flees to Egypt, hoping to enlist the support of the young Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII (Richard O'Sullivan) and his sister Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor).

Caesar pursues. He meets the teenage Ptolemy and the boy's advisers, who seem to do most of the thinking for him. As a gesture of 'goodwill', the Egyptians present Caesar with Pompey's head, but Caesar is not pleased; it is a sorry end for a worthy foe. As Caesar settles in at the palace, Apollodorus (Cesare Danova), disguised as a rug peddler, brings a gift from Cleopatra. When a suspicious Caesar unrolls the rug, he finds Cleopatra herself concealed within. He is intrigued.

Days later, she warns Caesar that her brother has surrounded the palace with his soldiers and that he is vastly outnumbered. Caesar is unconcerned. He orders the Egyptian fleet burned so he can gain control of the harbor. The fire spreads to the city, burning many buildings, including the famous Library of Alexandria. Cleopatra angrily confronts Caesar, but he refuses to pull troops away from the fight with Ptolemy's forces to deal with the fire. In the middle of their spat, Caesar begins kissing her.

The Romans hold, and the armies of Mithridates arrive to reinforce the Roman legions. The following day, Caesar passes judgment. He sentences Ptolemy's lord chamberlain to death for arranging an assassination attempt on Cleopatra, and rules that Ptolemy and his tutor be sent to join Ptolemy's now greatly outnumbered troops.

Cleopatra is crowned Queen of Egypt. She dreams of ruling the world with Caesar. When their son Caesarion is born, Caesar accepts him publicly, which becomes the talk of Rome and the Senate.

Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) confronts Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison)

Caesar returns to Rome for his triumph, while Cleopatra remains in Egypt. Two years pass before the two see each other again. After he is made dictator for life, Caesar sends for Cleopatra. She arrives in Rome in a lavish procession and wins the adulation of the Roman people. The Senate grows increasingly discontented amid rumors that Caesar wishes to be made king, which is anathema to the Romans.

On the Ides of March 44 B.C., the Senate is preparing to vote on whether to award Caesar additional powers. Despite warnings from his wife Calpurnia (Gwen Watford) and Cleopatra, he is confident of victory. However, he is stabbed to death by various senators.

Octavian (Roddy McDowall), Caesar's nephew, is named as his heir, not Caesarion. Realizing she has no future in Rome, Cleopatra returns home to Egypt. Two years later, Caesar's assassins, among them Cassius (John Hoyt) and Brutus (Kenneth Haigh), are killed at the Battle of Philippi. Marc Antony (Richard Burton) establishes a second triumvirate with Octavian and Lepidus. They split up the empire: Lepidus receives Africa, Octavian Spain and Gaul, while Antony will take control of the eastern provinces. However, the rivalry between Octavian and Antony is becoming apparent.

While planning a campaign against Parthia in the east, Antony realizes he needs money and supplies, and cannot get enough from anywhere but Egypt. After refusing several times to leave Egypt, Cleopatra gives in and meets him in Tarsus. Antony becomes drunk during a lavish feast. Cleopatra sneaks away, leaving a slave dressed as her, but Antony discovers the trick and confronts the queen. They soon become lovers.

Octavian uses their affair in his smear campaign against Antony. When Antony returns to Rome to address the situation brewing there, Octavian traps him into a marriage of state to Octavian's sister, Octavia (Jean Marsh). Cleopatra flies into a rage when she learns the news.

A year or so later, when Antony next sees Cleopatra, he is forced to humble himself publicly. She demands that a third of the empire in return for her aid. Antony acquiesces and divorces Octavia. Octavian clamors for war against Antony and his "Egyptian whore". The Senate votes for war and Octavian murders the Egyptian ambassador, Cleopatra's tutor Sosigenes (Hume Cronyn), on the Senate steps.

Richard Burton as Marc Antony

The war is decided at the naval Battle of Actium. Seeing Antony's ship burning, Cleopatra assumes he is dead and orders the Egyptian forces home. Antony follows, leaving his fleet leaderless and soon defeated. After a while, Cleopatra manages to convince Antony to retake command of his troops and fight Octavian's advancing army. However, Antony's soldiers have lost faith in him and abandon him during the night; Rufio (Martin Landau), the last man loyal to Antony, is killed. Antony tries to goad Octavian into single combat, but is finally forced to flee into the city.

When Antony returns to the palace, Apollodorus, not believing that Antony is worthy of his queen, convinces him that she is dead, whereupon Antony falls on his own sword. Apollodorus then takes Antony to Cleopatra, and he dies in her arms. Octavian captures the city without a battle and Cleopatra is brought before him. He wants to return to Rome in triumph, with her as his prisoner. However, realizing that her son is also dead, she arranges to be bitten by a poisonous asp.


Historical inaccuracy

The film features Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, first as an admiral under Julius Caesar, then later under Octavian. Agrippa (played by Andrew Keir) appears to be the same age as Caesar (Rex Harrison) and much older than Octavian (Roddy McDowell). Historically, Agrippa was about the same age as Octavian (as were, for the record, Keir and McDowell). He probably served in Caesar's campaign of 46–45 BCE against Pompey, but Caesar regarded him highly enough to send him with Octavian in 45 BCE to study in Apollonia.


The music of Cleopatra was scored by Alex North. It was released several times, first as an original album, and later versions were extended. The most popular of these was the Deluxe Edition or 2001 Varèse Sarabande Album.

Reception and impact

When the end of principal photography was finally in sight, it became clear that in order for Cleopatra merely to break even it would have to be one of the two or three most successful films made up to that time. Cleopatra went on to a $48 million take in North America, making it the highest-grossing film of the year. Twentieth Century Fox's share of the receipts ($26 million) returned just over half of the film's total cost. Worldwide box-office receipts and television sales eventually recouped most of the film's cost. As a result of the continual pouring of money into the long-delayed production, the studio was forced to undertake drastic retrenchments. Meanwhile, Twentieth Century Fox's fortunes were restored with the release of The Sound of Music in 1965, which became one of the most popular films in cinema history.

A contributing factor to the film's problems was the hype, both internal and public, which surrounded Cleopatra. Billed as the next great cinematic masterpiece, Fox continued to invest more and more money into the project, confident that audiences would adore it. Yet as production continued to falter, the top studio executives took much more direct and personal control of the project, further complicating the project. Films that were to be funded from the profits of Cleopatra were delayed or canceled, further tying the fate of the studio to the one film. The extensive marketing campaign reflected how optimistic—or desperate—Fox was about the movie, releasing posters with new release dates every few months as production ground on.

When the film was finally released, the problems that had plagued production were finally fully evident. Historians criticized the inaccurate depictions of Octavian as a weak-stomached yet power-mad teenager and disliked the rewrite of how and why Julius Caesar was killed. Stage actors cited the disjointed script and directing styles as the root of the movie's problems (what they were basically seeing is the actors and director improvising for over four hours, since no actual shooting script had ever existed.) Critics found the acting to be over the top in many scenes, scoffing that it took a special class of film maker to get such great actors to act so badly. And as talented as the actors may have been, the extreme length and breadth of Cleopatra made it difficult for audiences to grasp the general plot and theme; the two halves tending to focus more on Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, respectively, than on Cleopatra herself.

Part of the fallout of chaotic production was a shifting away from the traditional "studio-system" prevalent in Hollywood up to that time. While studios would continue to finance major films, financial burdens would increasingly be shifted onto independent production companies as a way to buffer the "parent" studio from a loss. Indeed the financial situation at Fox was so dire in the wake of Cleopatra that the studio executives were forced to sell most of the studio's large backlot in Los Angeles to developers. This area today forms the core of the Century City area in Los Angeles.

Awards and nominations

The film won four Academy Awards and was nominated for five more:[5]

1963 Academy Awards


1963 Golden Globes, USA

  • | Nominated, Best Motion Picture - Drama ||
  • | Nominated, Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama ||
  • | Nominated, Best Motion Picture Director ||
  • | Nominated, Best Supporting Actor ||

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Null, Christopher. Cleopatra Review
  3. ^ Bogle, Donald. Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography. New York: Amistad. 1997. pgs. 488-89.
  4. ^ Cleopatra from Johnny Web
  5. ^ "NY Times: Cleopatra". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Cleopatra is a 1963 film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz .



  • The corridors are dark, gentlemen… but you mustn't be afraid. I am with you.
  • We must not disappoint the mighty Caesar! The Romans tell fabulous tales of my baths and handmaidens... and my morals!
  • I will not be told where I can go and where I cannot go!
  • I am the Nile. I will have sons. Isis has told me… My breasts are full of love and life. My hips are rounded and well apart. Such women, they say, have sons.
  • How dare you and the rest of your barbarians set fire to my library? Play conqueror all you want, Mighty Caesar! Rape, murder, pillage thousands, millions of human beings! But neither you nor any other barbarian has the right to destroy one human thought!
  • There are never enough hours in the days of a queen, and her nights have too many.
  • We'll make this our beginning. Beginning with tonight... You must never envy Caesar, or anyone, anything else again.


  • [Speaking of the Grand Eunuc])... a position not acquired without certain, shall we say, sacrifice.
  • [After the execution of Pothinus] Flavius, return Apollodorus' dagger to him… but clean it first. It has Pothinus all over it.
  • I do not understand why the eyes of a statue should always lack life.


  • From the first instant I saw you, entering Rome on that monstrous stone beast, shining in the sun like a little gold toy how I envied Caesar. Went suddenly sick with it. Not his conquests or his triumphs. Not his titles of the mob. I envied him you.
  • Why are you not dead? Why do you live? How do you live? Why do you not lie at the deepest hole of the sea, bloodless, and bloated, and at peace with honorable death?
  • [Dying in Cleopatra's arms] Take my breath away...


  • Antony is dead? You say that as if it were an everyday occurrence. The soup is hot, the soup is cold. Antony is alive, Antony is dead.


Julius Caesar: You all look so impressive. Any one of you could be king.
Pothinus: His Majesty King Ptolemy, kindred of Horus and Ra, beloved of Thoth...
Julius Caesar: Et cetera, et cetera; you welcome me. And I, Gaius Julius Caesar, Consul of the Roman Senate, Pontifex Maximus, et cetera, et cetera, thank you.

Julius Caesar: Ah, yes. I seem to recall some mention of an obsession you have about your divinity... Isis, is it not?
Cleopatra: I shall have to insist that you mind what you say. I am Isis. I am worshiped by millions who believe it. You are not to confuse what I am with the so-called divine origin which every Roman general seems to acquire together with his shield. It was, uh, Venus you chose to be descended from, wasn't it?

Agrippa: Well versed in the natural sciences and mathematics. She speaks seven languages proficiently. Were she not a woman one would consider her to be an intellectual. Nothing bores me so much as an intellectual!
Julius Caesar: Makes a better admiral of you, Agrippa.

Cleopatra: Catullus doesn't approve of you... why haven't you had him killed?
Caesar: Because I approve of him.

Cleopatra: [kicking a cushion off her dais for Caesar to kneel on during her coronation] You have such bony knees.
Caesar: Not only bony, but unaccustomed to this sort of thing.

Marc Antony: Your tongue is old, but sharp, Cicero. Be careful how you waggle it. One day it will cut off your head.
Cicero: 'Twill more likely be your sword, Antony: 'tis just as sharp, and quicker... and frightened of heads.

Marc Antony: Octavian... this son of Caesar, does it upset you?
Octavian: No.
Marc Antony: You were so shut at the mouth just now one would think your words were are precious to you as your gold.
Octavian: Like my gold, I used them where they are worth most.
Marc Antony: Ah! And your virtue? [Leans over to him] My friend has a friend.
Octavian: That too.
Marc Antony: You know, Octavian... it's possible that when you die, you will die without ever having been alive.

Antony: Queens. Queens. Strip them naked as any other woman, they are no longer queens.
Rufio: It is also difficult to tell the rank of a naked general. Generals without armies are naked indeed.

Germanicus: [in the Roman Senate] Antony! Stay not too long in Alexandria!
[General laughter]
Octavian: Germanicus, stay not too long in Rome.
{More laughter]

Cleopatra: Without you Antony, this is not a world I want to live in, much less conquer.Because for me there would be no love anywhere. Do you want me to die with you ? I will. Or do you want me to live with you ? Whatever you choose.
Antony: Are we too late, do you think, if we choose life ?
Cleopatra: Better too late than never.

Cleopatra: You will kneel.
Antony: I will what?
Cleopatra: On your knees.
Antony: [indignant] You dare ask the Proconsul of Rome-
Cleopatra: I asked it of Julius Caesar. I demand it of you!

Cleopatra: The way to prevent war is to be ready for it!
Sosigenes: Have 300 warships ever been built for war without war?

Agrippa: [After discovering Cleopatra's gold-clad body, with her servants Charmian and Eiras, who have been bitten by the asp that killed Cleopatra] Was this well done of your lady?
Charmian: Extremely well, befitting the last of so many noble rulers.


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