Cleopatra Blu-ray Review

When 20th Century Fox was looking for a cheap property to make some quick bucks, a young executive named David Brown, who would later go on to produce such classics as THE STING and JAWS, went into the archives and came out with an old Theda Barra starrer called CLEOPATRA.  Make it cheap, earn a million bucks.  What could go wrong?


Long remembered for a list of things not featured on screen, CLEOPATRA is now on Blu Ray in a special 50th Anniversary Edition.  The story is quite simple; Julius Caesar (Harrison) journeys to Egypt where he meets the Pharaoh Ptolemy (Richard O’Sullivan).  The Pharaoh informs Caesar that, after she made several attempts to kill him, he had his sister, Cleopatra (Taylor) killed.  But Caesar knows she is not dead.  Soon she is spirited in to Caesar’s quarters where the great soldier is overwhelmed by her beauty.  One thing leads to another and soon they form a very close relationship, both personally and professionally.  Eventually Caesar returns to Rome, where neither the missus or the Senate approve his actions.  After Caesar is assassinated it is Antony who must travel to Egypt only to fall under the same spell as Caesar.


You would think that a film that suffered through three directors, at least nine writers and a revolving door cast would be unbearable to watch.  Not true here.  And that is thanks to the brilliant hand of Oscar winning director and co-writer Mankiewicz.  The original director and cast were never pleased with the script and, after $7 million dollars had been spent on the production the studio found itself with exactly 10 minutes of usable footage.  Unsure whether to pull the plug or plod on the studio convinced Mankiewicz to take over behind the camera.  With time off due to Taylor falling seriously ill, Mankiewicz completely re-wrote the film.  The production counted completely on Taylor, who with this film became the first actor to be paid $1 million dollars for a role.  Taylor does a credible job but the two reasons to see this film are Harrison (in an Academy Award nominated performance) and Burton, two of the greatest stage and film actors in history.  The supporting cast is full of some familiar names, including Martin Landau, Hume Cronyn, Roddy McDowall and Carrol O’ Connor.  Alex North’s Oscar nominated score is a perfect accompaniment and the disc contains both the Overture and Second Act musical introductions. I would suggest going to the rest room before sitting down to screen the film as the disc contains the complete opening week 4 hour and ll minute version.  The film was cut to just under 4 hours in 2nd run cities.  By the time it played outlaying towns the running time was down to 3 hours and 6 minutes.  The production design, as befits a true epic, is outstanding, earning the Academy Award for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration – Color, Best Cinematography – Color and Best Costume Design – Color.  The film also won an Oscar for its Visual Effects.  All in all, the film received a total of 9 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.


Video:  The disc contains a beautiful transfer, with the bright colors of the foreign locales and those of the costumes jumping off the screen.  The film is presented in a 2.22:1 aspect ratio.

Audio:  Presented in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 4.0.  The voices are strong and the musical soundtrack does not overlap the dialogue.

The extras featured here are exactly what DVDs are for.  They are so numerous that they span both discs, with the commentary track spanning both of them.  The majority of the extras seem to have been cribbed from previous DVD and Laser Disc releases.


Commentary with Jack Brodsky, Martin Landau, Chris Mankiewicz and Tom Mankiewicz:  A brilliant commentary shared by former publicist Brodsky (who after the production co-wrote a book entitled “The Cleopatra Papers”), cast member Landau and Mankiewicz’ two sons.  Tom, who died a few years ago, was also a screenwriter, penning three James Bond films.  He also wrote and directed the Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks comedy “Dragnet.”

Cleopatra Through The Ages (7:51):  A look at the various incarnations of Cleopatra throughout history.


“Cleopatra’s” Missing Footage (8:12):  A short featurette on the search for director Mankiewicz’ alleged 8 hour and 15 minute first cut of the film.  Apparently, to save room in the vaults, Fox had all of its extra footage and negatives destroyed in 1978, which means the search was pretty futile.

“Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy” with Tom Rothman (29:29):  Possibly one of the highlights of having the Fox Movie Channel on your cable or dish system is this half hour show hosted by Fox executive Rothman, who gets extra points from me for being married to Jessica Harper.  Rothman documents how the film almost destroyed Fox and points out that other studios also had a similar fiasco in their past (Columbia – “Ishtar,” Universal – “Waterworld” and United Artists – “Heaven’s Gate.”

The Cleopatra Papers – an amazing collection of letters and telegrams sent back and forth between Jack Brodsky in New York and his counterpart in Rome, where the film was shot (they used to switch places occasionally).  Among the concerns noted:  Rex Harrison threatening to quit when his private trailer was taken away in a budget cutting act (he got it back) and the studio’s concerns when the Taylor/Burton romance was about to go public.  One missive states that the film would be doomed if the public thought Taylor, who had recently married her late husband’s best friend, Eddie Fisher,  had broken up another family.


“Cleopatra:”  The Film That Changed Hollywood (1:59:07):  One of the best behind the scenes/making of films I have ever seen, which includes shots of Peter Finch as Caesar.

The Fourth Star of “Cleopatra:” (9:06):  a nice featurette which pays homage to the production design team.

Fox Movietone News (6:19):  Bits from several different “Movietone” bits.  Audio is a little rough, but this is due to source issatures.

Thratrical Trailers (10:03):  Three different trailers for the film.


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