Cleopatra (1963) Poster



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  • Cleopatra is a Hollywood historical drama, and is based on several books. Some that have been credited include: (1) The Life and Times of Cleopatra (1968) by Carlo Maria Franzero, (2) De vita Caesarum (On the Life of the Caesars) aka The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus [69 CE - 130 CE], and (3) "Mark Antony" from Lives of the Nobel Greeks and Romans (aka Parallel Lives) by Greek historian Plutarch [46 CE - 120 CE]. The latter two are in public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg. Edit

  • With respect to the major plotline, the movie is fairly accurate. Cleopatra VII [c. 69 BCE - 30 BCE] did have a son, Ptolemy Caesar (nicknamed Caesarion), presumably with Julius Caesar in 47 BCE. Caesar did place Cleopatra on the Egyptian throne, with her brother Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler. Caesar was indeed assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE by a group of senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus. After Caesar's death, Cleopatra did forge an alliance with Mark Antony, one of Caesar's three successors. Antony did engage in the losing naval battle of Actium in September 31 BCE against Octavian, future emperor of the Roman Empire as Caesar Augustus. Cleopatra did kill herself the following year, although there is some debate among historians as to whether she poisoned herself or allowed herself to be bitten by an asp. Beyond those accuracies, there are also many inaccuracies as might be expected in a Hollywood historical drama. For example, there was no mention made of Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe nor of the three children she bore to Mark Antony. Although Cleopatra was queen of Egypt, Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia. Edit

  • Alexandria is a port city on the northern coast of Egypt along the Mediterranean Sea. Rome, Italy is about 1,200 miles to the northwest of Alexandria. Edit

  • In truth, Mark Antonius was supposed to have an earlier appearance. The film's opening sequence, of Caesar surveying his "victory" in Pharsalia, was actually shot twice. The original shot of this opening had Antony accompanying Caesar, giving him reports about the battle results (one report, an argument about the pardoning of Brutus, would be brought up later in the finished film). When Darryl F. Zanuck saw this footage, he felt the scene- which consisted of a mainly desolate countryside- lacked the pageantry needed to open the epic film. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was ordered to reshoot the scene with a more spectacular flair. Although Rex Harrison and several actors were brought back, Richard Burton had another engagement and could not return for the reshoot. Edit

  • A line cut from the finished film reveals the truth about Flavius' disability. Flavius had been kidnapped by the Nervii, a Germanic tribe that opposed Caesar in Gaul. Refusing to give any information that would betray Caesar, Flavius was punished by having his tongue cut out by his captors. Edit

  • Titus was a moneylender. In scenes deleted from the finished film, Titus was also Cleopatra's agent. By her order, the moneylender learned about the financial situations of the Roman Senators. With Egyptian gold, Titus bought up these Senators' debts in exchange for political favors. Thus, Cleopatra bribed the Roman Senate into inviting her family to Rome and, hopefully, accept her and Caesar's sovereignty over them (In the finished film, Cicero cynically comments about the power of Egypt's wealth). However, Titus finds all these debts strangely paid up and receives death threats. He pleads Cleopatra for the end of his services to her. Edit

  • There had been a battle of wills between the two figures concerning who will come to whom first. This conflict is specified in scenes deleted from the finished film. Both Cleopatra and Antony wanted to be the last to arrive to the banquet, this late entry emphasizing one's importance over the other. Antony waited in his litter for news of Cleopatra's appearance, while the Queen waited in her private chamber for news of Antony's arrival. This hesitance lasted a while, as the banquet guests got restless and bored waiting for the party to begin. Finally, Sosigenies and Apollodorus decided to announce the Queen's arrival. This news reached Antony, who started his procession of entrance. However, it turned out that this announcement was a false alarm, a fact that evaded Antony until it was too late. He enters the barge and meets the guests, and then Cleopatra arrives (as seen in the finished film). Thus, Antony is angry about being fooled and manipulated. Edit

  • The film suggests that Cleopatra persuaded Antony into this battle decision. This is specified in a deleted scene from the finished film: On the Roman side, Octavian and Agrippa discuss Antony's miscast role as an Admiral. Octavian explains that Cleopatra influenced his choice: she believes that Antony will win this battle whether it is on land or water. However, where exactly that battle will be won is important to her. If Antony fights by his choice of land, by his soldiers, then this victory will be his alone, with Cleopatra taking minor importance. This position Cleopatra will not allow; having not forgotten the Octavia marriage, Cleopatra is determined to dominate Antony to her will and position. Thus, a battle by her choice on water, by her ships, will mean Actium will become her victory, with Antony the means to that end. Edit

  • Cleopatra's fortitude is based on a scene deleted from the finished film: On the night before Actium, Cleopatra discovers that her High Priestess has gone into shock over some premonition. Going into her shrine, the Queen attempts to see the vision for herself (like when she witnessed Caesar's assassination). Suddenly, she hears laughter coming from her statues of Isis and the others. This laughter grows louder, its intensity frightening Cleopatra to her very soul. The laughter abruptly ends, but Cleopatra understands the message: the Gods have abandoned her. The battle will be lost, and the destinies of Egypt, herself, Antony, and Caesarion are of doom. Cleopatra regains her composure, thereafter accepting her sad fortune as part of divine will. Edit

  • In a scene deleted from the finished film, Agrippa stands outside the locked Tomb, attempting to negotiate with Cleopatra to open it. However, his "negotiations" are to distract Cleopatra from noticing Roman soldiers silently scaling the walls. These soldiers invade the Tomb, restrain Cleopatra and her handmaidens Eiras and Charmain, and open the doors. Edit

  • Antony (Richard Burton) returns to the palace and asks about the whereabouts of Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor). Apollodorus (Cesare Danova) leads him to believe that she is dead. Totally distraught, Antony attempts to kill himself by plunging a knife into his abdomen. He requests that Apollodorus finish him off, but Apollodorus instead takes him to Cleopatra, who is hiding in her own tomb ("the last place where anyone would look for me"). Antony dies in her arms. Octavian (Roddy McDowall) and his forces march into Alexandria and find the city an easy take. Octavian sends for Cleopatra, offering to spare her life if she will accompany him back to Rome. Cleopatra makes him promise to spare her son as the rightful heir to Rome, and Octavian makes her promise not to harm herself. Octavian and his guards then leave Cleopatra to prepare for her trip. She asks her servants to do two things: (1) take a message to Octavian, and (2) bring her a basket of figs. When the basket is opened, the figs can be seen moving around. Cleopatra knowingly sticks her hand in the basket and is bitten by an asp (poisonous snake). Octavian receives the message, which tells him that Cleopatra wants to be buried next to Mark Antony. Octavian rushes to her chambers, but it is too late. In the final scene, Octavian's guard asks her servant, who is dying on the floor next to her queen, "Was this well done of your lady?" The handmaiden replies, "Extremely well, as befitting the last of so many noble rulers." Edit

  • In the movie, Cleopatra seems to know that her son is already dead, which is why she duped Octavian with her promise not to harm herself. Caesarion is last seen dead; his body is placed on top of other dead bodies of fallen Egyptian soldiers in a carrage after the Romans take the city of Alexandria. How he was killed is not mentioned or shown. The real Caesarion (full name: Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar), son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, was killed on orders of Octavian about two weeks after his mother's death. He was 17 years old at the time. Edit

  • An article in the Chicago Tribune, dated June 24, 1963, says that Fox studios had to file final (accurate) "Cleo" cost figures in California for tax purposes. They report that the total is closer to 25 million dollars as opposed to the widely publicized 40 million. Edit



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