Cleopatra 75th Anniversary Edition (Universal Backlot Series) – DVD Review
By Jeff Swindoll Apr 17, 2009, 13:28 GMT
Cleopatra , one of the most remarkable motion pictures ever to hit the silver screen, is now available in a new 75th Anniversary Edition DVD! Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the historical epic tells the story of the Queen of the Nile and her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. Starring Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, this lavish spectacle was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Part ...more
Universal begins a new collection of classic films, the Backlot Series, with the release of Cecil B. DeMille’s historical epic. It’s welcome news for fans of cinema - such as me. The film may be a bit creaky as far as acting style goes, but it still has a sexy side and an abundance of pageantry. More please, Universal.
Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) is the queen of Egypt, but finds herself in political trouble as an attempted coup threatens to strand her in the desert and lose her crown. She outsmarts her usurpers and sneaks into their audience with Julius Caesar (Warren William) and succeeds in defeating them in their own game.
She also takes Caesar as her lover to secure her position. Unfortunately, the ides of March arrives and Caesar is assassinated in Rome. Rome is then co-ruled by Octavian (Ian Keith) and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon). She turns her sights onto the fit Antony and the two will have a love affair that will go down in history.
If you give DeMille any credit, you’ll have to admit that the old fella knew how to put lavish images on the screen. His films may not age well due to their hokey, in our modern eyes, special effects but every Easter his Ten Commandments stills pulls in the ratings.
Cleopatra was his go at depicting the story of the famed seductress. Made before the Production Code went into effect, he was able to get some sexy images, for the time, on the screen. The film begins with a silhouetted image of a naked slave girl holding up some lamps that was probably pretty racy in 1934.
He had featured Colbert in 1932’s Sign of the Cross and had her bathing in ass’ milk to great acclaim and titillation. DeMille casts her as Cleopatra and she was a revelation in this film to this critic. I’m more familiar with Colbert’s “girl next door” roles and this was a side of her that I’d yet to have seen (made me want to seek out Sign of the Cross as well).
She was having a great year by the way also starring in It Happened One Night and Imitation of Life. It Happened One Night would beat out Cleopatra for best picture. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, but would only walk away with best cinematography. The acting leans towards theatrical and can appear a bit over-the-top to our modern eyes.
The film does offer a glimpse into what film was like before the production code and one wonders what might have happened if it had not come to be. We know that creative directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, found ways around it in the future. Universal is inaugurating a new series with this release, as well as their Pre-Code Hollywood Collection, called the Backlot Series.
With all the talk of Sign of the Cross in the special features I wondered why they didn’t start with that one, but I’m glad to see the series coming from them. Sing of the Cross, Cleopatra, and other DeMille films were released by Universal in a collection that featured no extras save for the films. This new series corrects that oversight, but some are so brief that you’ll treat them as appetizers and end up wanting a full meal.
Cleopatra is presented in fullscreen. Special features include a commentary by film critic F.X. Feeney. The 9 minute “Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen” highlights the actress. The 10 minute “Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood’s Epic Director” looks at the legendary director’s career. The 9 minute “Forbidden Film: The Production Code Era” is about the dawning of the age of censors and how it came to that.
You also get the 4 minute theatrical trailer and the case contains 3 lobby card reproductions. The documentaries are interesting, but are so short that they seem like a cliff notes version of their subjects. I would’ve liked much more on DeMille and Colbert.
No crying over spilt milk as something is better than nothing. DeMille fans might be disappointed that they might have to repurchase the film if they own the other set, but I’m happy that Universal is starting to pay some tribute to their elder catalog releases. Keep ‘em coming!
Cleopatra is a bit creaky by our modern standards, but it still features some great moments of pageantry and even some sexy scenes. The special features are somewhat light, but at least they’re there. Cleopatra is highly recommended for fans of classic cinema or DeMille or Colbert.