“My wits have failed, and I’m in your hands!”
When wily Queen Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) is kidnapped and taken to Rome, she woos both Julius Caesar (Warren William) and his successor, Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon), in an attempt to gain power — but soon she finds herself genuinely in love.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “Cecil B. DeMille’s classic is silly, creaky, and full of long-winded tete-a-tetes”, it’s nonetheless “fun to watch”. He points out that Colbert “is an extremely sexy Cleopatra”, “lounging around in skimpy bare-midriff outfits that Madonna might have designed”, yet also “possesses enough intelligence to realize that through her singular powers of seduction she can outwit and manipulate her Roman men”. He argues that “Colbert fits into the vamp tradition of Theda Bara, who played Cleopatra in the silent era” and that the “picture’s theme is that women can emasculate great male warriors and statesmen, but we can forgive this Egyptian trapped on foreign soil because she must find some way to survive in a male-dominated, woman-hating… world.” Peary’s review is spot on: I was surprised to enjoy this costume drama as much as I did, especially the unintentional humor garnered from Colbert’s not-so-subtle seduction ploys and her ripe dialogue with her lovers. The scene in which she tells Antony that fisherman are gathering clams for dinner — then we see a net full of beautiful consorts emerging from the sea, bearing open shells with jewels — is especially chuckle-worthy.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra
- Victor Milner’s Oscar-winning cinematography
- Wonderfully elaborate sets and costumes (check out TCM’s article for more on the latter)
Yes, as an enjoyable early costume drama.