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As Restored 'Cleopatra' Hits the Cannes Croisette, Film Critics Look Back at the 'Most Notorious Epic Ever' (TRAILER)

by Beth Hanna and Ryan Lattanzio
May 20, 2013 2:15 PM
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Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cleopatra'
Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cleopatra'

Cannes Classics previously announced that Joseph L. Manciewicz's four-plus-hour epic "Cleopatra," celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, will screen on the Croisette May 21 in a newly restored print alongside other giant classics such as Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" in 3-D and "Vertigo." The restoration will expand worldwide the next day, May 22, screening in the Cinemark Classic Film Series among other theater chains.

Starring Elizabeth Taylor (the eponymous siren of the Nile) and her swain Richard Burton in full-on Egyptian headdress as Marc Antony, "Cleopatra" is the bloated magnum opus that nearly sunk the Fox studio in 1963 after failing to make back its colossal budget -- which adjusted for inflation totaled over $323 million in 2013 dollars -- and failing to garner much in the way of critical acclaim. 

Susan King of the LA Times highlights the film, discussing the lasting interest in Taylor and Burton, who were having an adulterous affair during the shoot in Rome. King interviews "Cleopatra" co-star Martin Landau, who says of discovering the burgeoning affair: "I am sitting [on set] looking in the mirror and Burton comes in in a half-tunic, goes to Elizabeth and kisses her on the forehead and then says 'good morning' to me. I said to myself, 'Oh, my God.' They had not gone to their respective homes that night."

Meanwhile, Lou Lumenick of the New York Post has compiled "15 things you probably didn't know about one of the most notorious movie epics of all time." Included in the tidbits: Alfred Hitchcock was offered the picture but turned it down; Taylor had a "brush with death" for the film's first ten weeks of shooting in England, as she battled severe pneumonia for which she required a tracheotomy to save her life; and "Cleopatra" was originally envisioned as a modest $2-million film, starring Joanne Woodward or Joan Collins (Lumenick estimates that the film would cost $440 million in 2012 dollars). 

A screening of the new mint print of "Cleopatra" at Cannes will be hosted by Jessica Chastain along with family members of Taylor and Burton. In glitzy Cannes tradition, the red carpet event will be sponsored by Bulgari, in which jewelry from Taylor's personal collection will be displayed.

A new Blu-ray of "Cleopatra" will be released on May 28 as repertory screenings roll out. Watch the original trailer below.

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More: Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Classics


  • Brian | May 20, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    I find it hard to believe that Hitchcock was approached to direct this. I would need to see some documentation of that before I believe it. With a couple of exceptions in his Selznick days (e.g. MR. AND MRS. SMITH), Hitchcock always generated his own projects. No producer in his right mind (or even his wrong one) would have been lunatic enough to go to Hitchcock with a production like this.

  • Brad Geagley | May 21, 2013 10:53 AM

    Documentation for this weird fact can be found in the published diaries by "Cleopatra"'s producer, Walter Wanger, entitled "My Life with Cleopatra". He felt "Hitch" would provide the suspense the film needed. Strange but true.

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