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

Thompson on Hollywood By Beth Hanna and Ryan Lattanzio | Thompson on Hollywood May 20, 2013 at 2:15PM

Joseph L. Manciewicz's four-plus-hour epic "Cleopatra," celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, screens on the Croisette May 21 in a newly restored print. The restoration will expand worldwide the next day, May 22, for a six-day run in select theater chains, and film journalists look back on one of the most tumultuous epic productions ever.
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.

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Classics

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.