Production Company: Paramount
Top Billed Actors: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon
IMDb Rating: 6.9
*Best Picture Nominee*
Won 1 Oscar:
Best Cinematography - Victor Milner
Nominated for 4 more:
Best Sound - Franklin Hansen
Best Film Editing - Anne Bauchens
Best Assistant Director - Cullen Tate
Plot: The Queen of Egypt seduces not one, but two Roman leaders and single-handedly causes war between the two nations.
This film is also notable for pushing the limits of the existing Production Code. The Code was still not in full effect when this was filmed so Cecil B. DeMille wanted to squeeze the remaining liberty he had. What results is a lot of risque costumes and even a strategically lit naked slave women during the opening credits. The costumes worn by Colbert are extravagant and never dull. There were certain costumes that forces the viewer to do a double take to see if her bosoms are really exposed. If the Hays Code was in full force, these certainly would not have made the final cut, but the lavish wardrobe gives the film a very distinct look. The famed DeMillian splendor makes its way on this set as well, especially the scene in which Cleopatra is seducing Antony, played by Henry Wilcoxon. This is the scene that ultimately led to a cinematography statuette and the grandeur of the entire sequence is not easily forgotten. The music is also not easily forgettable. The score is magnificent and it adds to the previously mentioned splendor. When the scene is in Egypt, the music is more chromatic and exotic sounding as opposed to the boisterous tones of when the scene shifts to Rome. It is the best original score in the project thus far and all of the elements that I value in movies have finally come together during the silent-to-sound picture transition.
The magnificence of the set pieces and costumes doesn't mask the somewhat dull plot and acting, however. The story is enticing just enough to pay attention, but it ends up feeling like a Shakespeare play without the Shakespearean dialogue. The first act of the film deals with Cleopatra and Caesar, played by Warren William. The same thing occurs between Cleopatra and Antony, except now there is war. Maybe it is because the narrative is so familiar, but there is a been-there-done-that feel to the film. The acting by the leading males is also a weakness of the production. William as Caesar is not bold and strong enough and his performance doesn't live up to his female counterpart, Colbert. The same can be said for Wilcoxon, but to a lesser extent.
Overall, DeMille doesn't hold back as this is the first film in the project in which the word 'scale' is fitting. The cinematography and costumes are something to behold as well as Colbert's performance. The story and some of the acting doesn't help the flick from becoming a more well known classic.
My Score: 7/10