Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

 

 

Director:  Gabriel Pascal

Starring:     Claude Rains (Julius Caesar),  Vivien Leigh (Cleopatra),  Stewart Granger (Apollodorus),  Flora Robson (Ftatateeta),  Francis L. Sullivan (Pothinus),  Basil Sydney (Rufio),  Cecil Parker (Britannus),  Raymond Lovell (Lucius Septimus),  Anthony Eustrel (Achillas), Ernest Thesiger (Theodotus),  Anthony Harvey (Ptolemy),  Robert Adams (Nubian Slave).

Country:  British film

George Bernard Shaw's semi-comic play

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A messenger bringing ill tidings arrives at the palace of Cleopatra.  He speaks to Belzanor the captain of her guard.  His name is Bel Affris and he serves at the temple of Ra here in Memphis, Egypt.  King Ptolemy, the Queen's brother, in Alexandria has slain the newly arrived Pompey, who had  fled from Pharsalia after his defeat by Caesar. And now Caesar has arrived and is fighting his way to the Queen.  They must be ready to open their gates to Caesar. 

The guards discuss what they should do.  They decide that Cleopatra must be removed from the palace.  A servant hears this and runs to tell others.  Soon their is panic in the palace. 

At night at the camp of Caesar.  Julius Caesar walks closer to a Sphinx.  He says that the Sphinx is a symbol of his own genius:  " . . . part brute, part woman and part god . . ."  Caesar hears a voice call him and he thinks the Sphinx is speaking to him.  He then scolds the Sphinx for calling the great Caesar a mere "gentleman".  The voice, however, has come from Cleopatra, who tells Caesar to come and hide with her under the protection of the Sphinx or else the Romans will come and eat him.  Caesar asks who she is and she tells him that she is the Queen of Egypt.  He doesn't believe that for a second and says that she is closer to being the Queen of the Gypsies.  Cleopatra says that he must not be disrespectful to her or the Sphinx will let the Romans eat him. 

Caesar approaches her and is awed by her beauty.  Cleopatra tells him that she will live in the palace at Alexandria once she has killed her brother Ptolemy, who drove her out of the palace.  She says she likes Caesar.  The Queen says that she is scared of young men, but he (Caesar) is old and wrinkly.  Oh, and he's mad too.  She heard him talking to the Sphinx.  Caesar tells her that he was just saying his "prayers" to the Great Sphinx.  Cleopatra corrects him saying this Sphinx is no more than a kitten of the Great Sphinx. 

Caesar asks her if she is afraid of the Romans?  She says yes, because they are barbarians.  Their chief is Julius Caesar who has a nose like an elephant's trunk.  The Romans live on human flesh.  Caesar tells her that he is a Roman and she screams and starts running away from him.  He tells Cleopatra that he can save her from being eaten.  She begs him to tell her how.  He says Caesar eats silly girls, so she must deceive him by acting like a grown woman.  She will have to meet Caesar and when she does she must present herself as a brave woman and a great queen.  Above all, she is to show no fear.  Cleopatra says she will do whatever the gentleman tells her to do. 

Caesar walks Cleopatra back to the palace.  The Queen's slave is frightened and closes the door.  They open the door and come in.  Caesar begins to have her act like a queen. He tells her to order her servant to light all the lamps.   This brings the wrath of Chief Nurse Ftatateeta down on Cleopatra.  Caesar tells the nurse to be silent while he speaks to the Queen.  The nurse is still acting bossy, so Caesar asks the slave if he can cut off a head?  A big grin comes across the slave's face and he says yes.  This brings the nurse to her knees to beg the Queen's pardon.  This gives Cleopatra a sense of power.  She orders the nurse to be gone and then grabs a whip to lash the nurse while she runs away.  Caesar stops her

Cleopatra thanks the gentleman for making her a real queen. He reminds her that Caesar is coming and she becomes fearful again.  The Roman tells her that if she is afraid, then she is no true queen.  He claps and Ftatateeta comes in.  Caesar tells her to go and get the Queen's robes and her crown.  The slave comes running in great fear for the Romans have arrived.  Now Ftatateeta helps Caesar prepare the Queen for her visitor. 

When the soldiers march in, they stop and shout:  "Hail, Caesar!"  Cleopatra is so relieved that her gentleman is Caesar that she cries out in glee and hugs him. 

The Romans are on the move to Alexandria.  The Romans arrive in the city and the populace screams in fear.  In formation in the public square, the soldiers wait for the arrival of Rufio.  Rufio arrives and heads into the palace.  There the King sits on his throne.  He is much like his sister, unsure of himself and nervous.  The King gives a little speech prepared for him by his guardian Pothinus.  His sister Berenice drove their father from his throne and reigned in his place.  The gods sent a stranger, the Roman Marc Antony, who put their father back on the throne.  Now that their father is dead Cleopatra wants to replace him and reign over Egypt.  Cleopatra with the help of the witch Ftatateeta has cast a spell over the Roman Julius Caesar, but the boy King says he will not surrender his throne to a foreigner. 

The advisers asks General Achillas to tell everyone how many soldiers and horsemen Caesar has with him.  Just two Roman legions, consisting of three thousand soldiers and barely a thousand horsemen.  Everyone at court laughs at such a low number.  Their laughter is cut short by the announcement by Rufio of the arrival of Caesar.   Caesar meets the most important men in the room and then demands 16,000 talents.  In exchange for the money, Caesar says he will settle the dispute between siblings.

Caesar calls Cleopatra in.  She asks Caesar if she is to act like a queen?  Yes.  So she runs over to the throne, grabs her brother and pushes him on the floor.  Caesar tells the King to stand by him.  Cleopatra gets tired of hearing her brother whine, so she gets off the throne, tells her brother she doesn't want his throne and also tells him to sit down.  When Caesar hears Cleopatra refer to her brother as her husband, he is truly shocked, but he finds the fact very useful.  Since they are husband and wife they will rule Egypt jointly.  The Egyptians are shocked saying this is but a Roman trick.  They tell Caesar to go back to Rome.  It's Egypt for the Egyptians!  When they are most outraged, Caesar has Rufio open the door to let in the Roman soldiers. 

The King's tutor Theodotus says he will prove that without the help of the Egyptians, Pompey would have defeated Caesar.  He calls in the Roman Lucius Septinius to bear witness to this.  Lucius comes in and tells Caesar that he personally cut off the head of Pompey.  They think Caesar should be grateful to them for this, but Caesar is angered.  Pompey was Caesar's son-in-law.  But Caesar does not strike back at Lucius, but rather tells the Egyptians that they are all free to go.  Along with Lucius, they all leave the room.  Caesar advises the King to go with his friends, so he leaves too. 

Cleopatra stays with Caesar.  They both sit down on the throne. 

Ftatateeta gets Cleopatra up for her bath, which from now on will be once a day.  She goes to see Caesar.  The guards let her pass by them, but they block Ftatateeta from entering.  They have a good laugh at this and even Cleopatra approves.  Cleopatra talks with Caesar about Marc Antony.  Caesar explains that it was he himself who sent Marc Antony to save their father.  She says that if he would come again, she would make Antony her husband.  She asks Caesar to persuade Antony to ask her to marry him.

A soldier comes in to tell Caesar that two of his soldiers were killed in the marketplace.  The people rose up as soon as the army  under Achillas entered through the gates. Caesar quickly goes into action.  He gives Rufio his instructions, one of which is to burn their ships in the west harbor. 

Pothinus brings Caesar an ultimatum.  He says their army outnumbers Caesar's by 100 to 1 and their troops already occupy Alexandria.  Caesar puts the man under arrest. 

The Egyptians take West Harbor and fire the ships before Rufio could burn them.  The fire from the ships now burns the great library at Alexandria.  Theodotus comes and begs Caesar to put out the fire so the literature of the known world will survive.  Caesar says he will not give him one soldier for this, but Theodotus can get some of the men from the army under Achillas.  Rufio has a boat to take Caesar to the Pharos lighthouse.  Cleopatra doesn't want him to go at all.  He brings her to the balcony so she will see them take the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria. 

Apollodorus the Sicilian brings beautiful carpets for the rooms of the Queen.  Cleopatra comes outside to say that she wants them to get her a boat, but the Roman guard won't let Cleopatra pass.  Apollodorus comes to her rescue.  With his sword he defeats Roman guard after Roman guard.  The Roman officer of the guard arrives and explains his orders to Apollodorus and Cleopatra.  They cannot pass.  So what Cleopatra does is to figure out a way to get past the guards. 

Caesar doesn't understand why the Egyptians don't rush the lighthouse and take it from them.  He says he wishes he hadn't come to Egypt now.  Rufio tells him to eat lunch and he will soon have his sunny attitude back.

Ftatateeta and some servants carry out a rug to Apollodorus and his men.  She tells him to take the carpet but be careful for it is a gift for Caesar.  Ftatateeta warns the men to be careful of the rug for wrapped up inside are pigeon's eggs for Caesar.  Apollodorus takes the rug in a small boat and shoves off headed for Caesar.  On his arrival at the Pharos lighthouse, he climbs up the wall to tell Caesar that he has  a present for him from Cleopatra. Apollodorus and the rug are lifted up by a large crane.  When the rug in unrolled Caesar finds Cleopatra.  He has a good laugh about it.  Caesar tells Apollodorus to take the Queen back to the palace.  This upsets Cleopatra and she starts crying that nobody loves her and that Caesar wants her killed.

The Egyptians land on the lighthouse island cutting off Caesar's troops at the barricades and isolating them.  Now Caesar must think of a way to escape.  Apollodorus says he will swim to the ships.  He dives into the waters below.  Caesar decides to do the same.  He has a sloppy dive into the waters.  Then Cleopatra is grabbed and tossed into the water.  And, at last, Rufio jumps into the water. 

Cleopatra is back at the palace with her ladies-in-waiting, who are busy laughing about Caesar.  And they complain to Cleopatra that he has made her far too serious for a young woman.  The ladies are young and want a young Queen.  Pothinus comes to speak with the Queen.  She complains to him of the long six month period of being under siege by the Egyptian army. She also guesses that Pothinus came to her with some well-thought out plan that would depend on her being a little girl.  But she is no longer a girl.  She has learned to do her duty, rather than just think of herself.  Then Cleopatra warns Pothinus that all of his plans will come to naught because of the power of Rome and the great abilities of Caesar.  Caesar will hold Egypt, leave for Rome and appoint Cleopatra viceroy to hold Egypt for him.  This infuriates Pothinus and he leaves.  He tells Ftatateeta that Cleopatra has sold out to the Romans. 

Pothinus now talks to Caesar.  He is rather long-winded and Cleopatra arrives.  He has to blurt out quickly that Caesar has a traitoress in his midsts and it is Cleopatra!  But Caesar is not listening to him as he is up and rushing to welcome the Queen.  Caesar won't give Pothinus a private hearing, so he blurts out that Cleopatra is using him so that she can rule Egypt alone without her brother.  Then when she is done with him, she will sent Caesar home.   Caesar says he knows this already.  Cleopatra objects that this is all false, but Caesar doesn't believe her. 

Caesar sees Pothinus out, so that Cleopatra may gather herself together.  But what the Queen does is tell Ftatateeta to kill Pothinus.  Ftatateeta says she will kill him.  Caesar returns with Apollodorus and Rufio.  They sit down for dinner with Cleopatra.  Meanwhile, Ftatateeta sneaks up on Pothinus.  Still at dinner the diners hear a scream of pain.  Cleopatra says it is nothing, but Rufio thinks it the scream of a man struck with a knife.  The three men go to find out what it was for certain. Ftatateeta walks right past Caesar and Rufio as if in a trance.  They turn to watch and see Cleopatra hug and kiss Ftatateeta and then giver her some of her gold bracelets.  She sees Caesar and Rufio looking at her and sends Ftatateeta away.  She denies that she knows anything about what happened, but the men are skeptical of her.  Caesar asks her straight out:  "What have you done?"  She denies that she did anything. 

The people are up in arms at the death of Pothinus, one of their favorites.  Rufio brings up the captured Lucius, who tells Caesar that Pothinus has been killed.  Rufio denies that he and his men had anything to do with the murder.  Then Cleopatra speaks up saying that he was killed by an order from the Queen of Egypt.  She explains that Pothinus came to her to plot against Caesar, but she refused him.  He then proceeded to insult her, the Queen of Egypt.  So she took her vengeance on him.  She says she knew Caesar was too kind not to avenge her.  She asks the opinions of the men around Caesar about what she did and they basically agree with her. 

A moan comes up from the people and Caesar tells Cleopatra that the people also want vengeance, against her.  He asks her if it is right to let them slay her?  He says that through her actions, she has rejected him, so he will let her deal with the people.  She begs him not to go, but he reminds her that she is Queen and has forces at her own command.  Ceasar's mood is dark, but Lucius comes to the rescue.  He says he wants to fight for Caesar now and desires to be made a legion officer.  He will trade with Caesar for a piece of good news.  The relief under Mithridates of Perganos has taken Pelusium.  The Egyptian army has gone to the Nile to try to prevent the relief from crossimg the river.  Caesar says that means that outside there is only the mob.  Lucius says Mithridates is on the road to Memphis and will fight the Egyptians there.  Caesar says the Egyptians will fight him there. 

He explains his strategy to his lieutenants and the fight soon begins.  The soldiers are sent out to chase the mobs away.  Cleopatra asks Caesar if he has forgotten her.  He tells her to be patient.  Caesar will settle her affairs when he returns.  Alone Cleopatra finds Ftatateeta dead. 

Caesar faces his opponents in battle and wins.  He returns to Alexandria in triumph.  Caesar now is heading back to Rome.  He makes Rufio the local governor.  He announces the appointment to the whole crowd.  He leaves the management of Egyptian art to Apollodorus.  Just before he leaves, the Queen is announced.  She comes down to the docks dressed in mourning clothes to ask Caesar if Cleopatra is to have no part in this leave-taking?    Caesar apologizes, but asks her for whom is she morning?  She says that Rufio has killed her servant Ftatateeta.  Caesar tells Rufio "well done".  Then he asks Cleopatra to bid him farewell.  She says she will not.  Caesar then says he will send her a nice gift from Rome, namely, Marc Antony.  This pleases Cleopatra a great deal.  Caesar leaves for Rome.   

 

Good movie.  It takes a lot of liberties with history, but it is an entertaining movie.  Much of the film was humorous without hurting the seriousness of the topic.  Shaw paints a Caesar that is the ideal of an enlightened ruler.  Caesar is wise, kind, even-natured, fair, forgiving and not vengeful.  Does such a perfect man truly exist?  Shaw is making the point that this is the way a wise ruler should be, even though Caesar's style often seemed too lenient to many of his lieutenants.  Cleopatra is the opposite of Caesar:  scared, nervous, not kind or fair, vengeful and not forgiving.  Claude Rains as Caesar and Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra were both very good.  Vivian Leigh is very white for an Egyptian, but she still did a terrific acting job. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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Historical Background:

 

See Cleopatra (1963)

 

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