Cleopatra (1934)

 

 

 

Director:  Cecil B. DeMille

Starring:  Claudette Colbert (Cleopatra), Warren William (Julius Caesar), Henry Wilcoxon (Marc Antony), Joseph Schildkraut (King Herod), Ian Keith (Octavian), Gertrude Michael (Calpurnia), C. Aubrey Smith (Enobarbus), Irving Pichel (Apollodorus), Arthur Hohl (Brutus), Edwin Maxwell (Casca), Ian Maclaren (Cassius), Eleanor Phelps (Charmion), Leonard Mudie (Pothinos), Grace Durkin (Iras).

love affairs with Caesar  (to 44 BC) and Mark Antony (second triumvirate, 43-27 BC) (with Claudette Colbert)

 

 

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

48 B. C. Rome.

Julius Caesar turns his attention to Egypt where Ptolemy and his sister, Cleopatra, struggle for the sole possession of the world’s richest throne.

Cleopatra’s serving girls shout the alarm that the Queen is gone. Cleopatra is being carried out to the desert. She travels in a chariot sporting a blind-fold and with her hands tied. When they arrive at the destination, Prime Minister Pothinos cuts her blind fold off her head. Cleopatra snarls: "If my hands were free, I’d kill you." The Prime Minister leaves her with Apollodorus, a school master, who is also a philosopher well-known to the Queen. Pothinos tells Cleopatra that with the assistance of the philosopher, she might reach Syria. Cleopatra and the philosopher are left with the words: "Set foot in Alexandria again, and I’ll kill you." Caesar is coming to Egypt and Pothinos will return to Alexandria to meet with him. Cleopatra says: "You’ll find to your sorrow that I’m still Queen of Egypt."

After Pothinos and his crew leave, the philosopher tells Cleopatra that Caesar wants Egypt: "They’ve got you out of the way to deal with your brother. They can handle him."

In Alexandria with Caesar, Pothinos wants to know from Caesar if he is intending to support King Ptolemy or his rival, Cleopatra. Caesar does not answer the question. Instead he demands that the King’s Army be disbanded.

Pothinos tells Caesar that Cleopatra has disappeared. It is widely thought that she went to Syria. And in that case, wouldn’t it be wise to join the King Ptolemy. Caesar suggests that some arrangement can be reached, but that there are just a few things he wants from the Egyptians. Egypt is to pay to Rome each year one million denarri. In addition, Egypt will deliver annually ten shiploads of Egyptian corn for the unemployed in Rome. The Prime Minister accepts the taxes on Egypt for Rome.

While Caesar and the Prime Minister continue their discussions a man approaches Caesar with a rolled up carpet. It is a gift for Caesar, he says. Caesar says that he will make a deal with King Ptolemy and against the sedition of his sister. The man unrolls the carpet and out comes Cleopatra. Pothinos tries to get rid of her, but Caesar won’t allow him to do so. And now Caesar will not apply the seal to the agreement. He wants to be cautious. He keeps telling Cleopatra to "run along" but she just won’t leave until she tells him what she wants to get off her chest. She tells Caesar: "If I leave you now, I’ll be killed. Pothinos said he would kill me." Caesar is still not interested in what Cleopatra has to say. Her philosopher tells her to mention India. She does so and immediately Caesar is interested. Cleopatra says there is a lot of gold to be had in India. She then flatters Caesar. She asks him to come to her chamber and dine with her. Caesar agrees and shouts: "My own guard for the Queen’s safety."

At dinner Caesar says he will drive Pothinos out of Egypt. Cleo says: "But I am Egypt." The great general answers her with: "If I make you so." Caesar does not trust Cleopatra. Moreover, he has a wife in Rome. Cleo tells him to divorce her and together they can conquer the world. As she talks she walks over and picks up a javelin. Still talking she suddenly jabs the javelin into a person hiding behind a drape. Cleo has just killed Pothinos. Now Caesar has to deal more with the Queen than the King of Egypt. He tells his men that he will be longer in Egypt than he had thought.

Back in Rome, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, gives a party with many of the senators in attendance. In a corner, the three men, Casca, Cassius and Brutus discuss the future of the Roman republic. Cassius makes the case that Caesar would make himself King of Rome. The powerful man plans to divorce Calpurnia and marry Cleopatra. One problem: "Rome is a republic. It wants no crown."

Calpurnia speaks with Octavia, the wife of Marc Antony, and Octavian, the nephew of Julius Caesar. Marc Antony arrives. The tension between Octavian and Marc Antony is very noticeable. Caesar will soon be entering Rome. Octavian is upset about Caesar’s plans: "He’s drunk with Egypt and he’s deserting us." Marc Antony throws the contents of his wine glass on Octavian in objection to the comment.

Women crowd around Marc Antony. Calpurnia will wait for Caesar’s arrival at their house. Caesar rides in a chariot in a triumphant procession. He is followed by Cleopatra in a gold dress. An older man shouts to Caesar that he should beware the Ides of March. Caesar dismisses the idea as foolish.

Brutus conspires with Cassius to kill Caesar. Octavian thinks Caesar is making a big mistake in his dealings with Egypt. It is not a wise idea to capture India and then the world. The fear in Rome is that Cleopatra is making an Egyptian out of their famous leader.

Caesar says he is heading for the Senate. Calpurnia arrives and begs him not to go. She says she had a terrible vision in her dream and he should not go. Senator Casca arrives at the house to escort Caesar to the Senate.

Before going to the Senate, however, Caesar stops to see Cleopatra. She greets Caesar and tells him: "I’m frightened of something." But Caesar just tells her that nothing is going to happen to him. 

In the Senate, Cassius gives Brutus a knife. Caesar proceeds up the Senate steps. The Ides of March are here says the same older man, "but not gone". As Caesar enters the Senate chambers, a group of Senators stab him many times. Brutus hangs back, but then finally stabs Caesar, who laments: "You too Brutus."

Cleopatra is elegantly dressed, waiting for the re-arrival of her Caesar. A messenger reports to her that Caesar has been murdered by Brutus and Cassius. And now a hostile crowd is approaching Cleo’s temporary residence. She has to escape or be killed. Cleo laments: "What do I care for empire now?" The Philosopher tells her that Caesar did not love her. She strikes the Philosopher for that remark. This does not stop the Philosopher: "Caesar wanted Egypt’s treasury. You were blind." Cleopatra escapes with her retinue.

Octavian and Antony will rule Rome together, but Antony is more in control of the government because of his greater popularity. Antony tells his staff that he will punish Egypt. Rome will feign friendship with that nation, but then grab the country by force. Moreover, Antony promises that he will send Cleopatra to Rome in chains.

Tarsus. Antony waits and waits for the late Cleopatra. He finally becomes so impatient that he decides to go down to her boat to get her himself. On board the ship, the Queen looks very exotic and enticing. Antony asks her where are his two men who were sent to get her at an earlier time. They are drunk and sleeping.

Antony wants to talk with Cleopatra in the public square in Tarsus, but Cleopatra does not like this idea. She suggests that they eat on her boat and talk in private. Antony still is set on the square, so Cleopatra levels with him. She confesses that she dressed to lure him to her. She knows he is her enemy, but she wants to put on the show that she planned. Cleo shows him an enticing bit of a performance and Antony is hooked. The Queen uses a lot of pretty women to win Antony’s attention and interest. Antony really enjoys himself and laughs a great deal.

The two eat dinner together. Antony asks Cleopatra: "Do you miss Caesar?" She replies: "No, he didn’t love me." Cleo has a bout of the hiccups and Antony tells her that she is charming. He adds: "I could fall in love with you." That’s just what Cleopatra wanted to hear. She’s got her man. They make love behind the now drawn drapes.

Octavian speaks to a crowd of people: "Antony is a traitor to Rome." He has not attacked Egypt. In fact, he has not done anything. He then shouts: "There will be war!"

Antony is by now really in love with Cleopatra. King Herod of Judea arrives. He has just come from Rome. The King tells Cleopatra some of the news from Rome. Octavian is now in power in Rome and he sends her a message that if Marc Antony were dead, Rome could be her closest alley. The King tells Antony the same story. The Philosopher tells Cleo that she must do it for the sake of Egypt. She says she just can’t do it, but then Cleopatra participates in some experiments involving poisons. And she does try to poison Antony, who is saved by a knock on the door.

News arrives that Rome has declared war on Egypt and that the Romans all believe that Antony is a traitor. This infuriates Antony and he jumps to action. He is so decisive that he impresses Cleopatra a great deal. Antony starts to drink a poisoned goblet of wine, but Cleo stops him. She says: "At last, I’ve seen a God come to life."

Antony calls in his friend Enobarbus, who is an old soldier. Marc wants his trusted friend to get the troops ready for action. Enobarbus breaks the news to him that there won’t be any war. The Romans under Antony will not fight against other Romans. Ten of Antony’s generals have gone over to Octavian’s side. Enobarbus adds that Antony could still have Rome as long as he killed Cleopatra. The soldier says that there is no room in Antony’s world for anything except Cleopatra. But Antony loves Cleopatra too much to kill her. He tells his friend that they will have to train and use Egyptian troops to oppose Octavian.

There is a large land battle, followed by a sea battle, followed by more land battles. Antony and Cleopatra are the losers. Antony strides a wall of an Egyptian fortress shouting insults at the Roman soldiers gathered outside the fortress who are heaping all kinds of nasty insults on Antony’s head. The defeated warrior shouts to them: "You’ve got it all! Come in and get me!" The Romans just laugh at him and throw more insults his way.

By the gate and unbeknownst to Antony, Cleopatra is secretly carried out to speak with Octavian. She wants to save Antony’s life by surrendering. When Antony sees Cleopatra he shouts: "Come back. Come back." The Romans hurl more insults including: "He can’t keep his woman" and "Antony, the plaything of a woman." Antony stabs himself with his sword.

Octavian tells Cleopatra that he will not spare the life of Antony. He adds: "And you will go back to Rome in chains." She returns to the fortress and Antony, who tells her that he thought he wanted to never see her again. Cleo explains what she did and the two are united again. Antony then dies. The Romans are in the process of breaking open the fortress gate.

Cleopatra tells her women that she is not going to Rome. They give her the basket with the poisonous asp snake. She grabs the snake behind its head and puts it to her breast. The snake bites her. Cleopatra dies in her royal chair.

Octavian and his men start to slowly approach Cleopatra. There is something odd about her, indeed. She does not make any motion. They soon realize that the Queen is dead.

 

Very good, even best, of the films on Cleopatra.  Of course, director Cecil B. DeMille was always good at these opulent historical dramas. (See the 1963 version of the movie for the historical background)  Claudette Colbert was very good as Cleopatra. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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