Caesar and Cleopatra is a disappointment. In spite of its prodigal magnificence, indeed because of its production values, such vague story interest as it has is hopelessly swamped.
Claude Rains’ Caesar – thanks to Shaw and Gabriel Pascal, director – is accurately and succinctly pinpointed by Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra when she calls him ‘a nice old gentleman’. As for her portrayal of the Queen of Queens – again the responsibility of author and director – Rains calls the turn when he tells her with justifiable incredulity she is not Queen of Egypt, but a queen of the gypsies.
Sketchy references to an earlier visit of a young Roman ‘with strong, round, gleaming arms’ elicit his identification by Caesar as being Marc Antony. Apart from this vague, soft-pedal reference to the possibility of her knowing what passion means, Leigh’s Cleopatra is as lacking in sex consciousness as the boy actor (Anthony Harvey) who plays the part of her brother, Ptolemy, whose throne she seizes.
Seemingly just to make things more irritating there appears halfway through the pic Stewart Granger as Apollodorus, a Sicilian with flashing eyes, dazzling white teeth and a torso of burnished bronze. But nix on anything like that, says Shaw. So Cleopatra passes Granger up as if he were a dirty deuce – instead of being what he so obviously, so vibrantly is, a grand chunk of three-quarters nude male s.a.
In a cast of more than 100 of Britain’s finest stage actors individual performances of bits are all flawless. And make no mistake about it, the prodigality of this $6 million spectacle makes Griffith and DeMille and Von Stroheim look like niggards.
1946: Nomination: Best Color Art Direction