By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –
The story of Cleopatra is well-known. Her name itself reveals a historical world filled with romance, passion, and deception. William Shakespeare wrote about her in Antony and Cleopatra, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz made the iconic (but also infamous) version starring Elizabeth Taylor in 1963. A very different playwright, George Bernard Shaw, wrote about the love affair between Caesar and Cleopatra during the early Twentieth Century, and that play formed the basis for the 1945 film that features Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh in the title roles. This film might not be as famous as the Elizabeth Taylor version, but it is still an interesting take on the famous love story.
This film has very beautiful production design (and earned an Academy Award nomination in that category as well!). The sets are well-designed, and showcase the ancient world populated by hundreds of Hollywood extras. Vivien Leigh might look glamorous in her make-up and costumes, but the true beauty comes from the craftsmanship that went into creating Cleopatra’s historical era. George Pascal was also famous (and infamous) with his attention to detail, so he actually imported sand from Egypt in order to get the right color to accurately show. Vivien Leigh has also said that filming took nine months since Pascal served as both the director and producer of this historical drama.
Even though Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, her take on Cleopatra is not exactly her best performance. The name “Cleopatra” implies power and seduction, but Leigh portrays her as if the Queen of Egypt was a silly and naïve little girl. Bernard Shaw even said that, “”She’s not right at all”. After making this film, Leigh would later go on to play Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Caesar and Cleopatra was made almost exactly halfway between her two Academy Award victories. It is almost as if Leigh was more suitable for playing Southern belles instead of the famed Egyptian queen.
Caesar and Cleopatra is not one of the most well-known versions of the famous love affair, but it is still an interesting portrayal of one of the most iconic women in world history. For many people, the first thought that comes to their minds when they hear the name “Cleopatra” is Elizabeth Taylor. Some people might also not even know that Vivien Leigh played Cleopatra because her name is synonymous with Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois. Perhaps this film was simply a misstep for George Pascal because of the inappropriate casting of an Oscar winner.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Cleopatra squeals and behaves childishly
Take a Drink: whenever Julius Caesar is wearing laurel wreaths
Drink a Shot: every time Cleopatra calls out the name “Ftatateeta,” who is Cleopatra’s main servant