Cleopatra (1917)

125 mins | Drama | 14 October 1917

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HISTORY

Desert scenes were filmed outside of Oxnard, in California's Ventura County, "a distance of seventy miles from Los Angeles," the 28 July 1917 Motion Picture News reported. "Two special trains and a dozen automobiles were used by the William Fox Company this week to transport cast, extra players and animals needed for desert scenes." 2,000 extras and several hundred animals, "including camels, burros and Arabian horses," were used.
       According to the 4 August 1917 Motion Picture News, "Scores of automobiles of every size and type were required this week by the William Fox studio producing force to transport the great number of extra people from the studio to the streets of Alexandria, located on [a slough, or wetland], a near stagnant stream in the vicinity of San Pedro, a distance of thirty miles [south] from the [Fox] producing plant. At this point the larger scenes for the production will be made, and every day twelve hundred or more people have been busy working in scenes of the coming Theda Bara production, Cleopatra, under the direction of J. Gordon Edwards." The 8 September 1917 Motion Picture News provided more details about the "Alexandria" set on the "slough," or what the trade magazines called "the Nile of California": "On one of the islets, so low that in the wet season it is covered with water, the workers of the William Fox studio built Cleopatra's regal home. From the banks of a stream, they built a stone platform, with broad steps leading up from the water's very edge. Here the majestic Queen landed from her barge, walked slowly to the landing place above, and ...

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Desert scenes were filmed outside of Oxnard, in California's Ventura County, "a distance of seventy miles from Los Angeles," the 28 July 1917 Motion Picture News reported. "Two special trains and a dozen automobiles were used by the William Fox Company this week to transport cast, extra players and animals needed for desert scenes." 2,000 extras and several hundred animals, "including camels, burros and Arabian horses," were used.
       According to the 4 August 1917 Motion Picture News, "Scores of automobiles of every size and type were required this week by the William Fox studio producing force to transport the great number of extra people from the studio to the streets of Alexandria, located on [a slough, or wetland], a near stagnant stream in the vicinity of San Pedro, a distance of thirty miles [south] from the [Fox] producing plant. At this point the larger scenes for the production will be made, and every day twelve hundred or more people have been busy working in scenes of the coming Theda Bara production, Cleopatra, under the direction of J. Gordon Edwards." The 8 September 1917 Motion Picture News provided more details about the "Alexandria" set on the "slough," or what the trade magazines called "the Nile of California": "On one of the islets, so low that in the wet season it is covered with water, the workers of the William Fox studio built Cleopatra's regal home. From the banks of a stream, they built a stone platform, with broad steps leading up from the water's very edge. Here the majestic Queen landed from her barge, walked slowly to the landing place above, and amid the cheers of her subjects entered her Palace. The building itself was a massive stone structure, fashioned in the heavy square style peculiar to the Egyptians. Its walls were highly decorated with carven [sic] figures and hieroglyphics, painted in the bright reds and oranges of the Pharaohs. There several weeks ago, 3,000 people knelt in homage to Cleopatra, the Queen."
       The 16 June 1917 Moving Picture World mentioned that Cleopatra, which was still in production, was costing $250,000. However, later sources reported a cost of more than half a million dollars.
       The 25 August 1917 Motion Picture News reported that location scenes had been completed late that week at Balboa Beach, CA, where an elaborate set was built for a naval battle scene. The company returned to the Fox Studios on Western Avenue in Hollywood, CA, for a banquet scene, which included lions, tigers, leopards, and other exotic animals.
       Cleopatra premiered in New York City on 14 October 1917. Crowds were turned away during its stand at the Lyric Theatre at 42nd Street near Broadway. The 29 December 1917 Motography noted that William Fox declared Cleopatra "the most successful photoplay run ever made in the Broadway district." He finally ended its time at the Lyric "after an eleven-week showing."
       Major M. L. C. Funkhouser, the leader of Chicago's Board of Censors and a recurring problem for film companies, "ordered excessive eliminations, to which, of course, we were not willing to agree," according to a Fox statement quoted in the 8 June 1917 Exhibitors Herald. (The 16 March 1918 Exhibitors Herald gave a long list of the cuts, most of which had to do with Theda Bara's breasts.) "We would not acquiesce without protest in letting one man's views be the determining and almost the sole factor in the decision as to what a million other persons would or should not see." Ultimately, Chicago's "corporation counsel ordered Mr. Funkhouser to issue a white or general permit for Cleopatra," giving local theaters "the right to present the picture in the form in which it has been shown practically throughout the United States."
       In the January 1918 Motion Picture Magazine, reviewer Hazel Siimpson Naylor called Cleapatra: "An elaborate spectacle with gorgeous scenery and costumes and thousands of people. While it is historically accurate in the main, and faithfully unfolds the interesting life of the conquerer of conquerors, including many historic episodes such as the assassination of Caesar and the famous naval battle of Actium, and while it is at times dazzling with splendor, it lacks the finish and dramatic force of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. The mob scenes were not handled with the [D. W.] Griffith mastery, and some of the elaborate scenery looked stagey. The much-heralded naval battle failed to be convincing and the vessels looked like toys, altho it is possible that this scene was done authoritatively. Theda Bara is excellent and does some of the best work of her career. She makes Cleopatra a sensual voluptuary of the most luring type who conquers only by her seductiveness." Wid's called Cleopatra "a superb background for Theda Bara's supreme attempt at vamping. As spectacle this is excellent, although not supreme, and Miss Bara's 'baring' of quite considerable of herself on most every occasion will prove most interesting generally if the authorities decide that it's all right because Cleopatra did it."
       The Cleopatra Film Co. reissued Helen Gardner's 1912 Cleopatra (see entry) on the state rights market to exploit the success of Fox's Cleopatra.
       Other films in which the historical figure "Cleopatra" is featured include: Paramount's 1934 Cleopatra, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Claudette Colbert; the 1953 Columbia film Serpent of the Nile, directed by William Castle and starring Rhonda Fleming; and the 1963 Twentieth Century-Fox film Cleopatra, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Elizabeth Taylor (see entries).
       Cleopatra is on the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) list of Lost U.S. Silent Feature Films as of February 2021. American Film Institute has included the picture on its "Ten Most Wanted" list. However, film maker Phillip Dye reconstructed Cleopatra using the twenty seconds of surviving footage, along with over 500 still photographs from the production, for a centennial video called Lost Cleopatra (2017).

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Exhibitors Herald
3 Nov 1917
p. 27
Exhibitors Herald
16 Mar 1918
p. 29
Exhibitors Herald
8 Jun 1918
p. 33
Motion Picture Magazine
Jan 1918
p. 108
Motion Picture News
28 Jul 1917
p. 622
Motion Picture News
4 Aug 1917
p. 862
Motion Picture News
25 Aug 1917
p. 1310, 1312
Motion Picture News
8 Sep 1917
p. 1630
Motion Picture News
3 Nov 1917
p. 3134
Motography
3 Nov 1917
p. 940
Motography
29 Dec 1917
p. 1332
Moving Picture World
16 Jun 1917
p. 1721
Moving Picture World
3 Nov 1917
p. 657, 708
New York Times
2 Sep 1917
p. 26
Wid's
18 Oct 1917
pp. 663-64
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
WRITER
FILM EDITOR
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the plays Antony and Cleopatra (London, ca. 1606-07, published 1623) and Julius Caesar (London, 1599, published 1623) by William Shakespeare; the play Cléopâtre by Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau (Paris, 23 Oct 1890); the novel Cleopatra by H. Rider Haggard (London, 1889), and other historical works.
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHORS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
14 October 1917
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 14 October 1917
Production Date:
summer 1917
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
William Fox
14 October 1917
LP11579
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
125
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Leading his conquering forces into Egypt, Julius Caesar falls madly in love with Cleopatra and the two jointly rule Egypt, but when he returns to Rome to be crowned king of the civilized world, Caesar is assassinated. Mark Antony then journeys to Egypt to secure Cleopatra's submission to the ruling triumvirate in Rome. Although Antony and Cleopatra fall passionately in love, Antony returns to Rome and marries Octavia, sister of Octavius, to cement the triumvirate politically. When he discovers that Cleopatra still loves him, Antony joins forces with her, but is vanquished by the armies of Octavius at Actium. Antony stabs himself, and when Cleopatra learns of his death, she holds a venomous asp to her breast and ...

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Leading his conquering forces into Egypt, Julius Caesar falls madly in love with Cleopatra and the two jointly rule Egypt, but when he returns to Rome to be crowned king of the civilized world, Caesar is assassinated. Mark Antony then journeys to Egypt to secure Cleopatra's submission to the ruling triumvirate in Rome. Although Antony and Cleopatra fall passionately in love, Antony returns to Rome and marries Octavia, sister of Octavius, to cement the triumvirate politically. When he discovers that Cleopatra still loves him, Antony joins forces with her, but is vanquished by the armies of Octavius at Actium. Antony stabs himself, and when Cleopatra learns of his death, she holds a venomous asp to her breast and dies.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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