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On 15 Sep 1958, DV announced that producer Walter Wanger had acquired screen rights to Carlo Mario Franzero’s 1957 historical account, The Life and Times of Cleopatra. In a 19 Aug 1962 LAT interview, Wanger recalled that he initially envisioned making a movie for United Artists with producer and technical innovator Michael Todd. He hoped Elizabeth Taylor might star. However, sometime in the fall of 1958, Walter Wanger Productions, Inc. signed an agreement to make the picture for Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., with production scheduled to begin in the summer of 1959 in Hollywood, CA. By Jun 1959, however, a cast had yet to be selected. A 22 Jun 1959 DV brief indicated that Joan Collins had “tested extensively” for the role of “Cleopatra,” but was not committed to the project. Although writer Nigel Balchin had completed a screen adaptation of Franzero’s book, Wanger was not satisfied. Six months later, the 21 Dec 1959 DV reported that playwright Dale Wasserman was working on a new screenplay. By that time, Wanger had secured Taylor for the title role. With director Rouben Mamoulian at the helm and Jack Hildyard as cinematographer, the $5 million picture was slated to begin production 4 Apr 1960 in London, England. However, by the summer of 1960, it was clear that filmmakers were still in the process of choosing the male leads. A 25 Aug 1960 DV brief confirmed that Stephen Boyd had been cast as “Marc Antony,” and that Peter Finch would play “Julius Caesar.” A 14 Oct 1960 DV production chart listed actors Harvey Andrews and Elizabeth Welch along with ... More Less

On 15 Sep 1958, DV announced that producer Walter Wanger had acquired screen rights to Carlo Mario Franzero’s 1957 historical account, The Life and Times of Cleopatra. In a 19 Aug 1962 LAT interview, Wanger recalled that he initially envisioned making a movie for United Artists with producer and technical innovator Michael Todd. He hoped Elizabeth Taylor might star. However, sometime in the fall of 1958, Walter Wanger Productions, Inc. signed an agreement to make the picture for Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., with production scheduled to begin in the summer of 1959 in Hollywood, CA. By Jun 1959, however, a cast had yet to be selected. A 22 Jun 1959 DV brief indicated that Joan Collins had “tested extensively” for the role of “Cleopatra,” but was not committed to the project. Although writer Nigel Balchin had completed a screen adaptation of Franzero’s book, Wanger was not satisfied. Six months later, the 21 Dec 1959 DV reported that playwright Dale Wasserman was working on a new screenplay. By that time, Wanger had secured Taylor for the title role. With director Rouben Mamoulian at the helm and Jack Hildyard as cinematographer, the $5 million picture was slated to begin production 4 Apr 1960 in London, England. However, by the summer of 1960, it was clear that filmmakers were still in the process of choosing the male leads. A 25 Aug 1960 DV brief confirmed that Stephen Boyd had been cast as “Marc Antony,” and that Peter Finch would play “Julius Caesar.” A 14 Oct 1960 DV production chart listed actors Harvey Andrews and Elizabeth Welch along with the three leads as the principal cast.
       Wanger told the LAT that he was never in favor of shooting in England, pointing out that “the fog and sleet of London were hardly the atmosphere for Mediterranean Alexandria.” Various contemporary sources confirmed that bad weather stalled principal photography, which was to have begun 15 Sep 1960, and when Elizabeth Taylor fell gravely ill shortly thereafter, work had to be suspended entirely. Then, in early Jan 1961, Mamoulian resigned.
       On 23 Feb 1961, DV enthused about the “re-launch” of Cleopatra, revealing that replacement director Joseph L. Mankiewicz planned to focus on an “all new concept” for the epic picture. All footage shot in 1960 would be discarded. Writers Lawrence Durrell and Sidney Buchman flew to London with the understanding that they were likely “starting from scratch” on a screenplay that was due to go before cameras in Apr 1961. However, spring came and went, and a 12 Jun 1961 LAT column noted that screenwriter Ranald MacDougall had been brought in to work on the script. Wanger recalled, in his LAT interview, that Taylor also required additional time to recuperate to full health. In the meantime, he and Mankiewicz went to work urging Twentieth Century-Fox to film Cleopatra in Italy. The studio relented, and principal photography was slated to begin 25 Sep 1961 in Rome.
       Given the delays, the roles of Marc Antony and Julius Caesar, as well as others, had to be recast. With Richard Burton and Rex Harrison set to play opposite Taylor, rumors abounded that the cost of the picture had risen to well over $12 million. A 20 Sep 1961 Var article noted that the sets constructed at Cinecittà sprawled over eleven acres of the studio back lot, while interiors would be shot on seven soundstages. Over the course of production, cast and crew filmed in towns along the western Italian coast, including Fiumicino, Lavinio, and Torre Astura, as well as on the Island of Ponza. According to Var, two to three weeks would also be spent filming in Egypt. An 11 Jul 1962 LAT article announced that, after more than nine months of “continuous shooting,” production had finished in Italy, although Richard Burton was still scheduled to go to Egypt for two weeks of additional photography.
       With production completed, various contemporary sources reported that the $32 million Cleopatra was the most expensive motion picture ever made. A 25 Nov 1962 LAT article acknowledged that the lavish costumes, extensive sets, and vast number of extras, as well as the lead actors’ high salaries, accounted for much of the expense. However, line item costs of “miscellaneous items not normally encountered on film budgets,” including “chopped fish to lure sea gulls,” “Sardinian garden snakes,” cat herders, and one $4,700 costume change, were scrutinized by anxious stockholders. Taylor, who was still sensitive about her health, also drove costs up, though perhaps unintentionally: When she decided, at the last minute, that she was not well enough to report for filming, the extras who had already arrived on set had to be paid for the day. Even at a mere nine dollars per person, the expense for various dancers, handmaidens, acrobats, soldiers, and guards was not insignificant.
       On 3 Oct 1962, Var reported that television writer Ludi Claire was seeking a screenwriting credit for Cleopatra. Claire stated that she wrote a script at Walter Wanger’s request back in 1959, and that Mankiewicz’s expansive screenplay bore too close a resemblance to the material she had produced. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) agreed to review her claim.
       Around this same time, director Mankiewicz was dismissed from the project, according to 24 Oct 1962 NYT and 25 Oct 1962 LAT news items. Darryl F. Zanuck, who had recently assumed the presidency of Twentieth Century-Fox, was skeptical that Cleopatra would turn a profit for the studio, and declared he would “finish editing the film himself.” In a statement to the press, he added that Mankiewicz had “earned a well-deserved rest.” Mankiewicz, with full support from lead actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, intended to fight the decision, and ultimately was allowed to oversee the “loose ends” of post production, including scoring and re-recording, as noted by a 25 Mar 1963 LAT brief. Zanuck, for his part, did not receive onscreen credit as editor.
       Cleopatra premiered 12 Jun 1963 at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City. The 243-minute cut was presented in 70mm Todd-AO, and a review in the NYT the following day called the picture “one of the great epic films of our day.” A week after the New York screening, a benefit premiere was held in Hollywood on 19 Jun 1963 at the R.K.O. Pantages Theatre. Tickets to the event cost $250, with all proceeds to support the construction of Center Theatre, one of three performing arts venues that would form the downtown Los Angeles complex known as the Music Center. Coordinated by fundraiser and performing arts patron Dorothy Chandler, the Cleopatra premiere raised over $1 million, according to a 20 Jun 1963 LAT article.
       Film critic Philip K. Scheuer, in his 13 Jun 1963 LAT review, praised the film as a beautiful, literate, intelligent drama. However, he faulted its length, noting the challenge of returning from intermission and giving the story the concentrated attention it deserved. A 19 Nov 1963 DV article indicated that “shortly after” the Jun premieres, the film was cut, with Mankiewicz’s blessing, to 219 minutes. In the interest of theaters squeezing in one more screening per day, Twentieth Century-Fox was reportedly considering the release of an even shorter, 184-minute version. Mankiewicz “did not participate in shaping” that cut.
       Cleopatra received Academy Awards for the following: Cinematography (Color); Art Direction – Set Decoration (Color); Costume Design (Color); and Visual Effects. The film was also nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Actor (Rex Harrison); Original Score; Sound Mixing; and Editing. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
15 Sep 1958
pp. 1-2.
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1959
p. 2.
Daily Variety
21 Dec 1959
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
25 Aug 1960.
---
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1960
p. 6.
Daily Variety
23 Feb 1961
p. 1, 3.
Daily Variety
13 Jun 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
19 Nov 1963
p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
12 Jun 1961
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jul 1962
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
19 Aug 1962
Section N, p.7.
Los Angeles Times
25 Oct 1962
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1962
Section TW, p. 8, 11.
Los Angeles Times
25 Mar 1963
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jun 1963
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jun 1963
p. 1.
New York Times
24 Oct 1962
p. 44.
New York Times
13 Jun 1963
p. 27.
Variety
20 Sep 1961
p. 2, 63.
Variety
3 Oct 1962
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir of original production
2nd unit dir
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr for original production
Scr for original production
Scr for original production
Scr for original production
Scr cons for original production
Scr cons for original production
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2nd unit photog
2nd unit photog
Col cons
Lighting cam for original production
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Elizabeth Taylor's cost
Women's cost
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
Assoc mus cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Miss Taylor's hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
2nd unit prod mgr
Casting cons for original production
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on works by Plutarch, Suetonius and Appianus and the book The Life and Times of Cleopatra by Carlo Mario Franzero (New York, 1957).
DETAILS
Release Date:
12 June 1963
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 12 June 1963
Los Angeles premiere: 19 June 1963
Production Date:
25 September 1961--9 July 1962
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
19 June 1963
Copyright Number:
LP28304
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
De Luxe
gauge
35 & 70
Widescreen/ratio
Todd-AO
Duration(in mins):
243
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In 48 B. C. Caesar pursues Pompey from Pharsalia to Egypt. Ptolemy, now sovereign after deposing his older sister, Cleopatra, attempts to curry favor with Caesar by presenting the conquerer with the head of Pompey, borne by his satraps, Pothinos and Achillas. To win Caesar's support from her brother, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus, her minion, presents to Caesar. The Roman is immediately infatuated. Banishing Ptolemy, he declares Cleopatra Egypt's sole sovereign and takes her as his concubine. A son, Caesarion, is born of their union. Caesar, however, must return to Italy. Although he is briefly reunited with Cleopatra during a magnificent reception for the queen in Rome, Caesar is assassinated shortly thereafter, and his paramour returns to Egypt. When Mark Antony, Caesar's protege, beholds Cleopatra aboard her barque at Tarsus some years later, he is smitten and becomes both her lover and military ally. Their liaison notwithstanding, Antony, to consolidate his position in Rome, marries Octavia, sister of the ambitious Octavian. The marriage satisfies no one: Cleopatra is infuriated, and Antony, tiring of his Roman wife, returns to Egypt. There he flaunts his liaison by marrying Cleopatra in a public ceremony. Sensing Antony's weakness, Octavian attacks and defeats his forces at Actium. Alarmed, Cleopatra withdraws her fleet and seeks refuge in her tomb. Falsely informed that she is dead, Antony stabs himself. Borne to her sanctuary, he expires in her arms. In despair, Cleopatra applies an asp to her breast and dies of its ... +


In 48 B. C. Caesar pursues Pompey from Pharsalia to Egypt. Ptolemy, now sovereign after deposing his older sister, Cleopatra, attempts to curry favor with Caesar by presenting the conquerer with the head of Pompey, borne by his satraps, Pothinos and Achillas. To win Caesar's support from her brother, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus, her minion, presents to Caesar. The Roman is immediately infatuated. Banishing Ptolemy, he declares Cleopatra Egypt's sole sovereign and takes her as his concubine. A son, Caesarion, is born of their union. Caesar, however, must return to Italy. Although he is briefly reunited with Cleopatra during a magnificent reception for the queen in Rome, Caesar is assassinated shortly thereafter, and his paramour returns to Egypt. When Mark Antony, Caesar's protege, beholds Cleopatra aboard her barque at Tarsus some years later, he is smitten and becomes both her lover and military ally. Their liaison notwithstanding, Antony, to consolidate his position in Rome, marries Octavia, sister of the ambitious Octavian. The marriage satisfies no one: Cleopatra is infuriated, and Antony, tiring of his Roman wife, returns to Egypt. There he flaunts his liaison by marrying Cleopatra in a public ceremony. Sensing Antony's weakness, Octavian attacks and defeats his forces at Actium. Alarmed, Cleopatra withdraws her fleet and seeks refuge in her tomb. Falsely informed that she is dead, Antony stabs himself. Borne to her sanctuary, he expires in her arms. In despair, Cleopatra applies an asp to her breast and dies of its poison. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.