Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OK, I'm not a big fan of George Bernard Shaw either

TCM concludes its salute to September Star of the Month Vivian Leigh tonight with four more of her movies, including Caesar and Cleopatra, at midnight ET.

Based on a play by George Bernard Shaw (who also wrote the screenplay), Claude Rains plays Caesar, who comes to Egypt on one of his campaigns and finds the young Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh). Together, the two plot to get Cleopatra the throne away frmo her borther Ptolemy, who is leading the Egyptians against the Romans. The story line, however, is really just there in service of the epigrammatic writing of Shaw.

To be honest, this is where I find the movie a big problem. Other than that, it's an extremely well-made movie. Rains is as good as ever playing Caesar, and Leigh is good (if too old) as Cleopatra. Her Cleopatra is supposed to be a teenager, and Leigh does well portraying not-quite-mature, and smitten with Caesar. The supporting cast is good, too; you've got a young Stewart Granger as the Greek, Flora Robson as Cleopatra's servant Ftatateeta, and a bunch of names that might be more recognizable if you watch British movies. Appearing in small roles are Michael Rennie (a centurion), Jean Simmons (a harpist) and an uncredited Roger Moore as a Roman soldier. To top it all off, the set design is impressive, especially considering that this was made at the height of the Nazis' bombardment of Britain with its V-rockets. And, the movie is made in absolutely lovely technicolor.

The problem, though, is Shaw. He seems so enamored of his own writing that he allows his wit to overpower an otherwise interesting story and good performances. I found myself particularly irritated by the way everybody said "Ftatateeta" as if this odd name was the funniest thing in the ancient world. However, I'm sure there are people out there who like Shaw's work. If you're such a person, you'll probably love this movie.

Apparently, Caesar and Cleopatra has only been released to DVD in North America as part of a box set of Shaw's work.

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