- Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz/16-bit)
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Subtitles Color: White
- Region: B (Region-Locked)
- Certification: PG
- Run Time: 147 Mins.
- Discs: 2 (1 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
- Studio: Eureka Entertainment (Masters of Cinema)
- Blu-ray Release Date: September 24, 2012
- RRP: £20.42; £30.63 (Steelbook)
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As Bob Dylan once sang, “send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille and you can die happily ever after.” With the magnificence that is a DeMille historical epic on film, Dylan may have been onto something. In 1934, with the Production Code firmly asserting its moral grip on a depression-era Hollywood, the filmmaker set out to make another of his splendid historical masterpieces. The story from Bartlett Cormack and screenplay by Waldemar Young and Vincent Lawrence blended Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with the infamous romance of Antony and Cleopatra into a sensuous extravaganza infused with the hip beat of post-prohibition era mores.
DeMille’s Cleopatra stars the magnetic Claudette Colbert (Imitation of Life; The Sign of the Cross) in the titular role as the seductive Queen of Egypt who uses her feminine wiles to lure in the mighty Roman Empire’s powerful Julius Caesar, as played by Warren William (Madame X; Imitation of Life), who falls victim firstly due to his avarice and secondly to lust. It ultimately leads to his assassination at the hands of his own friends in the senate, sending Cleopatra into the arms of Caesar’s friend, Mark Antony (Henry Wilcoxon; The Ten Commandments; The Last of the Mohicans). Initially sent to Egypt to bring Cleopatra back to Rome to face execution for seducing Caesar, Antony himself is ensnared by Cleopatra’s seductions and becomes an enemy of Rome, at odds with his co-head of state Octavian (Ian Keith) who is finally charged with killing Antony and dragging Cleopatra back to Rome for public execution once and for all.
With its lavish costumes, big dance numbers, and suggestive scenes that manage to flaunt the morality code without breaking it (check out the scene with a harpist “stroking” Claudette Colbert’s half-naked body in the background), DeMille’s Cleopatra may well be one of the most enjoyable historical spectacles put to film. Even if Elizabeth Taylor always gets much of the attention for her subsequent portrayal in the same role, she doesn’t have the pizzazz of Colbert by a mile.
The AVC/MPEG-4 encodement of Cleopatra is taken from a master preserved by UCLA and it comes to Blu-ray warts and all. The film certainly doesn’t look shiny and new, but I can’t complain that it looks like it has been scrubbed so clean that the people and objects in it look like smooth wax sculptures, like the recent Pathé restoration of Les enfant du paradis. However, this won’t be heading to the top of the list for anyone looking for reference quality material anytime soon given the coarse layers of grain and scratches that plague the image.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz/16-bit) mono soundtrack at times sounds a little boomy and muffled, but it gets the job done better than expected given its age. Dialogue is intelligible and there is very little audible crackle.
An interesting if slight selection of featurettes is provided alongside the informative audio commentary F.X. Feeney.
- Commentary recorded in 2009 featuring F.X. Feeney
- Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood’s Epic Director (1.33:1; 480/SD; 00:10:02) – A brief look at the career of DeMille.
- Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen (1.78:1; 480/SD; 00:09:16) – a brief discussion of Claudette Colbert.
- Forbidden Film: The Production Code Era (1.33:1; 480/SD; 00:09:46) – This featurette takes a look at the evolution from the pre-Hayes code era all the way through adoption of the current ratings system.
- Theatrical Trailer (1.37:1; 480/SD)
- Booklet: A rather lengthy and insightful excerpt from DeMille’s autobiography in which he writes about working on Cleopatra is included in the booklet, it includes an amusing tidbit about Claudette Colbert and a snake. Also included are some flowery descriptions of various scenes from the film by Craig Keller and the usual information on viewing and disc credits.
The Definitive Word
Historically accurate it may not exactly be, but a sensual, dazzling, and amazingly choreographed epic with some of the legendary actors of their era it is. Cleopatra is definitely one of the DeMille masterpieces that should be seen by all. Highly recommended.
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