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Antony and Cleopatra
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Shakespeare’s works, Charlton Heston said, are “the measuring stick against which you measure an actor’s work.” Heston made his Broadway debut against that measuring stick, appearing in a supporting role in Antony and Cleopatra. Twenty-five years later, he was one of the world’s biggest stars when he brought his authoritative presence and literary command to the lead role of Marc Antony in this masterful movie adaptation of the Bard’s tale of Rome’s hero and Egypt’s queen (Hildegarde Neil). Heston wrote the adaptation and also directed, opening up the story to its cinematic possibilities with spectacle, pyramids, warfare at sea (with some similarity to Heston’s mighty Ben-Hur) and a clash of armies on land. Peter Snell produced the epic drama.
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Act I, sc i: Cleopatra's lines from "Nay, hear them, Antony" to "The messengers!" The perceptive viewers must have noticed that Antony was suddenly wearing a pearl necklace when he says "Let Rome in Tiber melt, ..." which was not there seconds earlier. It was wound by Cleopatra while speaking those lines.
Act I, sc iii, the leave-taking scene with Cleopatra (quite a big chunk)
Act I, sc v, Alexas's appearance "Sovereign of Egypt, hail!" etc.
Prelude to part 2 (I never heard this, but it is on the soundtrack album: 1 min 31 sec.)
Whoever was responsible for that, one must have thought nobody would notice but there are some still around who saw the film when the it was first released and even remember it well.
14 minutes may not sound much but the cut is devastating for the Cleopatra character, making her utterly uninteresting, particularly at her first appearance, and it makes the first one-thirds of the film so dull. One wonders why Antony didn't stick with Octavia and retain half the Roman world. Poor Hildegarde Neil whose better scenes were so callously cut! Surely it would take a greater actress than Neil to play this part convincingly. Heston himself was not terribly happy with her even while shooting but she was the "best girl available" to him (or affordable, perhaps). However, even though "the critics' wrath" was "concentrated on her", he did not think she was so bad. (From his journals, "Actor's life" 1978.)
Of course I've read all the plays of Shakespeare at least two times and some many times over including this one. The problem with me is that I don't much like it - particularly the portrayal of Cleopatra. I cannot imagine her to be the queen of one of the richest country of the ancient world, but merely a crafty woman in the art of love, and in the end what induced her to die was more the prospect of shame than the bereavement by Antony. Surely one cannot blame her or Shakespeare for that. Besides, the art of love was what she exercised as statecraft since the time with Julius Caesar. However, this is no place to discuss that. To be honest I prefer Mankiewicz's Cleopatra to Shakespeare's!
I thought this film would never come out on DVD, but it did after a long wait: 39 years since when I saw it in the local cinema. What a shame that it came out in such a poor presentation! The cut is unpardonable and but more disappointing is the sound: so much tape noise as one seldom hears on DVDs, certainly never from major studios. My ancient soundtrack album sounds much better, and in stereo as well.
Otherwise the film is better than I remembered. I was rather surprised that those lines could be spoken naturally. I thought then that Heston overplayed a bit, but now I see that he rather underplayed. The problem at least for me is that he is hardly convincing as Antony the Drunkard and Antony the Debauchee, although normally credible as a leader of men; in this case a blundering general finally deserted by his men. I leave the praise for the supporting players like Eric Porter, John Castle, etc. to other reviewers. It is ironic and sad that this should be released on the same day as the latest edition of The Ten Commandments that has received the maximum treatment. I would have gladly waited more for a better really uncut one in Blu-ray.
I would give 4 stars to this film were it not for the unpardonable cut.
It has solid theater trained actors, a great music score, and wonderful locations. Where it lacks is in some of its sets and in comparison to the more well known Cleopatra from 10 years earlier.
That movie was extremely expensive in its sets and costumes. This film has great sets and costumes, but also some pretty cheap looking ones. There are some great action sequences, with a naval battle and sword fighting. John Castle is very similar to Roddy McDowall, who played Octavian in the Burton/Taylor epic. Julian Glover gives a stand out performance.
Heston keeps most of the original dialogue from the play, but cuts some scenes and combines others. It's a rather faithful adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy.
The only special feature is a 32 minute interview with Fraser Heston discussing the movie in glowing terms. He worked on it as a teenager under the 2nd unit director. The film was made in Spain and the younger Heston knew Spanish and helped translate for the extras, most of whom did not speak English. It would've been great to hear from some of the other actors or even from Charlton himself discussing his epic achievement.
The cast is superb; the locales are breathtaking, the story is indeed magnificent.
Charlton Heston actually directed this film, and his son, Fraser C. Heston, was an Assistant Director for this film.
This is definitely a film to buy!!!
Some of Shakespeare's lines were cut, some moved around, and some "translated" into more modern English, i.e. "wanton" for "riggish". Offended purists should remember that Shakespeare was a working playwright,turning out scripts that put groundling feet on the ground and aristocratic rears on seats. Because he was a poetic genius, what he wrote turned out to be great literature, but it is better performed than read.
Heston's movie never went into general theatrical release in this country because the critics killed it. They were wrong.