Sunday, March 23, 2014

Flick Pick: Cleopatra

(20th Century Fox, 1963)

The Film That (Almost) Bankrupted Fox, the budget ballooned from $2M to $44M, and still turned a profit, even in 1963 with the average movie tickets going for 85 cents or so. Studio accounting still reported it as a loss, apparently money earned overseas not actually counting as income when one is talking to the IRS. (You'll see this material again in motion picture finance.)
Monstrously lavish beyond belief, this is unquestionably the biggest display of eye candy in movie history, back when they couldn't just whisk it in with a mouse and keyboard. Notably, they did it twice, wasting the first $5M when they built it in England, and then threw it all out to move to Rome for the production that made it to the screen.
Elizabeth Taylor, seen before her late-life blotation and self-caricature, is the diva beauty of legend so richly displayed in this epic. The movie is really two films, the first with Rex Harrison (fantastic as Julius Caesar), and the latter with Richard Burton as a splendid Mark Anthony. In fact, replacement director Joseph Mankiewicz begged Fox to split the movie (originally cut by him as a 6-hour monster) into two successive films, but Fox, fearing the loss of PR buzz over the Burton-Taylor scandalous tryst, went with cutting it to a single flick of a mere 4 hours and 8 minutes.

It took another decade for people like Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg to help the studios figure out the point of building sequelization and franchise properties as a movie-making technique and studio enriching plan, and failure to learn early nearly killed them. If they'd learned the lesson earlier, we might have gotten more installments on this level of production value and spectacle, and the former MGM backlot wouldn't be an industrial park in Culver City.

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