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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 12: Cleopatra and American Excess
In 1963, as the United States was busy policing the world in Vietnam and elsewhere, 20th Century Fox released Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra. In this film, Rome took center stage as the somewhat benign empire working to set the world’s warring factions right. Julius Caesar, arrives in Alexandria, to bring order to the squabbling Ptolomey siblings, Ptolomey XIII and his sister Cleopatra VII. Caesar and the buxom Cleopatra fall in love, he is betrayed by his best friend, who falls for Cleopatra, etc., etc. Budgeted at $2 million budget, this epic came in at $44 million dollars, a figure that soon began to overshadow the film itself. Indeed while the film would go on to be the highest grossing film of that year, its profits could never outshine its cost overruns. In one of the first epics that was not about the birth of Christianity, Cleopatra both and off screen soon became a mirror of American excess, from the over-top demands of its star Elizabeth Taylor, to its scandalous on-set romance between the two already married leads, Taylor and Richard Burton, to the studio’s mega-marketing of the film. Despite its running time of 194 minutes, audiences loved the showy if slow-moving biopic. Critic Christopher Null notes, “Cleopatra ruined so many careers… it's amazing that it's still remembered mostly fondly by Hollywood insiders and movie fans.” Conventional wisdom has it that the film spelled the end of sword-and-sandal epics—at least for the next 37 years.