Cleopatra (1934)

city lights
Henry Wilcoxon and Claudette Colbert

'Cleopatra is an epic historical movie made in 1934, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Claudette Colbert, Warren William, and Henry Wilcoxon. The movie was Paramount's designated big budget movie of the year and on release it became a huge box-office success. It was also well received by the critics and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, winning one Oscar for Best Cinematography. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to 'It Happened One Night' which starred Claudette Colbert in a vintage year for her.

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The story of Cleopatra had already been filmed several times with the title role played by Helen Gardner in 1912, and Theda Bara in 1917. The 1934 film would be followed by the great performances of Vivien Leigh in 'Caesar and Cleopatra' in 1945 and, most famously, by Liz Taylor in 'Cleopatra' in 1963.

DeMille was well known for his extravagant, large-scale historical dramas and 'Cleopatra' gave him an opportunity to indulge himself with the golden age of Rome with its sumptuous costumes, pomp, pageantry, opulence and depravity. The Hays Code had only just been instituted, so DeMille was still able to include images that would later be prohibited. For instance, Claudette Colbert's clinging costumes revealed more of her figure than would have been possible after the Production Code took effect on July 1, 1934.

The story of 'Cleopatra' begins with her exile to the desert and continues with her rolling out of a rug given as a gift to Julius Caesar, leader of the powerful Roman army. Before long it is Cleopatra who rules Caesar and just about any other man she cares to seduce. There is not a wealth of storyline but the movie is visually impressive with many lavish sets such as the royal barge complete with flower petals and dancing girls.

The quality of the cast is excellent with Claudette Colbert perfectly seductive as well as deadly in the title role. She had starred previously in in another DeMille historical epic 'The Sign of the Cross' in 1932 and in the same year as 'Cleopatra' she also received a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the romantic comedy 'It Happened One Night' and starred in the drama 'Imitation of Life'. The other members of the cast also hold their own well. Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony gives an accomplished performance, as do Warren William and Ian Keith as Julius Caesar and Octavian. Sir C. Aubrey Smith is convincing as always, as an elderly Roman general.

In short, 'Cleopatra' is a thoroughly entertaining, typically DeMillean extravaganza. Old-fashioned Hollywood at its best.

Main Cast

Claudette Colbert ... Cleopatra
Warren William ... Julius Caesar
Henry Wilcoxon ... Marc Antony
Joseph Schildkraut ... King Herod
Ian Keith ... Octavian
Gertrude Michael ... Calpurnia
C. Aubrey Smith ... Enobarbus
Irving Pichel ... Apollodorus
Arthur Hohl ... Brutus
Edwin Maxwell ... Casca
Ian Maclaren ... Cassius
Eleanor Phelps ... Charmion, one of Cleopatra's servants
Leonard Mudie ... Pothinos
Grace Durkin ... Iras, another of Cleopatra's servants
Ferdinand Gottschalk ... Glabrio (scenes deleted)
Claudia Dell ... Octavia
Harry Beresford ... Soothsayer
Jayne Regan ... Lady Vesta
William Farnum ... Lepidus
Lionel Belmore ... Fidius
Florence Roberts ... Lady Flora
Richard Alexander ... General Philodemas
Celia Ryland ... Lady Leda
William V. Mong ... Court physician
Robert Warwick ... General Achillas


Director ... Cecil B. DeMille
Producer ... Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay ... Waldemar Young, Vincent Lawrence, Bartlett Cormack
Music ... Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography ... Victor Milner
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures
Release date ... October 5, 1934
Running time ... 100 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Cinematography ... Victor Milner
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Paramount Pictures
Assistant Director ... Cullen Tate
Film Editing ... Anne Bauchens
Sound, Recording ... Franklin Hansen