For The Second Annual Great Breening Blogathon, I, Rebekah Brannan, decided to Breen Caesar and Cleopatra, a British picture from 1945 starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. This film features two famous British-American film actors whom England was reclaiming as its own in this film. The film is based on the Bernard Shaw play of the same title and, although it is not entirely historically accurate, features many real historical characters and events. I chose to write about this film mainly because it features one of my favorite actors, Claude Rains. Don’t forget to read about many more great films with him in my upcoming November blogathon, The Claude Rains Blogathon. Now, the lights dim, a hush falls over the theater, and the screen comes to life. Buckle your seatbelts for some breening, because here comes Caesar and Cleopatra!
The film follows how Cleopatra, portrayed as a foolish child, is turned into a woman and a queen by Julius Caesar, portrayed as a middle-aged dreamer, during his visit to Egypt. She and Caesar meet by the Sphynx in the desert, and Cleopatra, not knowing who he is, tells him about the horrible Romans who have invaded Egypt, describing them as barbarians with “long noses and ivory tusks, and little tails, and seven arms with a hundred arrows in each” who live “on human flesh.” She also tells him about their chief, Julius Caesar, who had a tiger for a father and a burning mountain for a mother and whose nose is like an elephant’s trunk. He reveals to her that he is a Roman and vows to protect her from Caesar, telling her that the only way to keep from being eaten by him is to show him she’s a woman, since he eats girls but not women. She takes him to her palace in the desert, where he has her arrayed in her royal garments. When Caesar’s troops arrive, they hail him, and Cleopatra is overjoyed that Caesar is only a nice old gentleman and not a terrifying cannibal. He promises to help her overthrow her young brother, Ptolemy, and set her on the throne as the queen of Egypt. Later, Caesar enters Alexandria and interrupts a speech being given by Ptolemy in the palace. Cleopatra soon enters. After Caesar learns that she and Ptolemy are married, as is the custom among Egyptian royalty, he proposes that they rule together. The court is outraged by this suggestion and refuses to accept his advice, in spite of the fact that he has collected the last two years’ taxes from the citizens of Egypt. He later learns, to his grief, that the Egyptians have killed Pompeii, whom he was pursuing when he arrived in Egypt. However, he chooses to forgive them for this and sets all the people in the palace free, although they are rightfully his prisoners. As he fights a war for domination of Egypt with Ptolemy and most of the Egyptians, Caesar continues teaching Cleopatra to be a woman and a queen. Along the way, Cleopatra tells him of a “beautiful” young man who came across the desert and gave her father back his throne several years before, and he informs her that he sent the young man, whose name is Mark Antony. He then promises to send Mark Antony to her when he returns to Rome, since she says she loves him and wants to marry him. From then on, they endure many trials and tribulations together as Cleopatra steadily matures and grows wiser under Caesar’s careful tutorage. To find out if Caesar wins the war and sets Cleopatra on the throne, watch this movie and enjoy! Here’s the link to the free copy on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYq3WKEosKE
- In the opening scene, when a group of Egyptian soldiers are seen discussing the Romans and Julius Caesar, the effeminate elements of the Persian advisor must be eliminated.
- Also, in this first scene and in a later one, one of Cleopatra’s Nubian slaves is shown. He is wearing a very small loincloth, a beaded headpiece, and huge, beaded hoop earrings. He is also portrayed as a stupid and fearful savage. He must be wearing more clothes and less jewelry, and he should seem more intelligent and civilized.
- In the scene by the Sphynx, Cleopatra tells Caesar that the Romans are cannibals. For the rest of the movie, this is a running joke. Every time this is said, the word “eat” should be replace by “drown.”
- In the scene by the Sphynx, when Cleopatra is telling Caesar what she’ll do when she’s queen, she says she’ll “poison the slaves and watch them wriggle.” The underlined words are too gruesome and should be eliminated. If the line must remain, it should be changed to “watch them die.”
- Cleopatra’s skirt in this scene is slightly sheer. When the light shines through it at one point, the outline of her legs is visible. The skirt must be made entirely opaque, so that her legs will never be visible at all.
- In the next scene, in Cleopatra’s palace, the young woman wildly beats the afore-mentioned slave, although he has done nothing, to prove that she is a true queen. This is violent and could be offensive to some individuals. It must be eliminated.
- In this same scene, when Caesar is telling Cleopatra to be brave so that Caesar will think she’s a woman and set her on the throne of Egypt, he says, “You will be the most dangerous of all Caesar’s conquests.” This line is suggestive, as it implies that he might have dishonorable intentions, and must be eliminated.
- In the next scene, when Caesar’s troops have gathered in Egypt, an officer tells the soldiers, “you may fraternize with the women.” (The men laugh and shout). This line, as well as the soldiers’ reaction to it, is suggestive that they might have dishonorable relationships with the women and must be eliminated. The rest of the line may remain.
- In this same scene, the afore-mentioned Persian is seen with two men, discussing the Roman occupation. These two men also seem effeminate and must be made more masculine.
- In the next scene, when Caesar meets Cleopatra’s brother, Ptolemy, he learns that he is also her husband. Although this did take place among Egyptian royalty, it is incest and must be eliminated. The discovery that Cleopatra and Ptolemy are married leads Caesar to the conclusion that they could rule together. However, he could also reach this conclusion merely by realizing that, as brother and sister, they needn’t be warring but should rule together.
- At the end of this scene, after the Egyptians have left the court, Rufio says to Caesar, in reference to Cleopatra, “And this piece of goods. What’s to be done with her?” He pauses and looks at Caesar, who is looking at Cleopatra, then suggestively adds, “However, I suppose I may leave that to you.” It isn’t so much the words of this line that are suggestive but the delivery. However, referring to Cleopatra as a “piece of goods” is disrespectful toward women and therefore is not acceptable. The line should be changed to something like this: “And this girl. What’s to be done with her?” He pauses, huffs, then grumblingly says, “Well, I’ll leave that up to you and go back to more important matters.” This entirely eliminates the suggestive element of the line, thus making it completely acceptable.
- In the next scene, Cleopatra’s nurse, Flatatateeta, is coaching Cleopatra on how to make Caesar fall in love with her. At one point, she says, “If you redden your lips, he will not kiss you.” Cleopatra and Caesar are never romantic enough to get anywhere near kissing in the film, so this line is ridiculous as well as suggestive. It should be eliminated.
- In this same scene, just a few moment later, Cleopatra steps behind a partially sheer white curtain to prepare for her bath and takes off her dress. Although she has her back to the audience, she appears to be completely bare. This shot is shockingly suggestive as well as completely unnecessary and therefore must be eliminated.
- In the next scene, Cleopatra is wearing a new dress. The skirt is sufficiently opaque, but the neckline is a trifle too low. It must be raised slightly.
- At the beginning of this scene, Caesar greets Cleopatra by saying, “Cleopatra, I really think I must eat you after all.” Since the cannibal element has been eliminated, “eat” must be changed to “drown.” Since the whole point of the line was the suggestive connotation associated with eating her, it should be eliminated altogether.
- Later, a character named Appollodorus, a Sicilian merchant, enters the film. He is wearing an outfit which shows half of his chest and practically all of his legs. The outfit almost looks like a dress and is therefore strange as well as indecent. His other two outfits in the film, although they cover his chest, also show too much of his legs and look too much like dresses. All of his outfits should be made more covering and more masculine.
- In a later scene, Caesar is eating some dates with great relish, later commenting that he wished he had some more. Intellectual viewers will know that dates sometimes represent male fertility. The scenario involving these dates is therefore unacceptable. It should be eliminated.
- In this same scene, when Cleopatra comes to Caesar hidden in a carpet, she is wearing another dress which has a low neckline, a cut-out in the back, and a slightly transparent skirt. Although the cut-out on her back is not really unacceptable, altogether too much skin is showing in this dress. The neckline must be brought up, and the skirt must be made entirely opaque and less clingy. If these changes are made, the cut-out may remain.
- At the end of this scene, Caesar and Appollodorus both jump off a balcony into the sea. Before jumping in, they both remove some clothing. Appollodorus merely takes off his sword belt, so this is alright. If he were wearing more in the first place, the removal of his belt and sword would be completely acceptable. However, Caesar takes off his armored vest, his sword belt, and the fringed belt he is wearing. The fringed belt has long strips of leather hanging from it, so it is partially covering him. When he takes it off, his legs are more revealed, and it overall has the feeling of an undressing scene. Caesar may take off his belt and his armored vest, but nothing else.
- In the next scene, a couple of men are seen on the streets of Egypt, wondering if Caesar has magic in his possession, since he has protected the palace faultlessly for months and swam like a dolphin to the lighthouse with the queen on his back. A villager passing by laughingly adds, “That might be the queen’s magic. She rides on Caesar’s back now on land, as well as in the sea.” This line is very suggestive of an improper relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra and therefore must be eliminated.
- In the next scene, Cleopatra is in her court, accompanied by a large group of giggling handmaidens. Several of these women are scantily-clad. It must be assured that every costume is sufficiently covering.
- In this same scene, Cleopatra is shown to have matured greatly in the six months that have passed since the last scene. However, she seems to have matured into a vamp and a seductress. She should seem more regal, refined, and intelligent, as Cleopatra really was.
- In this scene, Cleopatra’s dress once again has too low of a neckline. Also, on the right side of the dress, there is a jeweled strand which goes right under the right side of her chest. This too clearly defines the shape of her chest and therefore is unacceptable.
- In the next scene, Cleopatra wears a gold dress with an almost carved bodice. The left side of the dress dips very far down, shockingly revealing that side of her chest. That side also has a bird carved into it, and its head and neck suggestively stick up onto her chest. The dress’s neckline should be even and decently high. If the neckline is high enough, the carved bird may remain.
- In this same scene, when the gentlemen in the scene are calling out suggestions for strange delicacies to be served at dinner, Apollodorus remarks, “I prefer nightingales’ tongues.” There is an immoral implication in this relating to the old Greek legend about Philomel, so this line is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
That concludes my breening of this film. With these changes, the film would be entirely acceptable for all audiences. Also, by eliminating some unnecessary and lengthy scenarios, which were included merely because they were suggestive, the film would be stronger and shorter. It took much more time than it should have to tell the story, and the story itself was weakened by silly, unnecessary scenarios. With all the unnecessary and suggestive scenarios cut out, more time would have to be spent on developing relationships and characters. Thus, even if the film was not shortened, the extra time would be spent on things which were important to the story, thus making the film an exciting two hours, rather than an enjoyable hour and a half with an extra half hour of tedious nonsense. This is just another great example of how the Code made films better. Nine times out of ten, if a Code film is extremely silly and foolish, it is a non-Code film, meaning that it was not self-regulated properly and is not entirely Code-compliant. In conclusion, although the British were not quite as talented at filmmaking as American filmmakers, with the Code to help them, it would have been a much closer tie for supremacy.
Julius Caesar; the Roman Emperor who coaches Cleopatra to be a queen: Played by Claude Rains
Cleopatra; a silly, childish girl whom Caesar teaches to be a queen: Played by Vivien Leigh
Apollodorus; a Sicilian merchant who becomes very friendly with Cleopatra and Caesar: Played by Stewart Granger
Flatatateeta; Cleopatra’s chief nurse and mentor: Played by Flora Robson
Rufio; Caesar’s right-hand man, who is also known as Caesar’s Shield: Played by Basil Sydney
Pothinus; the mentor and guardian of Cleopatra’s brother, Ptolemy: Played by Francis L. Sullivan
Ptolemy; Cleopatra’s brother and rival for the throne: Played by Anthony Harvey
Nubian Slave; one of Cleopatra’s foolish, cowardly slaves: Played by Robert Adams
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