Cleopatra (1963)

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German title Cleopatra
Original title Cleopatra
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1963
length 241 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz
script Sidney Buchman
Ranald MacDougall
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Ben Hecht
production Walter Wanger
music Alex North
camera Leon Shamroy
cut Dorothy Spencer

Cleopatra is a monumental film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz produced by Twentieth Century Fox from 1963. The film tells the life of the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra VII based on Carlo Maria Franzero's novel-like biography Cleopatra. Your life and your time (Original title: The Life and Times of Cleopatra ). The film premiered on June 12, 1963 in New York City.


After the Battle of Pharsalus , the decisive battle of the Roman civil wars , in which Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was defeated by Gaius Julius Caesar , Pompey fled to Egypt to see Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. and his sister Cleopatra VII. When Caesar travels behind, he learns that Pompey was murdered in Egypt; furthermore he is astonished to find only Ptolemy, but not Cleopatra.

In the evening Cleopatra smuggles herself to Caesar in a carpet, which Caesar receives as a gift from Cleopatra via a messenger. Caesar, who only wants to settle the quarrels between Ptolemy and Cleopatra, is asked by Cleopatra to make her Queen of Egypt; however, her request remains unsuccessful.

During another conversation in Cleopatra's bathroom, Cleopatra confirms her demand for the Egyptian throne. When Caesar receives news that the Egyptians are preparing their navy, he gives orders to start a fire the next day in order to destroy it. However, the fire spreads to the city center and also destroys the Alexandria library . The battle that followed between the Roman and Egyptian fleets was victorious for the Romans.

After a poison attack by Ptolemy Pothinus' court chamberlain on Cleopatra fails, Pothinus is sentenced to death by Caesar; Ptolemy is considered by Caesar to be unworthy of Rome's tutelage and banished to Achillas' camp . This is how Caesar managed to bring Cleopatra to the Egyptian throne. Caesar and Cleopatra become a couple while Caesar's lawful wife Calpurnia is staying in Rome; Cleopatra, who dreams of ruling the world with Caesar, gives birth to the son Caesarion .

In the Roman Senate , meanwhile, the discontent with Caesar's behavior grows. In the meantime, Caesar returns to Rome; he promises to catch up with Cleopatra as soon as possible. In Rome, Caesar is made dictator for life. A little later Cleopatra received a pompous reception in Rome. When Caesar discovers that his dictator title only brings him limited power and therefore demands to be appointed emperor , a conspiracy develops around his stepson Marcus Iunius Brutus with the aim of killing Caesar. When Caesar wants to go to the Senate on the Ides of March to receive his new honors as Emperor, Calpurnia has a nightmare about the fate threatening him; Caesar, however, is not deterred by their warning. Cleopatra sees in a vision how Caesar is stabbed to death by his assassins. Since Cleopatra sees no future for herself and Caesarion in Rome, she returns to Egypt with him. From the battle of Philippi go Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus ) emerged as the winner; Brutus dies. Antonius and Octavian form a triumvirate together with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus .

Although Antony brought Caesarion's claims to the succession of Caesar before the Senate, Octavian became Roman emperor. Since Antony needs money for the upcoming battle against the Parthians , he has Cleopatra ask for help. After Cleopatra refuses to fulfill this request, she and Antonius finally meet in Tarsus . After a lavish party, Antonius and Cleopatra spend a night of love together. The Senate is in an uproar that Antony and Cleopatra are a couple; With the selfish aim of being able to be Caesar himself through Antony's absence, Octavian downplays the importance of this liaison.

Antony manages to negotiate a treaty in Rome that allies Egypt with Rome; however, there is also a reason of state marriage between Antony and Octavian's sister Octavia. When in the course of the following year Antony's ambassadors were not admitted to Cleopatra, Antony finally stood before Cleopatra's throne himself to negotiate a contract with Cleopatra. The offended Cleopatra, however, treats him like a supplicant. It demands the marriage to Antony, the installation of Caesarion as king of Egypt and an eighth of the Roman Empire as a cession of territory to Egypt.

When war threatens between Rome and Egypt, Cleopatra's old teacher Sosigenes wants to work for peace in Rome, but is murdered by Octavian. On the west coast of Greece there is now the battle of Actium . When Antonius' ship burns and Cleopatra thinks he is dead, she orders the return trip to Egypt. Antonius, on the other hand, feels abandoned and follows her by boat; Octavian wins the battle.

Returning to Egypt, Cleopatra begs Antonius for forgiveness. Octavian marches with his troops into Egypt and as a sign of her goodwill demands Antony's head from Cleopatra. After a clarifying argument between Antony and Cleopatra, Antony sets out to drive Octavian out. Cleopatra has Caesarion brought to safety; she herself remains in Alexandria and withdraws to her tomb; when Antony came, her servant Apollodorus should tell him that she was at the very last possible refuge for a person. On the night before the decisive battle, Antonius is abandoned by his soldiers; He finds his General Rufius murdered.

Antony rides to Alexandria. After Apollodorus' message, believing that Cleopatra was dead, Antonius rammed his sword into his body. Apollodorus brings the dying Antonius to Cleopatra's tomb, where he dies in Cleopatra's arms. When Octavian reaches Alexandria, Cleopatra agrees to come to Rome with Octavian on the condition that Caesarion and his descendants should rule over Egypt; she swears to him by the life of her son not to harm himself until then. But in her rooms Cleopatra immediately prepares for her very last trip and has a message sent to Octavian. However, he only finds Cleopatra's body laid out in front of him.

Production history

The backdrops for the ancient cities of Alexandria and Rome were created in Spain , Italy , Egypt and at Pinewood Studios in London .

Production turned out to be very difficult as Elizabeth Taylor repeatedly became seriously ill and the script and decorations were not completed on time. The shooting had to be interrupted repeatedly for months and directors and actors had to be exchanged. Rouben Mamoulian , who was initially intended as a director, was replaced by Mankiewicz, who was in turn replaced by Darryl F. Zanuck in the post-production phase . Mankiewicz had previously directed the film Suddenly last summer with Taylor . Rex Harrison and Richard Burton were a replacement for Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd , who had to resign after months of production delays because they had other commitments. Filming with the final cast began on September 25, 1961 in the Roman Cinecittà studios and ended on June 23, 1962 in Ischia .

Because of these problems, the budget initially estimated at $ 2 million increased many times over. The film was considered the most expensive feature film of all time with production costs of 44 million US dollars - adjusted for inflation, 300 million US dollars (2009) - until the release of the film Avatar in 2009. These immense costs, which could only be offset by box office revenues in 1966, drove the production company 20th Century Fox to the verge of financial ruin. To date, however, the film has grossed a total of $ 430 million (adjusted for inflation), making it still one of the most profitable films of all time.

Taylor insisted that the film be produced in the Todd AO format developed by her husband Michael Todd , who died in 1958 , and on which she still earned as heir. As the owner of the company MCL (= first letters of her children Michael, Christopher and Liza), which was founded only for this film project, Taylor was also the co-producer of Cleopatra . Since she was contractually entitled to ten percent of the total revenue of the film, she earned a total of more than seven million US dollars.

During the filming, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love, which was taken by the public as one of the biggest scandals of the time, since both were still married to other partners and since Taylor was previously branded as promiscuous by the tabloids due to her private history was. Taylor received the worst reviews of her career to date for her film appearance. Her biographer Randy Taraborrelli particularly criticizes the flatness of the love scenes with Burton, but at the same time explains this so that Taylor and Burton had to pull themselves together on set so that they went far beyond the target.

The film was later drastically cut. The integral version of around four hours playing time was first broadcast on television in September 1996, with the reconstructed parts being subtitled. According to Martin Landau, the audio commentary on the fully dubbed DVD (the post-dubbed parts are clearly recognizable) shows that almost an hour of material has not yet been published and that this version does not quite match the originally intended version.


The film won four Oscars at the 1963 Academy Awards in the spring of 1964 and was nominated for six other Academy Awards.


  • Best equipment
  • Best camera
  • Best costume design
  • Best special effects


  • Best Male Actor: Rex Harrison
  • Best film editing
  • Best music
  • Best movie
  • Best tone
  • Best light

Voice actor

The voice actors for the German version:


  • “A monumental film with audience appeal (...). The previously circulated, heavily shortened theatrical version presented itself as a work overlaid with emotions based on the motto that history is decided on the battlefield and politics is made in the bedroom. The complete version allows for the first time an insight into the compositional rhythm of the film, as dialogue scenes and rampant battle scenes are now integrated into the flow of the plot and appear motivated in the filigree network of (gold) symbols as a sign of the transition and the transfer of power. "-" Lexicon of International Films "(CD-ROM edition), Systhema, Munich 1997
  • " Sandal epic (...); rich in show effects. Although the ham won four Academy Awards, it became one of the most expensive failures in cinema history. Moderately entertaining, flat kitsch. ”(Rating: two stars = average) - Adolf Heinzlmeier and Berndt Schulz in Lexicon“ Films on TV ” (extended new edition). Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-89136-392-3 , p. 131


  • Marcus Junkelmann: Hollywood's Dream of Rome. “Gladiator” and the tradition of the monumental film . Zabern, Mainz 2004, ISBN 3-8053-2905-9
  • Diana Wenzel: Cleopatra in the film. A queen of Egypt as a symbol for oriental culture . Gardez, Remscheid 2005, ISBN 3-89796-121-0

Web links

Commons : Cleopatra (1963 film)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Notes and individual references

  1. ^ IMDb : Cleopatra (1963) Release Info
  2. According to another source: almost $ 50 million (Taraborrelli, p. 217)
  3. Taraborrelli, p. 217
  4. ^ J. Randy Taraborrelli: Elizabeth , Grand Central Publishing, 2007, ISBN 0-446-40036-X
  5. Cleopatra. Retrieved September 5, 2015 .