Cast & Crew
Francis L. Sullivan
Cleopatra hasn't been on the throne of the pharoahs of Egypt very long when Julius Caesar pays a visit. Caesar finds the prospect of romance more tempting than he expected, since Cleopatra is a rare woman who is bright as well as beautiful. And for Cleopatra, a friendly relationship with the most powerful man in the world may pay dividends in the future.
Francis L. Sullivan
Best Art Direction
Caesar and Cleopatra
The film's literal rendition of Shaw's prose finds Caesar (Claude Rains) on a sojourn to Alexandria in order to stave off growing civil unrest, and to take the measure of Egypt's beautiful young queen (Vivien Leigh). While undeniably charmed by her, he notes her manipulation at the hands of her personal attendant Ftatateeta (Flora Robson) and prime minister Pothinus (Francis L. Sullivan). While patiently schooling Cleopatra in power and responsibility, Caesar also places himself in position to take the Lighthouse of Alexandria with his cohorts, including the aide de camp Rufio (Basil Sydney) and the handsome Sicilian adventurer Apollodorus (Stewart Granger). Cleopatra, in the meantime, has quickly hewn to Caesar's advice, manipulating the Roman into helping her wrest full power from her half-brother Ptolemy (Anthony Harvey).
Pascal's pact with Shaw gave the playwright casting approval for the filmmaker's projects, and Leigh, who badly coveted the role of Cleopatra, began a campaign for G.B.S.' approval, starting by mounting a London stage production of The Doctor's Dilemma in 1942. The successful run lead to an invitation to Shaw's London flat, and as recounted in Anne Edwards' bio Vivien Leigh, "from the moment she stepped through Shaw's sitting-room door she acted the Persian kitten. Just before the interview came to a close Shaw mischievously 'suggested' she should play Cleopatra, and waited for her reaction with a bemused expression. She lowered her head demurely and then looked up at him with a humble expression to ask him if he really thought she was ready for such a great role. Shaw pulled back and stroked his beard, finally declaring that it hardly mattered because Cleopatra was a role that played itself."
Filming commenced at Denham Studios in June 1944, and various factors wound up stretching the anticipated four-month shooting schedule over a year with the production costs rising to a then-staggering $5.2 million. The unseasonable cold took its toll on the beautiful if fragile leading lady, who became pregnant in the weeks before cameras started to roll. In his memoir Sparks Fly Upward, Granger asserted that Pascal "insisted that Vivien play a difficult and strenuous scene that could have easily been shot with a double. It entailed rushing over a slippery marble floor and flogging a slave. She slipped and fell heavily. Two days later she miscarried. She never forgave Pascal for this and from then on was constantly trying to have him replaced by another director, but without success."
Granger's memories of the very real hazards of having the cameras roll during wartime were chillingly driven home as he spoke of the sequence where Apollodorus delivers the rug-swathed Cleopatra to Caesar. "This entailed using a huge crane and lifting me and a dummy Vivien from the boat onto the Pharos which towered about a hundred feet above. I had to place one foot on a gigantic hook and, clutching the chain with my hands, be swept about 150 feet into the air before being lowered on to the set above. As an acute sufferer from vertigo I was absolutely terrified. I asked that they shoot it without rehearsal as I wanted to get it over with."
As the winch brought Granger to the apex, the familiar and terrible sound of a German V1 unmanned bomber split the sky. "Everyone rushed to take cover. I was left dangling in the air, knowing that if I fell I wouldn't land in the water, but on to the spiky scaffolding directly beneath me...The bomb went off about 200 yards away and the whole construction started to sway. I yelled out in terror and suddenly some of the men realized what happened. 'Christ, it's old Jim, we've forgotten the poor bugger.'" (Granger, for obvious reasons, couldn't use his given name of James Stewart professionally.) Though the crewmen lowered the actor safely down, his fingers had to be pried off the chain one by one.
While a strong marketing effort was made in the States to capitalize on the popularity enjoyed there by Rains and Leigh, the initial audience rush swiftly died off, as crowds weaned on De Mille-style spectacles found it too high-toned for their tastes. John Bryan's art direction was the only nomination the project received at Oscar® time, and Caesar and Cleopatra wound up with only $2.2 million in total receipts. Pascal's grand scheme of filming the Shavian oeuvre was effectively ended; his next screen credit, the Hollywood-mounted adaptation of Androcles and the Lion (1952), would prove to be his last.
Producer and Director: Gabriel Pascal
Screenplay: George Bernard Shaw (also the play)
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff, Jack Hildyard, Robert Krasker and Freddie Young
Art Direction: John Bryan and Oliver Messel
Music: Georges Auric
Film Editing: Frederick Wilson and Joan Warwick (uncredited)
Cast: Julius Caesar (Claude Rains), Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh), Apollodorus (Stewart Granger), Ftatateeta (Flora Robson), Pothinus (Francis L. Sullivan), Rufio (Basil Sydney), Britannus (Cecil Parker).
by Jay S. Steinberg
Caesar and Cleopatra
George Bernard Shaw on Film: Eclipse Series 20
Shaw is renowned for turning his plays into freewheeling social debates, and 1941's Major Barbara examines the nature of organized charity, satirizing its effect on a very imperfect London. Fresh from Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller has a standout role as the highly motivated and charismatic Salvation Army Major Barbara Britomart. Barbara finds an acolyte and husband in Adophus Cusins, a penniless scholar of Greek surprised to discover that Barbara comes from a wealthy family. The play's conflict and much of its humor are provided by Barbara's estranged father Andrew (a hilarious Robert Morley). He's a big wheel in the munitions game -- a highly profitable business in conflict with Barbara's Christian philosophy. The fun comes when the "devilish" Andrew sets out to prove to his daughter that money, not morality, is the key to human happiness. Barbara must resist temptation while simultaneously winning the soul of Bill Walker (Robert Newton), a belligerent Cockney ne'er-do-well who fights tooth and nail to avoid enlistment in the Salvation Army's legion of believers. In for extra fun is the very young Deborah Kerr, in her first film role.
Bernard Shaw adapted Major Barbara personally, and although the text has been shortened his characteristic complexities are untouched. The play takes several unpredictable turns, foiling attempts to predict the direction Shaw's impish "debate" will take. Just when we expect Barbara to triumph, surprises follow at the rate of one every three minutes. After throwing our preconceptions about charity, progress and happiness into a spin, Shaw endorses a radical new kind of humanist "faith": instead of winning souls by feeding the hungry, Barbara should first work for an equitable society and bring faith to the masses afterwards.
We're told that Major Barbara was filmed as bombs fell during the London Blitz. It's still a filmed play but director Pascal and his topnotch art directors Vincent Korda and John Bryan see to it that the visuals are stunning. The Salvation Army Mission is in a run-down lot near the docks and Andrew Underschaft's massive armaments factory / worker's city of the future is like something out of Things to Come. But the colorful characters are what we cherish, from Rex Harrison's likeable scholar to the Mission's "saved" freeloaders. They invent disadvantaged backgrounds so that, when they find God, the charity workers can feel more accomplished. The mischievous wink of author Shaw is evident in every scene: when Barbara suddenly feels the bitterness of disillusion, Bill Walker is right there to twist the knife: "What price salvation now, sister?"
1945's Caesar and Cleopatra is Gabriel Pascal's massive attempt to trump the Yankees in the Technicolor epic stakes. Despite its commercial failure it now plays as an intelligent, funny and charming antidote to overblown and pompous Hollywood treatments of similar material. George Bernard Shaw's 1898 play has been opened up with massive sets and location filming -- in Egypt, before the finish of the war -- but retains Shaw's refreshingly cynical views on political and military power. Although one of the main characters is Brittanus (Cecil Parker), an opinionated Celtic advisor from a certain backward isle to the West, Shaw's agenda includes a sly comparison of Rome's corrupt empire and that of modern England.
The cast is ideal. Claude Rains has one of his best roles ever as Julius Caesar, a clever conqueror who befriends his enemies and conceals his moral convictions behind a cynical front. Vivien Leigh, perhaps the most in-demand actress of the time, plays Cleopatra as a teenaged contradiction, alternating between childish antics and destructive willfulness. Cleopatra meets Caesar under a sphinx at night and is immediately captivated by the Roman's playfulness, wisdom and natural authority. She allows Caesar to occupy part of Alexandria while Egypt's leaders (including Francis L. Sullivan's imposing Pothinus) scheme to put Cleo's brother Ptolemy (Anthony Harvey) on the throne. The confusion allows Caesar's few soldiers to hold the palace and keep Pothinus a prisoner for months. Adding to the fun are Apollodorus, a Sicilian merchant to the queen (Stewart Granger, costumed like a sword 'n' sandal hero), and Caesar's faithful "sidekick" general, Rufio (Basil Sydney).
Shaw's expanded play indulges an almost slapstick feel in some scenes, as when Cleopatra hides in a carpet to smuggle herself to Caesar's battle lines at the Pharos lighthouse. The author gets in some choice digs at conquerors when the legendary Library of Alexandria goes up in flames: Caesar allows the old scholar Theodotus (Ernest Thesiger, as fruity as ever) to fight the fire, but only because doing so fits into his battle strategy.
The relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar begins in a comedic vein but soon becomes more complex. Cleo looks upon Caesar as an infallible guardian yet is determined to assert her newfound authority as Queen. She threatens the lives of her slaves, ignoring Caesar's teachings to the contrary; he enjoys the loyalty of all yet threatens nobody directly. The relationship finally turns on Cleopatra's pride, when she commands her personal handmaiden Ftatateeta (Flora Robson, magnificently savage) to murder a man who has called the Queen a liar. Cleopatra doesn't realize that this act will destabilize all that Caesar has worked to achieve. Only the Roman's customary brilliance saves them all from death at the hands of a mob.
Openly playing with familiar historical facts, Shaw dutifully returns Caesar to his fate in Rome (which he seems to fully predict) and opens the door for the return of the next man in the short life of the Egyptian queen, Mark Antony. Sometimes verging on farce, Caesar and Cleopatra has an uncommonly witty perspective on those who presume to rule over their fellows. Ftatateeta is Shaw's spokesperson on this point: she considers herself suitable to lead not because she's so smart, but because everyone else is so stupid.
Vivien Leigh skips, dances and slinks her way through this eccentric epic. Her royal costumes are dazzling, even when she can't maintain the pageantry and reverts to adolescent silliness. Claude Rains is equally fascinating as a leader who responds to imminent disaster as just another opportunity for a brilliant strategic maneuver. When Cleo fails to heed his advice, he delivers a stern rebuke, a defense of his personal leadership style that could profit any of us. Shaw encourages us to think about the ideas within his entertainments -- behind the sarcastic wit is a teacher of moral lessons.
Wartime problems and unavoidable delays inflated Caesar and Cleopatra's budget, and the film's cool reception put a damper on Gabriel Pascal's career. He would collaborate with the aged George Bernard Shaw only once more, and under diminished circumstances. 1952's Androcles and the Lion was made in Hollywood at RKO on a tight budget, with Shaw's 1912 play adapted and directed by Chester Erskine (producer of The Wonderful Country). The play's deeper critique of Christian principles was pared away and more slapstick added, making Androcles less faithful to its source but still a bright entertainment. It was once a staple on television, where children could ignore what was left of Shaw's satire and laugh themselves silly. In the film's mirthful arena scene, Androcles (Alan Young of The Time Machine) waltzes with the lion that just a moment before was preparing to devour him.
When the Romans round up Christians to serve as an intermission amusement at the Emperor's circus, the milquetoast Androcles takes the opportunity to try to escape his nagging wife Megaera (Elsa Lanchester). After his legendary thorn-removing appointment with a lion, Androcles is captured and marched to Rome with other semi-willing martyrs. Chief among them is the gorgeous Lavinia (Jean Simmons, trying out the toga she'd use eight years later in Spartacus. Lavinia catches the eye of a handsome Roman Captain (Victor Mature). The former warrior and now reborn Christian Ferrovius (Robert Newton, gaily hamming it up) has forsworn violence, and cannot be tempted into fighting by the Roman guards.
Shaw's play is still a charming diversion, even in this condensed, somewhat disordered form. Gene Lockhart, Alan Mowbray, John Hoyt and Jim Backus approach their comic roles with varying success, but apparently nobody told Victor Mature that he was filming a comedy. Although quite striking, Mature is just as serious as he is in the next year's The Robe. The various gags and character bits are quite funny, especially Robert Newton's attempts to restrain his natural urge to slaughter. Sent into the arena, Ferrovius swears that he'll use his courage to die a noble martyr's death, but we all know that's not going to happen. As Caesar, Maurice Evans (Planet of the Apes) provides some jolly comments on the frustration of being an absolute dictator, changing his mind about who will and who won't become a show-time snack for the hungry cats. The magic comes full circle when Androcles has his surprise reunion with his furry friend -- neither the visible tethers on the real lion nor an obvious lion costume diminish the fun. I've seen kids jump for joy at this finish, applauding; never was an Aesop's Fable adapted so amiably.
All three titles in Eclipse's George Bernard Shaw on Film set are in fine shape, with clean film transfers. The Technicolor-sourced Caesar and Cleopatra is rich and vibrant in nighttime scenes and sometimes a little light during day exteriors, but not by much. Clear audio tracks showcase Shaw's rich dialogue as voiced by so many fine actors. The three films also sport excellent scores by famed composers: William Walton, Georges Auric and Frederick Hollander. Bruce Eder provides concise and informative liner notes.
For more information about George Bernard Shaw on Film, visit Eclipse. To order George Bernard Shaw on Film, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
George Bernard Shaw on Film: Eclipse Series 20
And so to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right, and justice, and peace, until the gods create a race of men that can understand.- Julius Caesar
What's the matter?- Julius Caesar
You're bald! That's why you wear the wreath!- Cleopatra