Movie review: “Caesar and Cleopatra”

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The other night I watched a British production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra,” starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. The Romans were, I swear, wearing designer bedsheets, and the armor looked like something you’d buy at iParty. The Egyptians were drab for the most part, surprisingly, although some of them had things looking like kitchen utensils sticking out of their heads. It was Shaw, so I expected the dialogue to be brisk and clever; sadly, apart from an occasional epigram, it was pretty limp.

In a word: costume drama at its most languid.

There were, however, two bits of entertainment, buried away like raisins in a dry scone:

There was Flora Robson, who played Cleopatra’s nurse Ftatateeta. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Caesar / Claude Rains can’t pronounce her name, and calls her “Teeter-Totter” and “Titty-Totty” and such. Flora Robson was a very distinguished-looking actress, but they gave her (to use Wallace Beery’s expression) “a hell of a make-up”: they dyed her skin a rich dark mahogany and gave her a hairstyle like a mangled throw pillow. She is ridiculous and superb.

And there was also Stewart Granger, as Apollodorus the rug merchant. He had a pretty good body, and he gets to flaunt it here. His bedsheet toga is a little more colorful than everyone else’s, and it keeps falling away to show off his big strong arms and chest. He generally enters every scene with one arm held high in the air, like the little man on top of a swimming trophy, shouting “Ha ha!” He is supposed to be a wit, and gets to call Flora Robson a “venerable grotesque,” right to her face.

But the best line in the movie is one of his.

Scene: our protagonists are trapped on top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Enemy soldiers are coming up the stairs. The Roman galleys are a quarter mile away. What to do? “Ha ha!” Farley trumpets, leaping to the parapet. “I will reach the ships!”

“How?” says Grumpy Roman Soldier #1. “Do you have wings?”

“Ha ha!” laughs Farley triumphantly, yet again. “I have water wings!”

And he raises his bronzed arms above his head and performs a swan dive into the Mediterranean.

Water wings?

And that’s why I love old movies.


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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

3 Responses to Movie review: “Caesar and Cleopatra”

  1. Pingback: manonmona

  2. adorian says:

    Apollodoros is played by Stewart Granger, not Farley Granger.

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