Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood is a misnomer of a title. Unquestionably the movie had an enormous impact on 20th Century Fox, and the livelihood of many Fox employees. (Chicago American movie critic Ann Marsters told me that while she didnít like the movie, she gave it a rave in an attempt to save her friendsí jobs.) No denying that Lizís salary and benefits became the envy and demand of other stars who followed. But an out-of-control budget was not to become a thing of the past; The Towering Inferno, Heavenís Gate, Waterworld, Titanic and Gladiator, to name just a few, were colossally expensive. There will be more such follies. And many movie executives heads have rolled since, and will continue to roll. Darryl Zanuck took credit for saving Fox, with just a little help from something called The Sound of Music, but by 1968, after Doctor Doolittle and Star!, losses mounted that exceeded those of the Cleo years and in 1971 he was dethroned as head of the studio. Arguably, if not ironically, Cleopatra probably had less impact on Hollywood in the long run than it had on America socially and culturally. Lizís flaunt of adultery was not only a daring provocation, it was a public act of defiance against norms many found not only fascinating to watch but liberating. She became, via her own release from shackles she never accepted, the ultimate symbols of personal liberation as well as its accompanying excesses. She didnít set out to do that; she became accidentally the right star at the right time to smash the taboos by a convergence of circumstances, most of which she had no control over. (Thatís not to say she didnít enjoy the hysteria.) America would never again look at divorce in the same way; and adulterous affairs, made public fodder, would shake only the houses of hypocrites, as clearly evident when Republicans made fools of themselves about a presidentís private life. If the documentary is understandably short on Lizís collision course with American hypocrisy, itís informative about Fox, the movie business in general, about producer Walter Wanger (who shot his wifeís lover smack between the legs), about all the travails of making Cleopatra. Fans of the epic, having waited nearly four decades, finally get to see footage from the aborted made-in-England version. Clips showing Peter Finch as Caesar reveal the hazards of waitingóheís drunk on set. There are letterboxed shots of the first Alexandria built in the gloomy weathered English countryside, and a few night shots too. Wardrobe tests of Liz are real howlers, especially the ones showing her slipping into Cleopatraís bath and wearing her arrival-in-Rome getup. Flab City. All scenes available from this first effort confirm Finch and Liz had legit cause to worry. Footage previously unseen, or rarely seen, from the actual movie makes you long for whatís missing. For example, absent from the entrance into Rome is the giant mechanical serpent. According to narrator Robert Culp, Fox has every intention of finding the lost footage and restore the spectacle the way Mankiewicz envisioned. Donít count on it: the 2012 Blu-ray release updates that all unused footage was destroyed. (In all, 96 hours of film were shot. To get an idea of whatís probably gone forever, go here.) Martin Landau clarifies his Rufio wasnít killed, which is what audiences thought for years, but committed suicide. Zanuck, who cut off funds and fired Mankiewicz only to re-hire him to sort out the monumental editing, was likewise a sucker: when he saw the puny opening sequence of Pompeyís defeat at Pharsalia, he demanded a re-shoot. (Real, too, no CGI back then.) The commentaries by the directorís sons Chris and Tom Mankiewicz on the DVD releases (including blu-ray) add a measure of insight, but both make unconscious if not sloppy mistakes, especially regarding Roddy McDowall, who was neither nominated for nor received an Oscar as best supporting actor, due to Foxís error in improperly categorizing him for nomination consideration. (The studio ran full page ads in the trades apologizing for the oversight.) Included is the long-forgotten TV ad for Revlonís Cleo makeup, with Suzy Parker the spokeswoman.
ROLL OVER IMAGES FROM ABORTED VERSION
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