Produced in 1963 and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, this historic epic marks the triumphs and tragedy of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. It was the most expensive movie ever made, its budget cost of $44 million equivalent to at least $270 milion dollars today, if not more. The massive set of Alexandria was rebuilt three times and the budget for Elizabeth Taylor’s costumes was $194,800, the highest ever paid to date for a single actor. She had 65 costume changes for this film, a record in and of itself, and one of her costumes was a dress made from 24 carat gold cloth.
There were four actresses that were approached for the role before Elizabeth Taylor. Susan Hayward had been the first choice, but she declined. Joan Collins was the second choice, but she was unable to committ herself to the project. Audrey Hepburn was also considered. When she turned it down, it was offered to Liz Taylor, who reportedly said, “I’ll do it for a milion dollars”, never expecting her offer to be accepted. But it was, and in October of 1959, Elizabeth Taylor became the first Hollywood star to receive a million dollars for a single picture.
Production started in England but finished in Italy. A group of female extras who played Cleopatra’s slave girls went on strike during the film to demand protection from the Italian extras (men) and their bottom-pinching fingers. The studio hired a special guard to protect the extras (and their bottoms).
Widely regarded as one of the biggest flops of all time, the film did make its money back over the course of several years. Compared to the famed Edsel of Ford fame that fared so poorly on the automobile market, the film turned out to be a sleeper and was, in fact, one of the highest grossing films of the 1960s. This is at least partly because it was common knowledge that Liz’s torrid affair with Richard Burton began in this film and everyone was searching for the exact moment when the chemistry had started!
This film is very much worth seeing, if not just for the stellar performances of Rex Harrison as Julius Ceasar and Richard Burton as Marc Antony. It runs just over four hours, so bring a snack as you view Liz Taylor at the pinnacle of her beauty and Richard Burton at his sexiest best.
Have YOU seen this film? What are YOUR thoughts?