Cleopatra is the movie that nearly destroyed 20th Century-Fox. About everything that could go wrong during production went wrong. The script kept getting rewritten. Actors and actresses were replaced. Monumental salaries kept getting bigger even as production scheduling dragged on. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s relationship developed from a mere movie relationship into an epic in its own right. Elizabeth Taylor became deathly ill and had to be hospitalized. A new director was brought in. Several factors led to a new shooting location, and with scenes incomplete, this meant the huge sets and props had to be completely and perfectly reconstructed there. The new director, Joseph Mankiewicz, tried to convince the studio that their story was huge, and they had more than enough material to produce two films, Caesar and Cleopatra and Anthony and Cleopatra. The studio, however, was well into financial crisis by then and wanted to take advantage of the public’s infatuation with Taylor and Burton’s romance. So they pushed for the story to remain one single film. As a result, the final editing was brutal and removed large sections that would have made for a truly compelling story. Taylor was not pleased and said that they gutted key scenes from the film and kept war scenes to placate the audience. Watching Cleopatra, you can feel how Mankiewicz was right: Cleopatra should have been two films. Cleopatra is still a wonderful spectacle, but as daring and ambitious as it was, it would be the last in a long series of movie epics. The likes of it would not be seen again until the advent of CGI would allow grand shots on a reasonable budget.
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