Caesar and Cleopatra
Gabriel Pascal, the fearless producer who has already proved his competence with "Pygmalion" and "Major Barbara," to put the plays of G. B. Shaw on the screen, has now ventured bolder than ever and has turned his accomplished hand to one of Shaw's more demanding costume dramas, "Caesar and Cleopatra." He has done it—or, rather, he did it—in England with a million odd pounds of J. Arthur Rank's investment money and with Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh as stars. Pictorially, the effort, now revealed here upon the Astor's screen, is worthy of the extravagance and is certainly worthy of a film-goer's regard.
For Mr. Pascal has fashioned an elegant spectacle around a play which is essentially conversational and pitched to the intellect. He has gathered a wise and witty discourse within a fancy and fluid frame and has directed for its exposition a remarkably entertaining cast. If the discourse does wax slightly tedious at times in the course of two hours, and if some of the matters in discussion seem a bit disconnected and vague, you can blame Mr. Shaw, the script writer, who chose not to tamper with his play. Whatever could be done to make that opus cinematic Mr. Pascal did.
And that took a lot of doing, for the drama which Mr. Shaw wrote is not only indifferent as to structure but is theatrically thin. Primarily, it is the story of aging Julius Caeser's attempt to instruct the youthful Cleopatria how to be a wise and noble queen. It is also a modern disquisition on the theory of government—more pertinent today, for that matter, than when it was written back in 1898.
Reduced to its story essentials, it is a Shavian boy-meets-girl—only the "boy" is much less aggressive than the popular taste might desire. Indeed, Mr. Shaw's wistful Caeser is so soft and paternal toward the queen, despite a romantic attraction, that he woos her exclusively with talk. Under these somewhat static circumstances, for all their philosophical charm, it is no wonder that the nubile Cleopatra is not too particularly impressed. It is no wonder that she fails to fathom Caesar's indirect policies and prefers less to be his darling than Mark Antony's eventual slave.
But for all the indirection and lack of tangible clash in the script. Mr. Pascal has got a most pictorial and intellectually blithe film out of it. His sets have a rich and regal splendor, his costumes have great exotic charm and his people who wear and populate them play the Shavian whim to the hilt. Mr. Rains is delightful as Caesar, manifesting with arch and polished grace all of the humor and tolerance and understanding that Mr. Shaw saw in the man. (If this, as some critics have reckoned, is a self-portrait of Shaw, then the venerable nonogenarian may consider himself finely played.) Mr. Rains also handles with sympathy and moving delicacy the poignant and fleeting intimations of a middle-aged man's yearn toward youth.
Miss Leigh, in the role of Cleopatra—which is secondary to Caesar's all the way—gives what must be termed a perfect picture of the youthful Egyptian queen—at least, as Mr. Shaw perceived her. She is timid and electric as a girl and drenched with a hot, aggressive nature as the woman whom Caesar inspires. Slim and elastic in rare costumes, she looks every bit the one to catch the fateful fancy of a man with a cultivated taste.
Fine, too, are other performances. Basil Sydney is robust and blunt as Rufio, Caesar's old lieutenant; Stewart Granger is handsome and suave as the dandy, Apollodorous, and Flora Robson is dour and hard as Cleopatra's maid. Francis L. Sullivan and Raymond Lovell play court intriguers with shrewd finesse and Cecil Parker gets much sly amusement out of Shaw's satirized British slave.
Photographed in color and dressed up for all it is worth, "Caesar and Cleopatra" is something to see as well as hear.
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA; story written by George Bernard Shaw; directed and produced by Gabriel Pascal in England; released in this country through United Artists. At the Astor.
Julius Ceasar . . . . . Claude Rains
Cleopatra . . . . . Vivien Leigh
Apollodorus . . . . . Stewart Granger
King Ptolemy . . . . . Anthony Harvey
Ftatateeta . . . . . Flora Robson
Iras . . . . . Renee Asherson
Pothinus . . . . . Francis L. Sullivan
Rufio . . . . . Basil Sydney
Britannus . . . . . Cecil Parker
Lucius Septemus . . . . . Raymond Lovell
Theodotus . . . . . Ernest Thesiger
Achillas . . . . . Anthony Eustral
BOSLEY CROWTHER New York Times 6 September 1946