The recent passing of Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor had me do what I usually do when a celebrity passes away - I revist their work with a memorial "film festival" (as I am sure most other hardcore cinephiles do as well). Also, this weekend Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is dedicating a full day to Taylor's great career. Ms. Taylor was an icon of Hollywood of old, and her passing means that a generation of movie stars is almost completely gone (I'd say Mickey Rooney and Kirk Douglas are probably the remaining hold outs in that club).
One of my favorite Taylor movies is the infamous CLEOPATRA. Infamous in that it almost wiped out Twentieth Century Fox financially, as well as the beginning of the Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton relationship.
Yes the movie is flawed, but there is something grand in a classic Hollywood epic kind of way. It's over the tope in scale, and the Cinemascope screen is filled to the brim with exciting images that brings the movie alive. Made at a time when Hollywood was going through some changes, it may have almost bankrupt Fox, but every penny of that budget is up on the screen.
One need only reference the grand entry into Rome by Cleopatra. Ms. Taylor so encompasses that role that you can't argue that she is indeed a woman who brought down great leaders. It's also one of (in my honest opinion) Richard Burton's best roles.
Let's look at some random bits of information. Without CLEOPATRA there would be no dramatic intensity of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF because Burton and Taylor would probably have not hooked up. There also would be no Century City Shopping Mall because Fox wouldn't have had to sell off their backlot (which is kind of a sad thing, although I really like that mall and the AMC Theater there is one of my favorites in L.A.). Without Century City - no iconic Nakatomi Plaza for DIE HARD or again the mall for the Apes to revolt in CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES - which I always think of when I'm there imaging Roddy McDowall as Caesar storming Macy's.
One of the best aspects of CLEOPATRA is Alex North's haunting score. Next to say A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and SPARTACUS, it ranks as one of his best works. He also underscored Taylor and Burton in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, and also scored a film I think is underrated, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner (directed by William Wyler). There is a 2 CD edition of the score to CLEOPATRA available from the soundtrack masters at Varese Sarabande that no collection should be without.
CLEOPATRA is not part of the Ms. Taylor retrospective on TCM this weekend as I believe the rights are held exclusively by FXM (Movies from Fox). It is on DVD in a splendid edition which sports a great multi-person commentary and extensive documentaries on the troubled production. Here's hoping that Fox one day sees fit to bring it to Blu-Ray.