Cleopatra (1917)

Genres - Epic, Historical Film  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
  • AllMovie Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Share on

By 1917, Theda Bara had become one of the screen's biggest stars, and her fans had long been suggesting that she portray ancient Egypt's famed queen. So Bara's studio, Fox, shipped her out to Los Angeles for this spectacular production (all of her prior films had been shot on the East Coast). Bara did extensive research on the role, and she knew that Cleopatra was a cunning political leader; the studio, of course, played up the sex angle, so she comes across as a woman who, if she didn't sleep her way to the top, at least slept her way through the top. She first seduces Caesar (Fritz Leiber), then after his assassination, she turns her adversary Pharon (Albert Roscoe) into a lover. Finally, Marc Antony (Thurston Hall) tries to conquer Cleopatra but instead is conquered by her charms. Even marriage to Octavia (Genevieve Blinn) can't keep him from joining his destiny with the Queen of the Nile. It turns out to be his downfall, as Octavia's brother Octavius (Henri de Vries) opposes and defeats him, and he is forced to kill himself. Instead of using the dagger like Antony, Cleopatra prefers the drama of being bitten by a poisonous snake. The studio's publicity department had a field day with the promotion for this picture -- this was when they came up with the brilliant insight that the name "Theda Bara" was an anagram for "Arab Death." Bara herself went along with the fun, first claiming to be the reincarnation of a daughter of Seti, high priest of the pharaohs, and then insisting that in a past life she was Cleopatra herself. Years later, long after the end of her career, she gleefully admitted it was all a wonderful joke. Unfortunately, the film itself, which ran over two hours and was one of the top box office draws of 1917, has apparently been lost. This is especially tragic, since still photos of the elaborate sets and shockingly bare costumes only serve to heighten curiosity about this motion picture.