Cleopatra (1917) - Rotten Tomatoes

Cleopatra (1917)



Critic Consensus: Theda Bara is the magnetic focal point of this massive spectacle, with no expense spared to evoke the grandeur and tragedy of Cleopatra's life.

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Movie Info

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.


Theda Bara
as Cleopatra
Herschel Mayall
as Ventidius
Dorothy Drake
as Charmian
Hector V. Sarno
as Messenger
Art Acord
as Kephren
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Critic Reviews for Cleopatra

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (10)

The film Cleopatra is another proof that the kinema may accomplish some of the effects of authentic dramatic art if it will only select its subjects judiciously.

April 8, 2021 | Full Review…

[Cleopatra presents] half a dozen of the most artistically beautiful scenes that have ever been photographed.

March 10, 2021 | Full Review…

Scenery and costumes no more constitute a dramatic masterpiece in the movies than they do in the theater. There must be an architecture in the plot, a scientific employment of the stresses and strains of motives.

March 10, 2021 | Full Review…

The costumes are wonderful and are said to have cost a king's ransom. Theda Bara is splendid in the title role.

March 10, 2021 | Full Review…

The battle scene was so well handled as to merit special praise. Even the Sphinx looked on with wondering eyes.

March 10, 2021 | Full Review…

Especially effective are the desert scenes... There are furious races across the desert sands, by way of contrast a furious sea battle, and the struggle raging in the city of Alexandria between the armies of Cleopatra and of Octavius Caesar.

March 10, 2021 | Full Review…

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