A decade before Burton and Taylor almost sank a movie studio, exploitation kings Sam Katzman and William Castle put Raymond Burr and Rhonda Fleming into the roles of Marc Antony and Cleopatra in this low budget 82 minute programmer.
Our film begins with plenty of stock footage featuring Roman centurions and brave chariot riders battling it out on Hollywood back lots to lay claim to the power of Rome. With Caesar dead and Brutus not far behind we have Burr’s Marc Antony taking in William Lundigan as his right hand General. Together they plot to overpower beautiful Rhonda Fleming’s Cleopatra. Lundigan sees her for what she is. Greedy for power, jewels and men. Burr however falls under her spell leaving him helpless and an enemy to Rome. I found this role for Burr somewhat surprising as up to this point in his career he was mainly known as a heavy and not a weak enslaved lover. As melodramatic as the film is, Burr doesn’t do a bad job. As Lundigan goes about trying to bring Burr back to his senses he runs squarely into Cleopatra’s number one henchman played by a young Michael Ansara. The inevitable clash between the two doesn’t compare to Flynn vs. Rathbone but it is rather comical in it’s ineptness.
The sets are colorful but the matte shots look a little clumsy which should come as no surprise on this B production. Katzman had an incredible number of productions to his credit but never really climbed out of the B ranks whereas William Castle developed a cult following mainly due to the marketing and gimmicks on his films such as The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. Surprisingly he himself would go on to produce the classic Rosemary`s Baby.
The familiar scenes of the legendary lovers demise are to be expected but the highlight of the film just might be an erotic dance performed by sexy Julie Newmar for the pleasure of Burr`s Marc Antony. All in all fairly forgettable but I can`t help myself when I see Rhonda Fleming`s name on a credit list.
It would be interesting to see Raymond Burr in this kind of role. I’ve not seen this one but, if I had to choose, I would gladly pick this film over the tortuous Taylor/Burton “Cleopatra”.
the documentary on the Burton Taylor film included on the dvd for that title is far better than the film ever hoped top be. Wonderful look into how a film’s budget can go escalating beyond control.