Not since the days of Cecil B. DeMille's glorious extravaganzas have movie audiences been able to sit in rapture of anything as truly Hollywood as "Caesar and Cleopatra." It fits all the adjectives a cinema press-agent can wholesale: colossal, stupendous, terrific. Scenes of giant Egyptian idols against a red, evening sky, the sand-swept Sphinx, the great columns of Cleopatra's palace, are all magnificent, but unhappily they obscure the important element-a scenario by Bernard Shaw.
Despite its two-hour length, "Caesar and Cleopatra" never begins to take shape. At every moment it seems as if the action and dialogue might move towards some unity, and then the cameral swings back to the spectacle of a thousand exotic extras milling in the shadow of a fabulous temple. The development of Caesar, the materialist with an idealistic end, comes in snatches of crisp Shavian dialogue, but the entire effect is uneven and erratic. As the Roman conqueror, Claude Rains is excellent. He plays his part with intelligence and a calmness unmoved by the grandeur about him. Vivian Leigh is an effective contrast as Cleopatra, the girlish queen. Flora Robson, as Ftatateeta, a weird combination of killer and nurse, handles herself with barbaric competence. Stewart Granger, who looks like the muscular product of a California beach, manages adequately to make about half the audience squeal ecstatically.
The full-page advertisements and the crowing of public-relations counsels will probably fail to convince American audiences that the three millions spent on "Caeser and Cleopatra" were worth it all. The film lacks a concentration of Shaw's humor and a unity of his ideas. On the whole, it is quite a tedious evening.