The rap against Joseph Mankiewicz‘s Cleopatra (1963) is that it’s stately, slow-moving, oppressively talky, etc. But the opening credits — black font, a series of faded wall paintings, Alex North‘s music — are arresting, and then fascinating during a 20-second passage (starting a little after 2:35). North’s score slips into a somber mood and then builds into slight fanfare as the final painting becomes more and more vivid in stages, and finally transitions into 70mm live action.
It’s a simple elegant conveying of the fact that the centuries have faded and blurred the histories of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, and that this film is not only un-fading and un-blurring what happened, but applying a sharp, super-costly Big Hollywood sheen.
I’ve really enjoyed this portion — a sliver really — of this otherwise negligible film for years, or since it’s been out on DVD, I should say. The full-boat 243-minute version is the only way to suffer through this thing.
There’s a portion of ten or twelve minutes after the credits with Rex Harrison and Martin Landau and the rest that’s fairly efficient, and then — about 16 or 17 minutes in — Elizabeth Taylor arrives, and the film soon becomes draggy, and then tedious, and then suffocating.
In his 6.13.63 review, N.Y. Times critic Bosley Crowther called Cleopatra “one of the great epic films of our day.”