1963: From Cleopatra to King Tut and Salladin, marking 50 years

Soha Elsirgany, Tuesday 29 Oct 2013

On the golden anniversary of Cleopatra, Ahram Online recalls other movies, entwining Egypt's historical characters, that marked the year 1963

Films: Cleopatra, Cairo, Salladin the Victorious

It's been 50 years since the epic British-American-Swiss production Cleopatra, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, took the cinema world by storm.

Two other movies inspired by- or entwining the Egyptian history - a UK production titled Cairo, directed by Wolf Rilla, and Salladin the Victorious directed by Youssef Chahine - were released the same year.

Cleopatra accounts the rise and fall of young Queen Cleopatra VII, from her ruling of Egypt and resisting of the imperial ambitions of Rome, to her sexual appeal and romances with the most powerful men in the world.

The four-hour classic was the highest grossing film of 1963, yet it made a loss due to its exorbitant production costs.

The production of the movie threatened the 20th Century Fox producer with bancruptcy. Among the many financial challenges was the fact that the film's sets and costumes had to be produced twice, as shooting started in London but later shifted to Rome, after six months of unfortunate English weather, which constantly ruined expensive sets and exotic plants.

The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, of which it won four; including Best Art Direction and Set, Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects and Best Costume Design.

To this day, Queen Cleopatra holds her popular position in Western culture through a myriad of artworks and dramatic representations of the female ruler in a time of male kings.

Cleopatra is not the only movie featuring Egyptian history to celebrate its Golden Jubilee.

From the Pharaohs comes another inspiration, Cairo, released in 1963, recounting a daring heist to steal the jewels of King Tutankhamen's tomb from the Cairo National Museum.

The plan is halted, as Major is jailed. Perhaps the curse of the Pharoahs is more than a superstition, because Major soon finds out that whilst the robbery may be easy, escaping with the jewels may be the hardest part.

The jewels of King Tut were quite a hot topic after their discovery, featuring in international exhibitions at the time of the film's release in 1963.

Director Wolf Rilla, with George Sanders, Faten Hamama and other Egyptian and foreign stars, took on the film Cairo, which is loosely based on the acclaimed novel by William Riley Burnett, Asphalt Jungle.

Faten Hamama in 1963 movie 'Cairo' (Photo: Still from the movie)

Among the actors in Cairo were Egyptian Ahmed Mazhar, who also starred in another epic released in 1963, titled Salladin the Victorious (El Nasser Salah-Aldeen), directed by renowned Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine.

The three-hour war epic, takes it's title from the 12th Century Sultan, who liberated Jerusalem from its Crusader occupiers in two wars.

Salladin the Victorious entered the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival.

Salladin the Victorious (Photo: Still from the movie)

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