Cleopatra 75th Anniversary Edition

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April 07, 2009|By CHRIS KALTENBACH

Starring Claudette Colbert, Henry Wilcoxon. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Released by Universal. $29.95 *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)

Claudette Colbert is the sauciest Cleopatra since the 1st century B.C. in Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 production of Cleopatra, a classic from those frisky days before Hollywood got itself all moral and safe.

DeMille, the master of the early-Hollywood epic, spent his career giving the people what they wanted, and what that meant was movies featuring as much titillation as contemporary standards would allow, usually in stories based on history or the Bible. Colbert had scorched the screen twice already in DeMille productions - 1932's The Sign of the Cross, in which she famously took a nude bath in asses' milk, and 1934's Four Frightened People - but neither of those is as much fun as Cleopatra, in which she seduces two continents, gets delivered to Caesar (Warren William) wrapped in a rug and distracts poor Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon) so that he doesn't know which way is up, much less which way is Rome.

Of course, it's all delightfully anachronistic; Colbert's about as Egyptian as George Washington, and the 1930s vernacular doesn't exactly match the time period. But who cares? Colbert is riveting (in costumes that weighed as much as 60 pounds), DeMille's mastery of the deliciously overblown is unmatched, and the film's huge art-deco sets belong in a design museum.

Speaking of Oscars: Colbert, 31 at the time, also starred in It Happened One Night that same year, which won her the Best Actress prize. Sounds like she had a pretty good year.

Also in stores today: : Doubt (Miramax, $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95): Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis were all Oscar-nominated for Doubt, based on John Patrick Shanley's play about a doctrinaire nun (Streep) out to prove an easygoing priest (Hoffman) is guilty of child abuse.

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