Reviews — June 21
The 40th anniversary of the 1963 film “Cleopatra” is upon us, and I asked myself: Does anyone really need or want to be told they should rent this four-hour extravaganza featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton talking each other to death? I think not. A more interesting alternative: Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 version.
It’s a chance to see one of the first great movie actresses (Claudette Colbert) in her final collaboration with one of Hollywood’s first celebrity directors. The film begins slowly, but gets going once the plot to assassinate the Egyptian queen’s first lover (Julius Caesar) is hatched. As Caesar, Warren William is a bit too taciturn, but Henry Wilcoxon as Cleopatra’s second partner in love and power, Mark Antony, oozes charisma and raises the energy level.
We’re still waiting for the first great film about Cleopatra that is rooted more in actual history than legend. But DeMille’s movie has plenty of entertainment and eye candy, and it’s less than two hours long. Also, the disc includes a commentary track and solid extras, with interesting features on DeMille, Colbert and the Hays Production Code, which this film barely ducked by virtue of timing.
“Cleopatra” (1934) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Starring Claudette Colbert, Henry Wilcoxon and Warren William. 100 minutes. Unrated.
Prolific British author Ruth Rendell weaves a delicate web of clues in “Harm Done,” part of her series about police Inspector Reg Wexford. The book is as much social commentary as mystery novel — it focuses largely on the problems of domestic abuse, child molestation and crowd-reaction violence.
A 16-year-old girl goes missing on a Saturday night. When her friends last saw her, she was heading for the bus stop to catch a ride home. Three days later, as the police are literally beating the bushes for information, she turns up uninjured and uncommunicative about her whereabouts.
A week later, another teen disappears from a bus stop. Although there are no other obvious similarities in the two cases, Wexford can’t help linking them in his mind. And he’s right — she also returns. When questioned, she’s obviously withholding information; she claims that her kidnappers forced her to do nothing more than cook and clean.
Astoundingly, the first victim, when pressed, finally admits that she, too, was held captive so she could cook and clean.
It’s a strange, frustrating and, since no one was hurt, almost amusing mystery for the Wexford and his colleagues.
But when a third girl is taken, everything changes. This time, it’s a 3-year-old, the daughter of a rich and powerful father, snatched from her bed in the middle of the night.
And since a high-profile sex offender has just been released from prison and returned to the community, neighbors assume he’s the culprit — never mind that he’s an old man who’s physically incapable of having done the deed, or that he targeted only boys in his past crimes.
Frightened for their own kids and believing the police are protecting the sex offender rather than the public, the neighbors protest. And, spurred on by fear and rumor, they morph into a violent mob.
“Harm Done” is an interesting study of one thing leading to another and quickly growing out of control. And it’s a well-crafted, plausible story, as well, with characters who will capture your interest, whether you like them or not.
“Harm Done,” by Ruth Rendell, Crown Publishers, 1999.