It’s never a good sign when a movie is most famous for what happened off screen, and “Cleopatra” may be the all-time champ of off-screen famousness. Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, it’s showing twice at the Kendall on Wednesday. “You have to see ‘Cleopatra’ if you have any remote interest in film history,” writes the film scholar David Thomson (no fan of the movie). This might be your only chance to do so on a big screen — and, in fact, the best thing about “Cleopatra” is Leon Shamroy’s splendid, Oscar-winning cinematography.
Ah, but Shamroy’s work is up on the screen. It’s the off-screen stuff we were discussing. Bad enough (or juicy enough) that the production went so absurdly over budget that it almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. “Cleopatra” became the most expensive movie ever made, a title it kept (adjusted for inflation) for more than 30 years, until “Waterworld” came along. The $44 million cost of “Cleopatra” then is more than $320 million now.