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  Notorious Cleopatra, The Jewel Of The Nile
Year: 1970
Director: Peter Perry Jr
Stars: Sonora, Johnny Rocco, Jay Edwards, Dixie Donovan, John Vincent, Christopher Stone, Michael Cheal, Ronald South, Woody Lee, Larry Martinelli, Ty Hamilton, James Brand, Bobby Love, Joe Pepe, Jess White, Jess White, Frank Cuva, Tommy Davis, Kathy Cannella
Genre: Comedy, Sex, Trash, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mark Antony (Johnny Rocco) is growing dissatisfied with his life in Ancient Rome which for him is one orgy after another, and whose fault is that? He lays the blame at the feet of Julius Caesar (Jay Edwards), the ruler of the Empire and self-proclaimed god among men, who is also growing jaded with his decadent lifestyle. It seems that though he has his pick of the slave girls who are sold at auction to the highest bidder - Antony has attended these himself for his own amusement - there is no excitement in indulging his sexual appetites every day. But what if there was one woman who would supply all the enticement he would want, even if he was feeling past it? And what if Mark Antony got there first?

That woman being Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, and therein lies a mystery. She was played, according to the credits, by an actress called Sonora who hardly had an acting career at all, with this as her sole starring role. But Sonora was not her real name, and some sources have it that she was actually Loray White. Who she? Loray was the dancer Sammy Davis Jr was forced to marry when the studio and various racist, criminal types threatened him with extreme violence and possibly death if he went on with his romance with fellow star Kim Novak. They were married for under a year, the union was never consummated, and she slipped back into obscurity - but did she attempt a comeback in a nudie movie?

Assuming she was in her twenties when Davis married her in 1958, twelve years later she would have been pushing forty if not older, in which case she was well preserved judging by her frequent disrobing, but if she and Sonora were one and the same, what on earth brought her to appearing in one of those Harry Novak produced skinflicks? We may never know, which leaves another point of interest, that this was the first time Cleopatra had ever been played by a black woman instead of the traditional white, which in some revisionist historical accounts was the case in real life. Of course, we'll never know for sure, but the odds are that as she was Alexandrian the Queen was white and a surviving contemporary image of her doesn't look particularly central African, though it is amusing to speculate.

Not that Novak and his team were trying to be racially provocative after the civil rights advances of the decade just gone, they just wanted to titillate, so much of The Notorious Cleopatra was a lot of softcore gropings with a lot of female flesh on display. Historically the accuracy would appear to be the last thing on their minds, with this a kind of follow up to their sexed up version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, taking his play Antony and Cleopatra and doing much the same to the basic plot. But Caesar here is less like old Julius and more like Emperor Nero, a corpulent and debauched figure who when he's not having naked women rub their bodies over his flab is stuffing his face with food and downing goblets of wine, though he does meet his end in the typical fashion.

Which is more than can be said of Antony and Cleopatra, whose affair's legendary tragic conclusion is completely rewritten to include rape and murder, followed by suicide - no asp is seen here, contra the Shakespeare telling. And this is supposed to be a comedy. That's the risk basing your humour on actual events, a lot of the time they don't end too cheerfully and no matter that director Peter Perry Jr added sound effects to lighten the mood, it's doubtful anyone would emerge from this with a grin. Especially not when all those sex scenes were scored with the worst psychedelic rock you would ever hear, not only non-period-specific but a burden on the ears as well: seriously, check out that singing and marvel that anyone thought it would pass muster, then remember that you're not meant to be listening to the tunes anyway, you're meant to be getting off on the largely anonymous nudity and pretend sex scenarios. As far as they went, you were lucky if they stayed in focus for thirty seconds at a time, and showed not everyone willing to take their clothes off in a movie should.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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