Soon to turn 85, famed character actor Martin Landau has a keen memory, pride of accomplishment and enough good sense not to put himself in harm's way. So he rejected an offer from the Cannes Film Festival to attend its 50th anniversary screening of Cleopatra this week.
"Because I didn't carry the movie," Landau explains from Los Angeles, "I just thought it was a bit ostentatious to represent that film. But frankly, I'm one of the few left."
All of Landau's co-stars -- including leads Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison -- have died, along with their director, legendary Joe Mankiewicz. So too has combative Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox and the man who savaged Cleopatra by ordering two hours of cuts that deeply offended Mankiewicz and eliminated Landau's best scenes.
But Landau is a survivor. "My mantra these days is: Stay perpendicular!"
Cleopatra, the film that almost bankrupted Fox, is also a survivor. The 243-minute version has been meticulously restored for its Blu-ray debut on Tuesday.
Landau -- who plays Rufio, a general loyal to Mark Antony during Roman civil wars that caught Cleopatra's Egypt in their web -- is still impressed that Cleopatra works at all as Hollywood melodrama. It was an epic that Mankiewicz imagined as two movies with a total running time up to six hours. Zanuck, desperate for boxoffice to save Fox, rejected Mankiewicz and made the cuts. The missing footage was never found, despite a promising rumour about a Kansas film trove six years ago.