Ancient Egypt holds out three magnets for movie makers: its connections to the Bible through Moses and Joseph, the eternal allure of Cleopatra and, above all, the mystery of mummies. It is the last of the trinity that brings forth one of the summer's big sequels, "The Mummy Returns."
The grandeurs of early civilizations gripped the minds of filmmakers since the days of the early Italian cinema and the first epic by D.W. Griffith, the 1913 "Judith of Bethulia." But with the discovery of the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen by Howard Carter in 1922, Egypt became the new craze. In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille made his first version of "The Ten Commandments," combining the old and modern worlds in the manner of Griffith's "Intolerance." In 1934, DeMille filmed "Cleopatra," with Claudette Colbert improbably cast as the queen of the Nile.
The Egyptian beauty seduced writers going back to Shakespeare and up through George Bernard Shaw. One of the most engaging portrayals of the land of the pyramids and temples comes in Gabriel Pascal's 1945 film of Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra," with Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh in the title roles. That tale takes place mostly in Alexandria, but films about Marc Antony and Cleopatra move, like Shakespeare's play, about the ancient world. The big moment in the huge Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton "Cleopatra" of 1963 is the march through Rome.