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Alexander the Great (1956)

Director: Robert Rossen/images/burton.jpg
Actors: Richard Burton (Alexander), Peter Cushing (Memnon), Fredric March (Philip), Claire Bloom (Barsine), Daniëlle Darrieux (Olympias)
143 mins. (European release); 141 mins. (USA release); 108 mins. abridged television version

Story Line

Scene 1 - Athens, 356 BC. Demosthenes debates King Philip's barbarian attack on Olynthos.

Scene 2 - A burning Greek city.

Scene 3 - Macedonian camp after victory. Philip receives a message from Olympias that she has given birth to a god.

Scene 4 - Philip is received in Pella by Queen Olympias and an Egyptian augur.

Scene 5 - Philip sees Alexander. Olympias claims the child is a god. The Egyptian augur explains that during Alexander's birth there was an earthquake while two eagles stood guard on the roof of the palace; a star fell down from heaven and the temple in Ephesus was destroyed by lightning.

Scene 6 - Philip shows the newborn to the army.

Scene 7 - Many years later, in Mieza. Alexander returns from hunting and meets Aristotle and Cleitus (the Black). Cleitus brings reports of Philip, who has crossed the Bosporus and is campaigning against Persian cities. Alexander is annoyed that he can not participate in this war.

Scene 8 - Aristotle and Alexander talk about Persia.

Scene 9 - Lecture of Aristotle about Greek values.

Scene 10 - Alexander reads Homer.

Scene 11 - After two years campaigning Philip meets Alexander in Mieza. Philip tells Alexander the Macedonian army has been defeated and Macedonia is in revolt. Philip asks Alexander to rule from Pella during his absence.

Scene 12 - Alexander arrives in Pella where Philip had large parts of the population crucified.

Scene 13 - Alexander meets Olympias. He throws Olympias' guests out of the palace. Olympias tells Alexander that Philip wants to divorce her so he can marry Euridice.

Scene 14 - Long quarrel between Philip and Alexander discussing Olympias' intentions.

Scene 15 - Philip officially appoints Alexander as regent.

Scene 16 - Olympias sits on Alexander's bed and tries to win her son's sympathy.

Scene 17 - Alexander sets off on his first campaign. Battle scenes. City in ashes. Alexander states that he is 'not the toy of his parents'.

Scene 18 - Alexander arrives at the camp of Philip and officially hands back the regency. Quarrel between Alexander and Philip. Philip says Alexander only wants glory for himself.

Scene 19 - Quarrel between Alexander and Euridice. Philip interferes and asks Alexander to settle the issues.

Scene 20 - Chaeronea, 338 BC. Chaotic scenes of a mountain battle. Demosthenes has announced this battle will be decisive for the future of Greece.

Scene 21 - Philip is attacked, Alexander saves his father's life on the battlefield.

Scene 22 - After the battle. Alexander is declared a hero. Athens requests to bury their dead. Philip answers he will let the bodies rot on the battlefield.

Scene 23 - A toast to the victory. Alexander is send to Athens with the ashes of the dead Greeks to sign the peace treaty.

Scene 24 - Athens. Alexander meets with Demosthenes, Memnon and Barsine. Demosthenes welcomes Alexander on behalf of the Athenian state.

Scene 25 - Alexander and Barsine take a stroll.

Scene 26 - Alexander tells Athens the conditions of peace. Memnon and Demosthenes express their worries about a war against Persia.

Scene 27 - Demosthenes says Alexander is more reliable than Philip.

Scene 28 - Signing of the peace treaty.

Scene 29 - Alexander and Olympias meet again. Olympias tells Alexander that Philip has divorced her.

Scene 30 - Drinking party with Philip and Euridice. Another quarrel between Alexander and Philip. Attalus calls Alexander a bastard son. A short fight. The drunken Philip falls.

Scene 31 - Alexander and Olympias leave Macedonia.

Scene 32 - When Euridice bears Philip a son, Philip gives a general pardon to all exiles. This allows Olympias and Alexander to return to Pella.

Scene 33 - Philip and Alexander meet. Philip asks Alexander to lead one of three Macedonian armies during the invasion of Persia. Philip explains Alexander will move to the east, the other armies to the south. Philip tells Alexander four of his friends will be exiled: Harpalus, Ptolemy, Philotas and Pausanias. Philip publicly humiliates Pausanias.

Scene 34 - Olympias asks the drunken Pausanias to kill Philip. Alexander hears their conversation and sends Pausanias to bed. Olympias tells Alexander that Euridice's son is called Caranus, a symbolic name of Macedonian royalty.

Scene 35 - Philip and Alexander arrive at a temple. Pausanias kills Philip while the king is walking up the stairs. Alexander kills Pausanias on the spot.

Scene 36 - Alexander kneels before the dead body of Philip and swears he was not behind the murder.

Scene 37 - Alexander shows Olympias the sword with which Philip was killed.

Scene 38 - Alexander meets delegates from Greece. They all swear loyalty to Alexander, except Memnon who is representing Athens. Alexander exiles Memnon.

Scene 39 - Two scapegoats are stoned to death for the murder of Philip.

Scene 40 - Somewhere in Persia. Memnon meets King Darius and discusses plans to beat Alexander. Darius decides to battle Alexander at the Granicus.

Scene 41 - Battle of the Granicus. Confused cavalry melee. Cleitus saves Alexander's life.

Scene 42 - Memnon watches the Persians flee. He asks Alexander for mercy. Alexander calls him a traitor.

Scene 43 - Battle between Macedonians and Memnon's Greek forces.

Scene 44 - A messenger tells Barsine all Greeks at the Granicus have fallen.

Scene 45 - Alexander and the Gordian Knot.

Scene 46 - Map of Persia; impressions of advancing troops and burning cities. Commentary claims 'Alexander made the Aegean Sea into a Greek sea'.

Scene 47 - At Milete. The city is in ruins. Alexander sends all opposing Greeks into slavery. Barsine is captured. She critizises him.

Scene 48 - Alexander and Barsine 'the morning after'. Alexander has difficulties expressing his feelings for Barsine.

Scene 49 - Troops have intercepted a letter from Demosthenes to Darius. Parmenio asks Alexander to retreat, because Philip would have done the same. Alexander is haunted by flashbacks of his father.

Scene 50 - Alexander adresses the army. He dismisses all Greek allies and captives. Barsine is allowed to return to Athens.

Scene 51 - View of the harbour of Milete and leaving ships. Barsine decides to stay with Alexander.

Scene 52 - Darius writes a letter to Alexander: 'Go back to your mother's lap. Here is some gold for you and a ball and a whip to play with.'

Scene 53 - Alexander receives the message and says he will defeat Darius.

Scene 54 - The battle between Darius and Alexander. Chariot attacks, confused skirmishes. One single cavalry charge and Darius flees. Alexander kills Darius' chariot driver.

Scene 55 - Alexander takes possession of Darius' chariot, symbol of victory.

Scene 56 - Alexander enters the tent with Darius' royal family. Alexander meets Darius' wife, his son Ochus and his daughter Roxane.

Scene 57 - Darius tells his commanders they will ride to the Caspian Gates. Darius expresses his worries about his captured family.

Scene 58 - The Persian commanders ask Darius to leave his ceremonial cart and mount a horse. Darius refuses.

Scene 59 - Pursuit scenes.

Scene 60 - Darius imprisoned by his commanders.

Scene 61 - Darius tries to flee from his commanders but he is cut down by the blow of a sword.

Scene 62 - Alexander finds the dead Darius. A Macedonian soldier hands Alexander a letter which Darius wrote in the hour of his death. Darius calls Alexander his son and asks him to marry his daughter Roxane. Darius asks Alexander to unite Greece and Persia into one nation.

Scene 63 - On the same spot where Alexander found Darius, the Persian commanders show up. They say they thought they did Alexander a favor by killing Darius. Alexander has the murderers crucified.

Scene 64 - In Susa. Alexander sits on Darius' throne.

Scene 65 - The Greeks set Susa on fire. Barsine invites everybody to set the palace on fire too as a revenge for Persian crimes against Greece. Alexander prevents the palace from being burnt.

Scene 66 - Quarrel between Barsine and Alexander. Alexander orders a conquest until the end of the world.

Scene 67 - Athens. Alexander has send a message that he wants to be revered as a god by the Greeks.

Scene 68 - Map of Asia; impressions of battles. Commentary explains Alexander has now conquered as far as India.

Scene 69 - Athens. Demosthenes refuses to accept Alexander as a god.

Scene 70 - The Macedonian camp. Alexander hears Philotas talking to the troops.

Scene 71 - Parmenio is send to Ecbatana. As soon as he has left, Philotas is arrested.

Scene 72 - Torture of Philotas.

Scene 73 - Parmenio lies murdered in the fields.

Scene 74 - Alexander attends a party. Cleitus has arranged a match between a Macedonian and a Persian. The winner will get Cleitus' province of Bactria. Quarrel between Alexander and Cleitus.

Scene 75 - The Macedonian loses to the Persian. Cleitus wants the loser to be killed.

Scene 76 - Cleitus says Alexander had a hand in the killing of Philip. Alexander kills Cleitus.

Scene 77 - Alexander tries to kill himself. The Persians make a fool of Alexander because of his tears. Kneeled before the body of Cleitus Alexander orders the retreat from India.

Scene 78 - Scenes of the desert march from India to Susa. Commentary (by Ptolemy) explains that the murder of Cleitus convinced Alexander you have to conquer the hearts of men, not their lands.

Scene 79 - Susa. The mass wedding. Alexander marries Roxane.

Scene 80 - Alexander's remorse for the murder on Cleitus. Alexander calls for world peace. He falls ill on the spot.

Scene 81 - Alexander on his deathbed in Susa. Alexander asks Barsine to drown his body in the Euphrates. Alexander dies.


The movie 'Alexander the Great' is about the difficult relationship between King Philip and his son Alexander. Philip fails to trust his son. Alexander feels Philip is not giving him a chance. Alexander's attitude towards the plot to kill Philip is ambiguous. This is an interesting theme for an Alexander-movie, but because the story borrows many elements from the Pseudo-Callisthenes tradition and the Alexander Romances, the result is very unsatisfactory.

Both chronology and topography in the movie are completely and utterly erratic. Many characters are entirely mixed up. The battle scenes are totally unconvincing. Alexander is conquering a world of desolate wastelands and abandoned ruins rather than a florishing empire. To anyone with some interest in ancient history the past as represented here is unacceptable right from the start of the movie.

The movie is unbalanced. The four years between Alexander's departure from Mieza and the murder of Philip are dealt with in sixty minutes. The entire Persian campaign is rushed over in the remaining fifty minutes. The main characters are Philip, Alexander and Olympias. The rest of the cast is huge, uninspired and confusing. Philip is depicted as a raw warrior-king with no sense for diplomacy at all. Olympias is the cunning queen. Alexander is an over-ambitious and over-eager young king, haunted by ghosts from the past. Alexander's genius is completely absent.

Written by nick