Napoleon (1955) Poster


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Guitry's best color film?
tentender23 June 2008
It appears that most of the comments here are based on viewing of the ridiculous Showtime American edition, which cuts out, if I am not mistaken, more than half the film, is dubbed and, apparently substitutes narration for dialogue, of which there is plenty, as well as the narration, ostensibly Talleyrand relating Napoleon's story on the day of his death, framing the historical episodes. At a little over three hours, this is a spectacular epic, and I recommend heartily seeing the French edition (an excellent print in gorgeous color, if a little dirty by American re-mastering standards). It looks gorgeous -- much more interestingly shot, designed and lighted than Guitry's other color epics, "Si Versailles m'etait conte" and "Si Paris nous etait conte," both of which have a very disappointing, glaring flat look. Many interesting star turns, notably a weird Beethoven by Erich von Stroheim and Orson Welles as Napoleon's jailer on St. Helena, but also some excellent more sustained performances, particularly Michele Morgan as Josephine and Daniel Gelin as the young Napoleon. (As in his earlier "Le destin fabuleux de Desiree Clary", Guitry -- who insists that after Austerlitz Bonaparte became Napoleon, another man entirely -- casts the younger and older Napoleon with two radically different-looking actors.) It's a very enjoyable film, and, if you know French, well worth seeking out in the French edition (no subtitles, unfortunately). The American one is a complete waste of time and money.
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The name says it all... Sacha Guitry.
ggiroux5 July 2006
"You can pretend to be serious; you can't pretend to be witty." Sacha Guitry

Guitry would have been very amused by some the comments posted here. It never was his intent to do an historically accurate movie. Anyone slightly familiar with his filmography knows the subtle derision he infused in all his storytelling. I found that movie very entertaining but I know, as some of my fellow commentators should too, that for factual accuracy one must look elsewhere. I too recommend his rendition of the highs and lows of the French monarchy in " Si Versailles m'était conté ".
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A solid offering.
Kirasjeri27 July 1999
For the ultimate "Napoleon" experience we have to go to 1927 and Abel Gance's masterpiece. Guitry's version is solid - but it crams almost thirty years into one movie. Gance had a longer movie - but it ended in 1797; Waterloo was in 1815, and Guitry's account even went beyond Napoleon's death: it concluded with the glorious return of Napoleon's remains to Paris much later. Nonetheless, even though it moved from scene to scene too quickly and needed more character development, this is a solid historical account worth seeing. BEST OF ALL, both the Gance and Guitry versions give us an alternative interpretation of Napoleon instead of the usual Anglophile hate-filled anti-French propaganda, as seen in "Horation Hornblower" and others.
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dbdumonteil23 May 2008
Among the historical works of Mister Guitry who epitomizes French humor,French wit and French spirit ,"Napoleon" is to my eyes the least interesting:it lacks the sweep of "Si Versailles M'Etait Conté " the absurd humor of the underrated "Si Paris M'Etait Conté" ,the madness of the "Perles de la Couronne ".Well and there is also "En remontant les Champs Elysees "....

These big budgets works-there were only a few in France of the fifties ,foreign users would be surprised if they were told that only a very small percentage of movies were shot in color - have all something in common: the main character,Napoleon or La Fayette is played by not-very-famous actors (Here Raymond Pellegrin,in Gance's "Austerlitz " (not to be mistaken for his silent movie of 1927),it's Pierre Mondy ,and in Dreville's "La Fayette" ,it's Michel Le Royer,whereas the supporting cast includes all the who's who of the FRench cinema (not only ,Orson Welles shows up from time to time).

For instance,in "Napoleon" there are plenty of stars:Michèle Morgan ,Danielle Darrieux,Jean-Pierre Aumont,Henri Vidal,Jean Gabin,Michel Simon,Jean Marais,Serge Reggiani,Pierre Brasseur,Daniel Gélin (as a young long-haired Napo) etc etc etc

The film when you watch it in FRench is obviously desperately in need of humor,Guitry's forte.It looks like a beautiful pictures book which could be summarized as "Napoleon was a great man.Period".The less glorious episodes are almost passed over in silence ,like the Trafalgar disaster or the Russian retreat.Only Montand's song and Lannes ,now a legless cripple,pointing to the ambulance full of dying men and screaming "Enough!" have some emotional power.

The crowning in Notre Dame is botched (Abel Gance found a better treatment of that scene in his own "Austerlitz ")

Get the follow -up "Si Paris M'Etait Conté" instead !This was to be Guitry's testament
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A Ridiculous View of a Historical Titan
theowinthrop9 August 2005
Except that this film is short, I was tempted to call it "NAPOLEON BLOWN-APART", but that suggests the film is actually long and has some degree of detail. THis monstrosity is under ninety minutes. There are short films about Napoleon, but they concentrate on one aspect of the man. CONQUEST deals with Napoleon and his Polish mistress. DESIREE with his relationship with Desiree Clary Bernadotte, the future Queen of Sweden. This was Sacha Guitry's attempt to do a complete account of Napoleon's thirty year career as a world figure, in a totally inadequate amount of time.

The French version of the film actually has some continuity lacking in the English version. But most people in the U.S. have seen (if they have seen it at all) the English version. It is best known because of the cameo appearances, in particular of Orson Welles as General Hudson Lowe (who? - he's the British official who was appointed to be the jailer of Napoleon on St. Helena, but who managed to botch his assignment) and Eric Von Stroheim (very briefly) as Beethoven. Guitry, a talented boulevardier type, essayed the role of Talleyrand. None are shown to great advantage.

It is set (apparently) in 1821, with Guitry in his Paris salon, talking to his intellectual friends, upon hearing the death of his former master. To be truthful, knowing Talleyrand, he would have said a word or two about Napoleon but then turned to more interesting current matters. The film does not go into the collapse of the relationship between the great Emperor and his gifted Foreign Secretary. Talleyrand was noted for his selfish ability to destroy a government that was no longer benefiting him, and then reappear in a more powerful position in the next regime. He helped destroy about seven of them, including Napoleon's. Historians have despised his selfishness, but they have usually praised him for knowing when to ditch the Emperor (Talleyrand was wary of the constant warfare, which the Emperor did not seem to know when to stop - he seemed to be using war to cover previous failures of policy, and to build up his remarkable reputation). The final blow was when Napoleon discovered that Talleyrand had been contacting Metternich and other foreign adversaries about undercutting Napoleon's diplomatic forays. In front of the whole court Napoleon cursed out Talleyrand, calling him a silk stocking full of "merde". He then left the court with his chief courtiers. Talleyrand watched thoughtfully, and said, "How sad that such a great man is so vulgar!" He redoubled his activities, assisted by his rival and foe (usually, but not here) Joseph Fouche, the head of the secret police. In 1814-15 they beat Napoleon at last.

None of this is in the movie (at least the English version) that we see. Talleyrand is very philosophical, telling the story of the rise, fall, and rise of Napoleon and his legend. But in cramming the events from 1785 to 1821 we get a too rapid outline. The film though does even more than this. Talleyrand tells of how Napoleon's remains are returned to France for burial in Les Invalides (his magnificent tomb in Paris). But this happened in 1840, ordered by King Louis Philippe for popularity reasons. Only problem is that Talleyrand was dead by 1838.

Since Welles is in the film for about two minutes, I might as well discuss this. In 1955 he was filming CONFIDENTAL REPORT (a.k.a. MR. ARKADIN), and (like OTHELLO) he was partly paying for it himself. So Welles was willing to appear in many films (especially in France) in bit cameo roles. His part is that of Lowe, who was a mediocre military figure who got the job as a last choice (the first choice, the Duke of Wellington, felt he and Bonaparte could never share an island together). Lowe was introduced to Bonaparte in the latter's residence of Longwood, and Bonaparte was polite like a host. But Lowe just glowered at him (as Welles does here). Bonaparte, quickly judging the idiot that he was stuck with, put his own hat on to show his contempt. It never improved, but we only see this scene.

After Bonaparte died, his aides wanted a suitable tomb for him, but every time they presented a statement for the tombstone (General of the Armies, Emperor of France), Lowe turned down the recommendation. In disgust, they suggested a blank tombstone. Stupidly, Lowe agreed (as a surprised Welles does). Lowe never realized how truly eloquent the empty tombstone was - loyal Bonapartists from around the globe would know at that tombstone that no words could describe the giant who was under it adequately. Napoleon really did not need Les Invalides, but the French wanted to do it properly.

The film is a total waste as a decent historical chronicle. Catch the 1927 Abel Gance classic, or CONQUEST or even DESIREE (even though it is a wretched film in it's own right - at least it gives the viewer some idea of how Sweden's modern royal family came into power). Catch the Armand Assante two part television movie about Napoleon and Josephine. But, unless you want to see all of Orson Welles or Eric Von Stroheim's performances, ignore this one. For Orson and Eric I give this a three.
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Why did this film have to be so dull?!
MartinHafer21 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I was surprised to see that this historical film was made by Sacha Guitry—an auteur known for his comedies. This film is no comedy, but more like a slobbery film that portrays Napoleon as a wonderful guy! Now the fact that it the film liked this evil sociopath isn't completely surprising, as it was made by the French. But why was this film about such an important historical figure so dull?! Instead of telling the story in a conventional way, it's told through flashbacks—and comes off more like a documentary than a bio-pic. In other words, we see little snippets and they often are narrated. Why not just let the story tell itself? Why the device of having an old soldier reminiscing about his beloved Emperor? It's really a shame, as the film is at times quite grand. It was filmed at the various palaces occupied by Napoleon. And, its battle sequences are very good---though the insanely big and expensive Russian version of "War and Peace" sure has "Napoleon" beat by a wide margin in this regard. Overall, it's a very beautiful but dull film—one that certainly should have been more exciting and interesting. Some more energy and emotion sure would have helped! By the way, occasionally the film minimized or ignored Napoleon's failures. For example, there is no mention that his Egyptian campaign was a total failure. Also, they TOLD that Napoleon's retreat from Moscow went badly—but didn't show it or really talk about it! As I said, the film sure seemed very pro-Napoleon and never talked about all the people killed by him nor the countries he enslaved and sacked. Despite what the film asserts, Napoleon was one of history's biggest butt-heads, to say the least.
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Quite possibly the worst Napoleon movie ever!
pelopen3bc31 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There are people who despise Napoleonic love films, and I am one of them, because they have almost nothing to do with the true character of Napoleon. There are so very few Napoleon war epics that finding this seemed great. This movie makes those sappy love films look good.

I start off by saying it is incredibly boring; practically unbearable. Second, cramming Napoleon's life into such a short time frame is ludicrous; that's a job for Kubrick.

Now, most people don't like to nitpick, but I do, and these things not only make for a bad historical film, but just a bad film in general.

1. Too much reliance on narration; almost no speaking lines.

2. Toulon taking place on a bright sunny day? 3. Napoleon's 1790's uniform looks like it was made by a 4th grader's mother.

4. "Whiff of grapeshot" taking place on a bright sunny day? 5. Tell me the point of the garden dancing scene.

6. Napoleon's charge at the Bridge of Arcole mysteriously morphs into a painting.

7. Napoleon's Egyptian servant was a black man in a Santa Clause costume? 8. To transition from the young looking Napoleon to the older Napoleon, the director uses a "new haircut" scene, in which he just switches the actors. Tell me that isn't clever film-making! 9. The mighty Battle of Austerlitz in interrupted by a giant green laser. I'm not kidding.

10. The helmets of the Imperial Guard troops are about three times as large as they should be. You cannot look at them without laughing.

11. During a battle with Austria, an Austrian grenadier randomly decides to do an awe-inspiring front flip while charging down a hill. Bravo.

12. The spectacle of Moscow burning is obviously a model set up 3 feet from the window set piece.

13. Waterloo was pathetic. Napoleon had one poorly dubbed line in the entire scene. A British soldiers gets smacked in the face with a cherry bomb. The Old Guard sings. The suspense of whether it was French or Prussian reinforcements lasts about half of a second. French and British troops charge each other, reach each other, and then stand there.

14. Orson Welle's "me not talk-talk" acting technique makes him look like Frankenstein in a British uniform.

15. Napoleon returns as a zombie at the end of the film.

16. The "The End" title card looks like it was borrowed from "West Side Story".

This film is good to laugh at, but as far as a Napoleonic film goes, or a film in general, it is by no means worth your time. Avoid it like the plague. Try Abel Gance's "Napoleon" or perhaps "Waterloo".
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One To Avoid!
JohnHowardReid27 February 2013
The poorly dubbed English version is appropriately available on a poor, slightly-out-of-focus and somewhat-drained-of-color Hollywood Classics DVD. Produced on a lavish budget with a galaxy of famous players as long as your arm, this is an egocentric production in which most of the famous stars – buried under loads of make-up – are totally unrecognizable. Robbing them of their voices doesn't help either. Daniel Gélin plays the young Napoleon, but the role is soon taken over by Raymond Pellegrin – who looks nothing like Gélin but bears a remarkable similarity to Charles Boyer's Nappy in Clarence Brown's 1937 Conquest. The movie is directed by Sacha Guitry as an almost endless series of boring tableaux which may have been reasonably effective in the original French production, but look old-fashioned and stagey in the carelessly dubbed DVD (which gives no indication of its length but is most obviously NOT 3 hours and 10 minutes, and I seriously doubt that it is even 105 minutes).
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Skip this Film
Bigspend6 October 1999
The best comment one can make about this film is "uninspired" if not relentlessly tedious. I'm particularly put off by the attempt to generate interest by giving top billing to Orson Welles and Eric Von Stroheim who have only minimal cameos at the end with little or no dialog. Except for Napoleon's german speaking young wife, not one character in this sleeper is even remotely interesting. At the end I only wanted to ask for my 2 hours back.
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Disastrously dull account of Napoleon
Chuck-1854 October 1999
This poorly made inexcusable film tries to be too sympathetic to Napoleon and is loaded with innumerable historical inaccuracies. Talleyrand doing the narration is absurd to begin with since he continually back stabbed Napoleon at every turn. Whether one loves the Emperor or loathes him, this movie will only bore you to tears. The acting is wooden and monotonous with the characters all indistinguishable from each other. The famous Battle of Waterloo is given all of one minute without even mentioning Napoleon's opposition and the retreat from Moscow isn't even shown at all. Anything worthwhile that Napoleon did in his lifetime is also completely left out. Lastly, Orson Welles as Sir Hudson Lowe (Napoleon's jailer on St. Helena) is the most incredible case of miscasting I've ever seen in any movie. It just shows how far Welles' stock had fallen in Hollywood to be involved in this farce just for a paycheck. Abel Gance's "Napoleon" from 1927 is still the film to see if one is interested in the life of the Emporer. Napoleon was at least an entertaining and animated conqueror/dictator. In this 1955 version starring Daniel Gelin, he is merely a glaring monosyllabic moron.
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great comment on napoleon's comment
radu_cucraciun8 September 2009
i'm sorry but for such a big fan of hist(e)orical accuracy i think, and it is just a honest opinion that you should have made a spell check on your post. Then you would have acknowledged the fact that the word "emporor" written with a capital E does not restore the Emperor's honor not even when compared to Sacha Guitry's terrible attempt...But your little spelling error tells us more about the "type of cat" you are more then it tells us about Guitry's failure to satisfy your taste in historical re- enactments. I'ts not like you had to direct a whole just made a small comment on it...and look how it turned out...well good chance in finding something better then Abel Gance's silly if artistic films should do just things as close as possible to your own petty little view...and i see that you are not only an expert in historical movies and how they should be done, but that you are also an expert in type casting, movie business and what's good to see that people like you are still around, so the whole thing doesn't crumble to pieces... keep up the good work of being you, and long live the Emporor...right right?
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classic and colourful epic from France
myriamlenys13 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
"Napoléon" is notable for the linear clarity of its storytelling : even persons unfamiliar with French or European history can follow the rise, reign and fall of the protagonist. The movie also contains a great number of one-liners and quotes (many of which are quite witty, by the way) and a great number of iconic figures, objects and scenes. You get Napoleon's milk-white steed, his African servant/slave, his opulent coronation mantle, and so on. There is also a good evocation of the general look and feel of the era, complete with monuments, palaces and costumes. (The costumes are particularly beautiful.)

Consequently I think that this would be a very good movie to show to adolescents and young adults, as a first introduction to the life of Napoleon and to French history between, say, 1770 and 1830. These were, of course, exceedingly dangerous and exciting times, with France careening wildly between the extreme right and the extreme left while going through a dazzling array of regimes and constitutions.

The casting and acting are good and the production values are high. Sadly, the characters (and hence the performances) tend to be pretty one-note. Napoleon, for instance, is nearly always pictured as brave, resolute, sombre and ambitious. Still, it is a pretty safe bet that the man, during his stay on this earth, must have spent at least some time picking apples, stroking puppies or recovering from a hangover. Beautiful Josephine, his first wife, is feminine to the extreme - think charm, frivolity, sentiment - but again, one can safely assume that somewhere during her lifetime the real Josephine filed a tax return, solved a mathematical problem or kicked an attacker in the groin. Indeed, the simple fact that the real-life Josephine survived the French Revolution and its immediate aftermath indicates a high intelligence, a considerable degree of political insight and an excellent survival instinct.

To return to the movie : the various battles and campaigns seemed pretty realistic to me, although I've got to add that I'm no expert on Napoleonic warfare. It's entirely possible that military historians or historical reenactors will spend much of the movie's considerable duration screaming : "No ! Every child knows that a 'sapeur des grenadiers en grande tenue' wore his coat ON THE LEFT SHOULDER ONLY !" However, the list of battles and campaigns contained some interesting omissions. For instance, the disastrous retreat from Russia, which caused so much death and suffering, disappeared almost completely. Were these scenes omitted because they were too difficult or expensive to shoot ? Or were they judged too depressing ? Or too humiliating for France, mother of all sciences and fountain of all skills ?

If you would like to know more about Napoleon (the man, the times, the myth) and if you are able to read Dutch, there exists a fine book by historian Jacques Presser, which I warmly recommend. It's an interesting work which acknowledges Napoleon's genius and bravery, but does not shy away from examining his less desirable traits such as greed, vindictiveness and pettiness. The other members of Napoleon's family get the same treatment, resulting in a darkly entertaining portrayal of something that feels like an unusually successful Mafia clan. As a portrayal it's far more dark, varied and profound than the portrayal shown in the movie. Presser's book also contains episodes of surreal weirdness, such as the episode where Napoleon names his own illiterate mother Secretary of State for Female Education.

Professor Presser also pointed out that Napoleon, who was obsessed with his public image, liked to stage scenes which were supposed to turn him into a glorious exemple for the ages. (In other words, Napoleon was a man who did not only live his life, but also embellished, staged and edited it.) Again, this is a level of critical analysis you won't find in the movie, or only rarely.

Aah, well, you know what they say. "When in doubt, print the legend"...
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