Napoleon (1955)




Director:     Sacha Guitry (with help on the battle scenes from Eugene Lourie).

Starring:     Amanda Amendola, Jean Pierre Aumont, Pierre Brasseur (Paul Barras), Giana Maria Canale, Jean Chevrier, Danielle Darrieux (Elenore Denuelle), Bernard Dheran, Clement Duhour, O.W. Fischer, Daniel Gelin (Napoleon Bonaparte), Cosetta Greco, Sacha Guitry (Talleyrand), Daniel Invernei,  Jean Marais,  Lana Marconi (Marie Lalewska),  Michele Morgan (Josephine),  Yves Montand (Lafebvre), Raymond Pellegrin, Roger Pigaut, Micheline Presle (Hortense), Serge Reggiani, Dany Robin, Maria Schell, Eric von Stroheim (Beethoven), Howard Vernon, Henri Vidal (Joachim Murat), Orson Welles (Sir Hudson Lowe). 

film made by the French (filmed in the chateaus of Malmaison, Fontainebleau and Versailles)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


Speaking of Napoleon Bonaparte Talleyrand says to his guests:  "Well, it's all over.  We can speak of him again."  One of the female guests asks Talleyrand his opinion of Napoleon.  Talleyrand refuses.  So the woman states her opinion that she never really liked him.  This makes Talleyrand mad and he is a bit rude and tells the woman he doesn't really want to hear her opinion about such a great man.  The woman feels insulted and leaves. 

Talleyrand now launches into the story of Napoleon.  He was born on an island, was exiled to an island and died on an island.  He was born on the the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea.  He was born August 15, 1769.  King Louis XV says that the French must acquire Corsica. 

He entered the school of Brienne at the age of 10 in 1779.  Only one of his classmates had the gumption to come up to him and shake his hand.  The man was Bourrienne and he became private secretary to the future Emperor.  In those days Napoleon was taciturn, surly and often quarrelsome.  He left military school at the age of 16.  He didn't like being a second lieutenant.  Two months later he became first lieutenant. 

He went back to Corsica and meets with his three brothers and two sisters.  Their names are:  Louis, Lucien, Jerome, Pauline and Caroline. 

Napoleon rejoins his regiment at Oxsund and is promoted to Captain.  He returned to Paris and witnessed the second attack on the Tuileries.  He also saw Louis XVI crowned.  These events made Napoleon sick at heart and he returns to Corsica.  Louis XVI is beheaded January 2, 1793. 

His elder brother Joseph tells him that Toulon has surrendered to the English and begs him to return from Corsica.  Bonaparte does return and goes to speak to a committee where he explains his plan to place an artillery battery on La Garenne Heights.  He wants to take two forts at Toulon.  The committee agrees that Bonaparte will be in command and his rank will be temporary brigadier general.  He is successful in pushing the English out of the key fort. 

Napoleon falls in love with a woman named Desiree. 

A man named Barras invites Napoleon to his soiree at night.  There Napoleon meets Josephine and gets a helpful introduction to her by his brother Lucien.  Napoleon says nothing, so Josephine asks him:  "And you have nothing to say to me?"  No.

Napoleon is promoted to commanding general in the Italian campaign.  

He goes to see Josephine.  He tells her:  "I'm saying good night only to you."  The other women in the room leave.  The sun rises on the party and couples dance their way on to the formal lawn outside. 

Napoleon is involved in the last royalists perishing.  He fires a cannon at the royals. 

Napoleon goes back to Josephine.  He asks her if she is afraid of him.  She says yes.  Napoleon says he knows a lot about her.  She came from Martinique and married at 16 to General de Beauharnais, who was guillotined during the terror associated with the French Revolution.  She asks her to bring her son in to see him.  He tells Josephine not to worry.  When the boy comes in, Napoleon presents him with the sword that belonged to his father.  The boy is very pleased to get the sword.

Napoleon now asks Josephine how old she is.  She is 32 years old.  Napoleon says he's 26.  If he adds some years to his age and she subtracts some years from her age, they will meet somewhere in the middle.  He tells her:  "How lovely you are, Josephine."

On the 9th of March he marries her in five minutes.  Then he goes back to war in Italy.  He is at the bridge that no one dares to cross for fear of being shot.  Napoleon writes the first chapter of his legend when he leads the way for his men to cross the bridge.  He also gains fame by scoring 20 victories.   

Someone suggests to Napoleon to go Egypt to see if the English are there.  There Murat is the conquering hero of the day.  Napoleon tells him:  "You have rendered a great service today."  Murat's wish is to marry Napoleon's sister Caroline.  Napoleon objects that she is only 16.  Then he adds that he might say yes to the marriage.  Murat thanks him for that good news. 

Someone tells Napoleon that Josephine is deceiving him openly.  Napoleon gets very angry and says he will divorce her today and he now rejects the friend who told him about this and the other friend for not telling him about Josephine. 

August 22.  Napoleon leaves his army behind.  The people want to overthrow the Directory and to save France.   Napoleon goes home.  Josephine went ahead to meet him.  He sees his family and they complain that Josephine has acquired a lot of debt through imprudent actions.  They ask Napoleon why does he accept this from Josephine.  Napoleon responds:  "Who said I accept it?"  He tells his staff not to allow Madame Bonaparte to enter.  He tells them to put all her things out by the gate.  Josephine comes up any way.  She knocks on the locked door saying:  "There are things you don't understand." She starts crying and Napoleon lets her in. 

The next day Monsieur de Bourrienne finds Napoleon and Josephine in bed together.  Bourrienne tells Napoleon that the people expect a revolution.  Napoleon tells him that it's his intention not to even step outside.  If he goes outside, the people would just force him to do what he already intended to do. 

Talleyrand comes to see Napoleon.  He says the Directory is almost done for.  Then a lot of different people start coming in to speak with Napoleon. 

Barras invites 30 for dinner, but no one shows up except Talleyrand. 

The Directory notes that Napoleon was to restore order in France in his own fashion and now the Council of Elders has given him command of the city and the army.  Napoleon and his men arrive in the legislature and learns that the Directory no longer exists.  Barras resigns his post.  Napoleon comes in to speak and tells the crowd:  "We want a Republic."  Then the army marches in and the delegates start jumping out of the ground level windows.  All semblance of opposition disappears.  The assembly grabs 40 delegates and they vote that the former government goes, but the Constitution remains.    Three consuls are appointed.  Each consul will preside in his turn. 

Napoleon gets up and asks the people to commit to the republic.  He then goes to the opera.  Everyone stands up for him when he makes his appearance. 

Several days later Bourrienne comes in and Napoleon tells him to read him the letter from King Louis XVIII.  The king asks Napoleon to "save our France" by giving the nation back her king.  Napoleon dictates his response:  "You could only return with the help of 500,000 men."

Napoleon gets a new hair style and, for some unknown reason, he puts on a colonel's uniform.  He also give France an "invincible" army.  Soon enough the man is named Consul for Life.  And not long after that he is made Emperor of the French.  Only one senator voted against Napoleon. 

Napoleon creates 18 Marshals of France in one day.  Murat is one of them.  He then invites Pope Pius VII to crown him Emperor.  The coronation takes place December 2.  Josephine comes in after Napoleon has been crowned, kneels before Napoleon and he puts a crown on her head. 

September 4, 1805.  Napoleon goes against Austria.  Once again Murat covers himself with glory, this time at Vertlinger (?) in a Marshal Ney victory.  The French bombard the town of Ulm. 

At 8 o'clock in the morning on the 19th, 33,000 men lay down their arms in front of Napoleon.  In the next battle with the Austrians, Austerlitz, Marshal Lannes is on the left flank; Marshal Bernadotte is in the center; Marshal Soult is on the right flank; and Prince Murat is in charge of the cavalry.  Murat's charge changes the outcome of the battle.  The Imperial Guard then comes in and puts on the finishing touches.  Now all Europe is Napoleon's. 

Napoleon has a conference with his family.  He makes his brother Joseph the King of Naples; Lucian the Prince of Canino (he also urges Lucian to divorce his wife and keep her in the background; the idea is rejected by Lucian);  Louie is made the King of Holland; Gerald becomes the King of Westphalia.  The family starts squabbling, so Napoleon dismisses them. 

A woman named Eleonore Denuelle flirts with Napoleon.  She tells him that she and her husband only see each other five minutes a month.  Eleanor then sits on Napoleon's knees.  She asks him:  "Kiss me won't you?"  Napoleon kisses her and does much more. 

September 25.  Napoleon goes after the Prussians.  The Battle of Jenna takes place October 14.  Napoleon triumphs again and a war penalty is put on Prussia. 

December 13.  Napoleon is informed that Eleonore has given birth to a boy who resembles Napoleon a great deal.  She asks how does Napoleon wants the boy registered?  From that day on Napoleon thought about the boy constantly. 

The Tsar puts his hand on Poland.  A polish patriot named Marie Walewska says she is making a sacrifice for Poland by offering herself to Napoleon for the sake of her country.  When she comes back to see Napoleon again she says that tonight she has just come for Napoleon alone, not for Poland. 

At Einhoff, Napoleon is victorious.

June 19, 1807.  On a boat in the middle of the Yemen River, the Emperor of France receives the Tsar of Russia and then the King of Prussia.  He then leaves for Erfort.  He also talks about divorcing Josephine. 

July 6, 1809.  At Bagram (?) the staff puts up a wall of musical drums to keep the cold winds off Napoleon as he sleeps.  Napoleon speak with Josephine.  She mentions that she is very aware of her husband's constant indiscretions.  The fatal hour has arrived.  She is going to lose her throne because she can't have children for Napoleon.  She returns to La Maison. 

Napoleon now pursues Marie Louise of Austria, who is said to be very charming.  Beethoven plays his Eroica symphony which Marie Louise does not care for.  Napoleon is on the road to meet Marie Louise.  Her coach stops and Napoleon gets in to the coach with Marie Louise.  He kisses her. 

March 20, 1811.  Napoleon has a son by Marie Louise.

September 7, 1812.  There's another great victory at Moscow.  Napoleon rewards his Marshal with different government posts. 

Napoleon goes into Moscow only to find it deserted and then in flames.  The Russians did not want Napoleon to say that Moscow was his once.  The retreat from Moscow in the terrible cold is disastrous for the French. 

Napoleon fires Foche, who he says conspired against him and is a thief, a coward and a traitor.  And then Napoleon was off to war again.  This time he goes up against Austria, Russia and Prussia.  At Fontainebleau, his men become demoralized.  Napoleon tells his men that they shall fight on, even in Paris.  But the situation for Napoleon worsens.  He is told that he has been dethroned and there is no way out but abdication.  And the army will not march on Paris.  Napoleon says the army will go anywhere he wants them to go. 

Napoleon makes a little speech before a part of his army saying that he renounces all rights for himself and his heirs to the throne of France.  Later Napoleon bids farewell to his army for 20 years of traveling with him on the road of honor and glory.  The troops shout:  "Long live the Emperor!" 

Napoleon goes to the island of Elba with a tiny army.  Marie Walewska comes to the island to visit Napoleon.  She tells him that they are waiting for him to come back.  She tells him:  "I love you." 

Napoleon sets ashore on French soil. And the war begins again.  This time, however, his enemies come from all over Europe. 

On June 19 he faces the whole of Europe at what became known as the Battle of Waterloo.  Things are going relatively well for Napoleon, until the arrival of the Prussians led by Blucher.  This arrival reverses the tide of the battle.  The Imperial Guard puts in an appearance, but this time their attendance is not accompanied with victory.  Now the Eagle (Napoleon) was to disappear.  He abdicated for the second time. 

Josephine is dead.  Napoleon heads to La Maison but is received only by Josephine's daughter Hortense.  He had to leave La Maison as the Prussian army drew nearer and nearer. 

This time he is sent to the island of St. Helena. 

Talleyrand as narrator says the warden of the place made it very hard on Napoleon.  The fellow gave Napoleon a ridiculous residence, censored  his letters before he could read them, provided a doctor of dubious qualification and, generally, condemned him to a slow death. 

The decision was made to write nothing on his tomb on St. Helena. 

September 15, 1840.  Thousands awaited Napoleon's remains coming to France to be buried. 


This was not an easy film to follow.  There are no subtitles and it was hard trying to imagine how to spell the various French names of people, battles and towns.  The dialogue seems to go very fast.  It does cover a lot of biographical ground, but it's a little too much material to cover in just around two hours.  It's a fast told story and probably told too fast.  I liked the start of the romance with Josephine. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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