skip navigation


TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (0)


powered by AFI

The working titles of the film were Battle of Waterloo and Waterloo: The Last Hundred Days of Napoleon. The film begins with a written prologue scrolling over the action, which explains that Napoleon Bonaparte had become the Emperor of France, but after fifteen years of victorious campaigns to enlarge his dominion, was defeated and driven back by the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Prussia and England. The title card and opening credits appear approximately ten minutes into the film, after Napoleon is exiled to Elba. After the opening credits, the film resumes with Napoleon's escape from Elba. Throughout the film, title cards stating the date, time and place of various sequences are superimposed over the film. The thoughts of Napoleon and Wellington are often presented as voice-over narration. The soundtrack incorporates several marching and military tunes from the early nineteenth century, as well as themes from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. One short sequence depicting the charge of the Scots Greys was presented in slow motion, with organ music in the soundtrack. In an acknowledgment after the film, producer Dino De Laurentiis thanked the Soviet Army and the First Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, who performed in the film.
       The names of actors Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna and Dan O'Herlihy appear onscreen only in the opening credits. Of the five, only Orson Welles's credit lists his character name. The rest of the cast is listed, with character names, in the closing credits. The character in the film representing the real-life Gebhard Leberecht von Blcher (1742-1819) was listed as Blucher, without an umlaut, in the closing credits. The speaking voice of Hawkins, whose larynx was removed in the late 1960s, was provided by another, unnamed actor.
       As related in the film, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), a Corsican by birth, rose to power in a few short years during the French Revolution, becoming first a general and then Emperor of France and King of Italy. Highly energetic, Napoleon could work through the night, breaking for only a couple of hours to sleep. As shown in the film, he could dictate different letters to four secretaries at a time, moving among them and holding all the letters in his mind. An innovative military strategist, Napoleon led many surprisingly successful campaigns, gaining control over a large portion of western and central Europe and making enemies of several nations. After a disastrous campaign to invade Russia in 1812 and his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in the fall of 1813, Napoleon's leadership was in jeopardy. At the April 10, 1914 Battle of Toulouse, French forces were defeated by British forces led by Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), who thereafter became the first Duke of Wellington. Napoleon was then pressured to abdicate his throne, which was restored to King Louis XVIII. Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, but, as depicted in the film, escaped in early 1815 with an army of loyal followers.
       As shown in the film, the king sent Marshal Michel Ney (1769-1815), who had previously served under Napoleon, to lead the Fifth Regiment to stop him at Grenoble. However, when Napoleon approached the regiment alone and addressed the soldiers, the men were inspired to shout "Vive l'Empereur" and join his ranks. This newly expanded army marched under Napoleon to Paris, where he deposed the king and reigned for a brief period in what came to be known as the "Hundred Days." As shown in the film, Wellington was placed in command of the Anglo-Allied forces and, with Gebhard Leberecht von Blcher (1742-1819) leading the Prussian army, defeated Napoleon near the town of Waterloo, Belgium on June 18, 1815. As depicted in the film, Napoleon delayed commencing the battle due to soggy conditions on the battlefield after a heavy rainstorm. The postponement turned the battle to Wellington's favor, as it allowed time for Blcher's soldiers to arrive.
       Afterward, Napoleon was again exiled, this time to the island of Saint Helena, where he died six years later. Although Napoleon's personal physician had listed stomach cancer as the official cause of his death, diaries of Napoleon's valet have led some historians to believe that he died from arsenic poisoning. Ney was condemned for treason and executed by firing squad. Wellington survived Napoleon by several years, and served in several positions, including prime minister of England, before dying in 1852.
       According to Filmfacts, a picture about Napoleon was first announced by M-G-M and later, by United Artists. Filmfacts stated that producer-director Stanley Kubrick abandoned his plans for a project on the subject after negotiations between Mosfilm and Dino De Laurentiis, who had co-produced Mosfilm's 1956 War and Peace, were completed. According to a June 1965 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Sam Marx and writer Elliott Arnold were preparing a production, in which Richard Burton would play the "Duke of Wellington" and about which the June 11, 1965 issue of Life Magazine ran several pages. The Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Marx and Arnold had registered the titles Waterloo and Battle of Waterloo two years before, but that reserve position registrations were filed by Milton Sperling, Sperling Pictures, Columbia and De Laurentiis.
       Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items dated October 4, 1965 reported that De Laurentiis had set Waterloo as his next project and hired director John Huston and Marx, as associate producer. The October 4, 1965 Daily Variety news item reported that at this time no distribution deal had been set and that the production team had no actors in mind for the lead roles. The news item also stated that the Battle of Waterloo would be "faithfully" reenacted and that a British writer had been hired to write an original story and adapt it for screen. An February 8, 1966 Daily Variety news item announced that H. A. L. Craig was the writer and that no location sites had been set, as the decision was dependent on the availability of a large number of extras and horses.
       In March 1967, a Variety news item reported that a major reason production had been delayed was that Huston was looking for a location outside Italy. Among the reasons listed were a shortage of a trained horse cavalry in Italy, which Huston believed Turkey, Holland and possibly Yugoslavia might be able to provide. An April 1967 Variety news item reported that De Laurentiis investigated co-ventures with France, Spain, Yugoslavia and Belgium, as well as other countries, which potentially could supply the large number of extras, horses and riders and large expanse of terrain that would be needed for the telling of the story. The Show review later reported that he also had attempted an unsuccessful negotiation with the government of Rumania.
       Reports that De Laurentiis was abandoning the project and rumors that Peter O'Toole and Burton, who was by then cast as "Napoleon," refused to work in Italy were discredited in a June 1967 Hollywood Reporter article by Marx, who added that O'Toole's business partner, Jules Buck, was considering buying the material and financing the production. A September 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item, which reported that writer Jean Anouilh was working on a final script, stated that delays caused Huston and Marx to back out of the project due to other commitments, and that the involvements of O'Toole and Burton were also jeopardized. A November 21, 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Ponto Corvo was in negotiations as director.
       An April 1967 Variety news item announced that De Laurentiis was expected to sign a co-production agreement with Bulgar Film to shoot in Italy, Bulgaria and Belgium, and that Bulgar Film would provide 10,000 men and 1,000 horses. According to a November 15, 1967 Variety news item, De Laurentiis was making final plans to shoot most or all of the film in Bulgaria, but the Bulgar troops had been called to action elsewhere due to hostilities in Vietnam, tension in the Middle East and a "volatile border situation with the military takeover in Greece." By March 1968, a Variety article reported that De Laurentiis' negotiations with the Bulgarian film authorities had officially ended.
       The same March 1968 Variety article reported that De Laurentiis subsequently was considering Moscow, because of the availability of the Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk, who had directed Mosfilm's 1968 War and Peace, and the availability of thousands of "celluloid-seasoned" soldiers, period armament, uniforms and battlefield debris used in that film. In June 1968, a Daily Variety news item reported a formal agreement with Vladimir Surin of Mosfilm, for which battle scenes would be shot in Russia, and exteriors in France and Italy. The script, which the Daily Variety news item reported was written by Craig, Anouilh (whose name does not appear onscreen) and Vittorio Bonicelli, included Napoleon's flight from Elba in February 1815 to the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo. As noted in a June 1968 Variety news item, the film marked the second co-production under an Italo-Soviet agreement signed in Rome in early 1967, the first being the 1971 Mosfilm production, The Red Tent.
       According to the Show review, Mosfilm provided trained solders, 16,000 infantry troops, a brigade of trained cavalry and the 350 Arabian mounts of the Moscow Militia who were used to stage the charge of the Scots Grey. According to an August 1969 Variety article, two Soviet generals supervised the 16,000 members of the Red Army infantry and cavalry who played the soldiers, many of whom doubled as grips or electricians. An April 1967 Variety article reported that Paramount, which distributed the film in North and South America, would serve as guarantor of completion and financial backer against worldwide distribution, which was assigned to Columbia Pictures.
       According to a November 1967 Variety news item, De Laurentiis reportedly wanted Rod Steiger to replace Burton as Napoleon. A May 1968 New York Times article reported that De Laurentiis had hired Steiger and that O'Toole was "practically set" to play the Duke of Wellington, but, by January 1969, a Daily Variety news item reported that Christopher Plummer had been cast as the Duke. In the Show review, Steiger stated that he based his characterization of Napoleon on a medical report he received from the American Medical Association, which included the autopsy as well as a document on his medical history. From the information, he learned that from the ages forty-five through fifty-one, Napoleon had cancer of the stomach, partial blockage of the urinary canal, perforated ulcers, a liver disorder and hemorrhoids. "Out of this came the conception of a man whose body was decaying but whose mind refused to die."
       An March 11, 1969 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that filming would start on 12 March and that major battle scenes would be shot in June 1969. Studio production notes reported that the sequences depicting the Tuileries Palace were shot at the Royal Bourbon Palace at Reggis near Caserta. A March 1969 Variety article added that portions of the film were shot at the Stupinigi Royal Palace in Turin, Italy. According to Filmfacts and a June 1969 Daily Variety news item, interiors were shot in Naples and the De Laurentiis Studios in Rome.
       According to the Show review, shooting of the battle scenes commenced on June 18, 1969, on the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. According to the Show review and a March 1969 Variety news item, rye, wheat and barley were planted in March 1969, replacing potatoes, and spring wildflowers were sown in a two-mile area. The La Haye Sainte and Hougomont farms and La Belle Alliance inn were replicated on the site. Ten cameras were used at the filming site, some on helicopter, some on aerostatic balloons, one on a 92-foot, radio-operated crane and others on wires strung up the length of the field to follow cavalry charges from high altitude angles. According to a March 1969 Daily Variety news item, the Soviet Union recalled 16,000 military reserves, most in their middle years, to play the troops and 1,500 cavalrymen.
       According to an August 1969 Variety news item, the production encountered delays due to rain, tropical heat and damp, as well as a flu epidemic among the cavalry horses. A June 1969 Variety article reported that a major problem with Italy-US and Soviet Union film relations was to get the Russians to realize that production publicity is a vital factor in promoting and merchandising East-West co-productions. According to a June 1969 Daily Variety article, the Russians had made clear before production started that Usgorod was a military zone and therefore off-limits to the press, and that Tom Carlile, Paramount and Waterloo publicist Grady Johnson were negotiating to allow the press entrance during the shooting period. However, according to a September 1969 Variety news item, Johnson was expelled from Russia after filing a cable that reported on the hardships of obtaining press access.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a March 1969 Variety article added to the cast Massimo Girotti, Luigi Vannucchi and Russian actor Bukudi Zakariatze. The same article reported that Olivia de Havilland had been cast as the Duchess, but was replaced by Virginia McKenna. A July 1969 Hollywood Reporter article added Russian stars Irina Skobtseva and Yevgeni Samoilov (and also a Yugoslav group of trick horsemen) to the cast, but their appearance has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Colin Watson, Adrian Brine, Jean Louis, Giorgio Sciolette, Franco Fantasia, Andrea Esterhazy, Vasili Livonov, Karl Lyepinsk and Viktor Murganov to the cast.
       A November 1969 Daily Variety new item reported that nine hours of rough footage were shot, aiming at a running time of three hours, which included time for intermission at roadshow presentations in the western hemisphere. Filmfacts, Motion Picture Examiner and Showmen's Trade Reviews reported that the original English language running time of the film was 200 minutes, but Filmfacts reported that it was cut to 123 minutes, while Showmen's Trade Reviews and Motion Picture Examiner stated 129 minutes. Hollywood Reporter and New York Times reviews reported the duration as 122 minutes and 123 minutes, respectively. The Daily Variety review for London noted a running time of 132 minutes. The version shown in the USSR was five hours long, according to Showmen's Trade Reviews.
       According to a June 1970 Daily Variety news item, Queen Elizabeth planned to attend the London world premiere scheduled for October 26. A November 1972 Variety news item reported that, prior to its television broadcast on ABC, the network deleted all animal footage found objectionable to the American Humane Society. The Humane Society originally classified the film as "unacceptable," charging that the production showed no concern for animal welfare and that the animal sequences were filmed without "proper" supervision. In a December 1987 Los Angeles Times letter to the editor, it was reported that approximately five minutes worth of battle sequences from Waterloo, as well as some footage from De Laurentiis' 1956 production of War and Peace, were used in the 1987 television film Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story, which was directed by Richard T. Heffron and starred Armand Assante as Napoleon.
       One of the earliest appearances of the characters Napoleon and Wellington on film is the 1899 Amann, named for the British impersonator performing in the film. Among the many other films featuring Napoleon were the 1927 production Napoleon starring Albert Dieudonne, which was written and directed by Abel Gance and distributed by M-G-M; M-G-M's 1937 Conquest, starring Charles Boyer as the emperor; Twentieth Century-Fox's 1954 film Dsire, which starred Marlon Brando as Napoleon and was directed by Henry Koster; the 1972 Eagle in a Cage, directed by Fielder Cook and starring Kenneth Haigh as Napoleon (see entries above); and the 1973 television movie The Man of Destiny, which was directed by Joseph Hardy and starred Stacy Keach, Jr.