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After a brief informal meeting two months earlier when they were impressed with each other, Countess Marie Walewska formally meets Napoleon Bonaparte at a ball in Warsaw. When Napoleon notes her husband is three times her age, and as he is taken with her charms, he unsuccessfully tries to seduce her. She ignores his frequent letters and flowers until a few grim Polish leaders led by Senator Malachowski urge her to give into his desires as a personal sacrifice in order to save Poland. She goes to him despite the humiliation of her husband, who leaves for Rome to annul their marriage. They are extremely happy for a while; Napoleon divorces childless Empress Josephine and Marie eventually becomes pregnant. She is about to tell Napoleon about her baby when he tells her he decided to marry Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. He explains it will be a political marriage to insure his future son could rule securely with Hapsburg blood in him. It will not affect their relationship, he says, ... Written by
Arthur Hausner <email@example.com>
What was Greta Garbo's greatest film? I suppose most people would opt for CAMILLE, ANNA KARENINA (the sound version), QUEEN Christina, or NINOTCHKA. But I feel that CONQUEST may be the only major film in her career that she ended up being dominated by her co-star. It isn't that she doesn't act, or that Clarence Brown (her favorite sound film director) did not do what he could to show her to advantage. It is that Charles Boyer is a very fine actor, and he is playing one of the leading figures of history. Boyer is Napoleon Bonaparte, and he is fantastically good in the role, showing the childlike hesitation and fascination with simple things that mingled with his military and political genius (and growing egomania). My favorite moment in the film is when Boyer first dances with Garbo, and his clumsiness is actually quite charming.
Garbo could not compete with this character. Marie Walewski may have sacrificed all for her Poland (briefly Napoleon did create a Duchy of Warsaw out of fragments of the Poland that had been destroyed by Prussia, Austria, and Russia), but she did not do all that badly as the Emperor's mistress. She did not succeed Josephine as Empress (she could give no political advantage to Napoleon if they had married) but what advantage did Napoleon's second wife, Marie Theresa of Austria, get out of it - they married in 1809, had one sickly son (who died in 1831 as Duke of Reichstadt), and in 1815 the Emperor was defeated for the second and final time - her husband's empire was finally gone. So we are left looking at that fascinating man of destiny. He at least keeps our attention.
One problem that I have with the film - Reginald Owen is very good as Talleyrand, but in 1815 (at the time of Waterloo) he was not an adviser of Napoleon. In fact, with Joseph Fouche, they were doing their best to undermine the Emperor's attempt to return to power. He certainly would not have supported the creation of a new grand army to confront the Bourbons and the Allies. Yet even with this error, I have to admit that one of my favorite moments in the film is when Napoleon, after a discussion of military strategy with Talleyrand, throws his pen down on the table on a map, and it ("miraculously") lands pointing on the portion of the map where Belgium is, at Waterloo. A corny bit of business, but quite well done.
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