In Marseilles, France in 1794, Desiree Clary, a young millinery clerk, becomes infatuated with Napoleon Bonaparte, but winds up wedding Genaral Jean-Baptiste Berandotte, an aid to Napoleon who later joins the forces that bring about the Emperor's downfall. Josephine Beauharnais, a worldly courtesan marries Napoleon and becomes Empress of France, but is then cast aside by her spouse when she proves unable to produce an heir to the throne. Written by
[shouting over an icy wind as they dock in Stockholm]
I hope we get indoors soon, Jean-Baptiste! I've worn all my warmest underthings and I'm still freezing!
[Her husband raises his eyebrows, a bit shocked but obviously amused]
Don't worry, no one's going to pull up my skirts and look!
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Sumptuously mounted, but certainly not a history lesson!
Filmed when CinemaScope's original ratio was still in use by Twentieth's cinematographers and with production values ladled on with an apparently generous budget (though no authentic European locations), "Desiree" is somewhat of a disappointment in many respects. Surprisingly Merle Oberon, as Josephine, remains in my memory as giving a touching (and, of course, glamorous) performance, but virtually everyone else (including Jean Simmons, one of my special favorites) fails to impress. Perhaps the emphasis on recounting the exploits of Napoleon Bonaparte from the perspective of one of his early, and unrequited, romantic conquests is the reason the whole enterprise seems like an undistinguished piece of overstuffed furniture...comfortable but hardly worthy of praise as an artisan's finest achievement. As an entertainment, typical of the Fifties, it was worth the price of admission when first released but I rather doubt that I'll join a chorus requesting Fox Home Entertainment to give this a DVD release in a widescreen format.
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