Soldiers of the Red Army were used as extras to portray the British army. They panicked repeatedly and scattered during the filming of some of the cavalry charges. Attempts to reassure them by marking the closest approach of the horses with white tape similarly failed, and the scene was cut.
When filming Napoleon's abdication speech producer Dino De Laurentiis ordered the cameraman not to load a new reel of film in order to save costs. The film ran out before Rod Steiger had finished delivering this highly emotional speech. The actor was not pleased.
This film was produced at the same time that Stanley Kubrick was preparing a film on the life of Napoléon Bonaparte. When Waterloo (1970) failed at the box-office, Kubrick's backers bowed out and his Kubrick's "Napoleon" film was never made.
Contrary to the popular misconception, its poor performance at the US box-office was not the reason that MGM cancelled their Stanley Kubrick Napoleon project. MGM and Kubrick announced that they had parted company amicably in January 1969, four months before this film went into production.
There has been a myth that a Russian version of this film ran for almost four hours. According to an article written by the film's editor and associate producer Richard C. Meyer, the longest cut is the 132 minute version. This has been confirmed by Vladimir Dostal, the film's First Assistant Director and later the head of Mosfilm in Moscow. Dostal says that they only have the 132m version in their vaults and no longer 4 hour version ever existed. The myth may derive from an earlier part of Meyer's article when he states that the rough cut was four hours long which was not unusual for a film of this scope and scale. But after much discussion the present length was agreed on. He also says he stupidly didn't make a dupe of this rough cut, a usual process in post production. So this 'cut' will never see the light of day. It is clear from the cast list that many characters were cut. The film was planned as a Road Show release but by 1970 the practice had lost favor with the studios. Columbia Pictures also shortened Cromwell (1970) for the same reason. Richard Heffer who play a major featured role in the film says the script as filmed was much longer than the film that came out and that many of the cast had huge chunks of their roles deleted.
According to the film's program, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis had great difficulty raising finance for this enormously expensively budgeted historical war epic. This problem was resolved when De Laurentiis entered into negotiations with the Soviet Union during the late 1960s and an Italian-Russian co-production was able to be green-lit with co-operation with Russian Mosfilm who financed over UK £4 million of the epic's £12+ million budget which was about a third of the overall cost.
Robert Rietty said he had voiced 98 different characters, including Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton. His son Jonathan said that his father's unusual contribution to the film was the result of a technical problem or an accident that had made much of the original soundtrack unusable.
Russian director Sergey Bondarchuk was hired based on the strength of his four Russian "War and Peace" epic pictures he had directed during the mid-1960s but Bondarchuk had not directed the English language War and Peace (1956) movie.
When the British offer surrender to the Old Guard, Vicomte de Cambronne supposedly said, "The Old Guard dies but never surrenders." Cambronne himself said afterwards that his reply was, "Merde," (shit) as was shown in the film. For years afterwards, the word "merde" was referred to by the French as "le mot de Cambronne" (Cambronne's word).
The movie was made and released about just over three years before the famous "Waterloo" song of the same name sung by ABBA was first recorded in late 1973. First released in the following year, the track went onto to win the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.
According to the article "Richard Burton top draw in British cinema" by Peter Waymark published in the London "Times" on 30th December 1971, this picture was the fifth most popular "reserve ticket" movie at the British box office during 1971.
Jack Hawkins, who played Lord Picton, had been suffering from cancer of the larynx to the extent that he had had his larynx surgically removed four years before the film was made. All his lines are dubbed with another actor's voice; you can see a few lip synch errors from time to time.
The filming took place (over a period of more than six months) in 1969, the bi-centenary year of Napoleon's birth. In the same year, two other films featuring Napoleon as a character were also made - "Eagle In A Cage" (with Kenneth Haigh as Napoleon) and "Adventures Of Gerard", where Eli Wallach played the Emperor. All three films were box-office failures.