Critics Consensus

Monumental in scale and distinguished by innovative technique, Napoléon is an expressive epic that maintains a singular intimacy with its subject.



Total Count: 31


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,613
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Movie Info

Advertised as a remake of his landmark silent film Napoleon, Abel Gance's Napoleon Bonaparte is actually more of a re-edited reissue, with sound effects, background music and newly filmed talkie sequences added. Albert Dieudonne is back as Napoleon, whose actions are "interpreted" by a group of later intellectuals (including the writer Stendhal, played by Squinquel) in new framing scenes. Most of the spectacular highlights -- the battles, the Paris Assembly et. al. -- have been lifted from the original silent version, then speed-corrected to conform with the new footage. Just as the 1927 Napoleon made extensive use of the revolutionary "triptych" process (three images placed side by side, in the manner of the later Cinerama films), so too did Napoleon Bonaparte feature a bold new technological innovation: Stereophonic sound, here billed as "Three Dimensional Sound." Napoleon Bonaparte was but one of several attempts made by Abel Gance over the years to broaden the appeal of his most famous (but originally least successful) film.


Albert Dieudonné
as Napoleon Bonaparte
Antonin Artaud
as Jean-Paul Marat
Pierre Batcheff
as Gen. Lazare Hoche
Abel Gance
as Saint-Just
Gina Manès
as Josephine de Beaucharnais
Vladimir Roudenko
as Young Napoleon
Alexandre Koubitzky
as Georges Jacques Danton
Jean-Paul Marat
as Antonin Artaud
Edmond Van Daële
as Maximilien Robespierre
Nicolas Koline
as Tristan Fleuri
as Vilone Fleuri
Harry Krimer
as Roget de Lisle
W. Percy Day
as Adm. Hood
Max Maxudian
as Paul Barras
Henry Krauss
as "Moustache"
Georges Lampin
as Joseph Bonaparte
Maurice Schutz
as Pasquale Paoli
Acho Chakatouny
as Pozzo di Borgo
Robert Vidalin
as Camille Desmoulins
Georges Cahuzac
as Vicomte de Beauharnais
Leon Courtois
as General Carteaux
Marguerite Gance
as Charlotte Corday
Jean D'Yd
as La Bussiere
Yvette Dieudonné
as Elisci Bonaparte
Suzy Vernon
as Mme. Recamier
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Critic Reviews for Napoléon

All Critics (31) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (29) | Rotten (2)

  • Abel Gance's Napoleon is an incomparable theatrical experience. It is spectacle as only the cinema can convey it.

    Apr 26, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Inspires that wonderfully satisfying theatrical experience of whole-heartedly cheering a hero and hissing villains, while also providing the uplift that comes from a real work of art.

    May 9, 2017 | Full Review…
  • Gance's Napoleon looks startlingly futuristic and experimental, as if we are being shown something from the 21st century's bleeding edge. It's as if it has evolved beyond spoken dialogue into some colossal mute hallucination

    Nov 10, 2016 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • There is in this edition of the picture an effort to cover too many historical incidents and the consequence is that quite a number of the passages are confused.

    Feb 26, 2013 | Full Review…
  • Like D.W. Griffith, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, but mostly James Cameron, Gance understood the thrill of the cinematic event and had the hubris to bring it off.

    Feb 26, 2013 | Full Review…
  • Napoleon is the last great silent epic. We will not see its like again.

    Feb 26, 2013 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Napoléon

  • Jul 27, 2012
    Modern film-goers are used to explication, to having everything explained for them. The art of visual story-telling -- where images and action indicate the emotional state of characters, rather than have the actor tell you how angry or sad or excited they are -- has almost been lost. But Napoleon is a masterpiece of visual art. (Writer-director Abel Gance was honored at the Telluride film festival a few years ago for this film. Far too late, in my opinion.) The film tells the life of Napoleon Bonaparte -- the Corsican who adopts France as his homeland, rises to supreme general of the French armies during the Revolution and eventually seizes the seat of government itself (twice!). It starts out with a lengthy (if perhaps mythological) examination of Napoleon's childhood in a Catholic school. Snowball fights between Napoleon and two future foes portend the future. Napoleon's friendship with a pet eagle foreshadows his role as emperor of France. But even though these scenes represent more artistic license than history, they are tremendously well-acted by the young Vladimir Roudenko (as young Napoleon). Among the many innovations are some relatively naturalistic acting by the members of the cast and some jaw-dropping editing and montage sequences (especially during the brawl during the snowball fight and the fight in the sleeping quarters). Such innovative use of editing probably wouldn't be seen for another 30 or 40 years! After almost an hour of this three-hour epic, we're transported to the period of the adult Napoleon -- acted with gravitas and iciness by Albert Dieudonne (who is among the cast's taller actors, just as Napoleon was in reality fairly tall, too). The film dwells extensively on the formative period when Napoleon first arrives in Paris during the late Revolution, focusing heavily on how the chaos in the city stamped into Napoleon the authoritarianism and dictatorial leadership traits that would emerge later in life. This is perhaps the highlight of the film. The editing and visual images create a swirling, spinning, mind-blowing effect that is extremely effective. The film then focuses on Napoleon's return to Corisca -- whose people held allegiances to Spain and Italy as well as France, and where Napoleon faced imprisonment due to his French leanings. For anyone interested in learning more about the life of Napoleon, this segment is pretty eye-opening. It's followed by a sequence at sea that's amazingly effective in conveying the power and terror of a storm at sea. For its time, this film contained some powerful ocean footage (watch for those amazing low-angle shots, and the ingenious intercutting of the "angry storm" of the French assembly and Napoleon's tiny skiff tossed about on the stormy seas). The final hour and a half of the film depicts Napoleon's rise in the army and his tenure as emperor of France. This is perhaps the portion of the film that most viewers would think of as "the story of Napoleon." But perhaps one of the reasons why this film is so fascinating is that it delves deeply into the formative episodes in Napoleon's early life and gives as much importance to them as to his later actions on the battlefield in Italy, his tenure as emperor, and his subsequent exile, return, and exile. And the film does so without being heavy-handed, un-subtle or overly expositive. A restored version of "Napoleon" is making the rounds in the US in cinemas and on television. It contains a new musical soundtrack by Carmine Coppola, which is fairly good (although at times repetitive and too loud). The film was restored and re-edited by Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studio. Zoetrope added some tinting (the ocean scenes are all blue, the "angry mob" scenes are all red) that is interesting but perhaps not quite the "restoration" some viewers might have had in mind. Watch "Napoleon." You'll be very surprised at how modern the film is. Compared to other silent films of the 1920s, with the undercranked action, overly emotive acting, fantastic plots and theatrical make-up and costumes, "Napoleon" is years ahead of its time. Silent films require concentration to watch. "Napoleon" will surely keep your interest.
    Jonathan H Super Reviewer
  • Mar 09, 2010
    <i>"From now on, <u>I</u> am the revolution!"</i> That single key phrase highlights Gance's main intentions. To think this was supposed to be the first out of 6 parts, and yet the monumental ending of epic proportions has already become the most celebrated visual collage of the 20s. Dieudonné is dazzling as the political figure that changed the course of humanity's history. Griffith and Gance: the true creators of epic cinema. Napoléon is meant to amaze audiences eternally, from its technical accomplishments and historical value, to the "militia" allegory that introduces the character's infancy. Absolute masterpiece. 100/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • May 07, 2008
    yes, it's a four hour silent epic on the life of napoleon. i guess i don't need to say it's not for everyone :) however if u have the time and the inclination and can find it, it's an amazing achievement. thrilling action scenes, stunning camera work using techniques that wouldn't be seen again for decades, and it helps if u enjoy history lol. i understand coppola is holding up the dvd release and that's a shame. this deserves a criterion!
    Stella D Super Reviewer

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