Napoléon (1929)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
Art House & International , Classics , Drama
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Universal Studios Home Entertainment


Albert Dieudonné
as Napoleon Bonaparte
Antonin Artaud
as Jean-Paul Marat
Edmond vanDaele
as Maximilien Robespierre
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
Max Maxudian
as Paul Barras
W. Percy Day
as Adm. Hood
Georges Lampin
as Joseph Bonaparte
Henry Krauss
as "Moustache"
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
Philippe Hériat
as Solicetti
Yvette Dieudonné
as Elisci Bonaparte
Suzy Vernon
as Mme. Recamier
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Critic Reviews for Napoléon

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (8)

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.

Full Review… | February 26, 2013
New York Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | February 26, 2013
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Napoleon is the last great silent epic. We will not see its like again.

Full Review… | February 26, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Gance uses techniques not much associated with silent film, like a hand-held camera, multiple superimpositions, split split screen, rapid-fire editing and flashbacks to rivet the audience's attention and bring history to vivid life.

March 28, 2012
New York Post
Top Critic

The experience it provides - at times, akin to taking a drug - is unlike anything I've ever experienced in a movie theater.

Full Review… | March 25, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Albert Dieudonne in the title role is excellent.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Napoléon

I doubt I'll ever see another film like it. Easily in my top 5 silent films ever. Possibly even the greatest.

Michael Stuhlman
Michael Stuhlman

Similarly to Metropolis, Napoleon is visually innovative, and ahead of its time, but it's still not all that interesting.

Connor Groat
Connor Groat

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 Hutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer

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