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HISTORY

The working titles of the film were Battle of Waterloo and Waterloo: The Last Hundred Days of Napoleon . The film begins with a written prologue scrolling over the action, which explains that Napoleon Bonaparte had become the Emperor of France, but after fifteen years of victorious campaigns to enlarge his dominion, was defeated and driven back by the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Prussia and England. The title card and opening credits appear approximately ten minutes into the film, after Napoleon is exiled to Elba. After the opening credits, the film resumes with Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Throughout the film, title cards stating the date, time and place of various sequences are superimposed over the film. The thoughts of Napoleon and Wellington are often presented as voice-over narration. The soundtrack incorporates several marching and military tunes from the early nineteenth century, as well as themes from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture . One short sequence depicting the charge of the Scots Greys was presented in slow motion, with organ music in the soundtrack. In an acknowledgment after the film, producer Dino De Laurentiis thanked the Soviet Army and the First Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, who performed in the film.
       The names of actors Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna and Dan O’Herlihy appear onscreen only in the opening credits. Of the five, only Orson Welles’s credit lists his character name. The rest of the cast is listed, with character names, in the closing credits. The character in the film representing the real-life Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742—1819) was listed as Blucher, without an umlaut, ... More Less

The working titles of the film were Battle of Waterloo and Waterloo: The Last Hundred Days of Napoleon . The film begins with a written prologue scrolling over the action, which explains that Napoleon Bonaparte had become the Emperor of France, but after fifteen years of victorious campaigns to enlarge his dominion, was defeated and driven back by the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Prussia and England. The title card and opening credits appear approximately ten minutes into the film, after Napoleon is exiled to Elba. After the opening credits, the film resumes with Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Throughout the film, title cards stating the date, time and place of various sequences are superimposed over the film. The thoughts of Napoleon and Wellington are often presented as voice-over narration. The soundtrack incorporates several marching and military tunes from the early nineteenth century, as well as themes from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture . One short sequence depicting the charge of the Scots Greys was presented in slow motion, with organ music in the soundtrack. In an acknowledgment after the film, producer Dino De Laurentiis thanked the Soviet Army and the First Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, who performed in the film.
       The names of actors Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna and Dan O’Herlihy appear onscreen only in the opening credits. Of the five, only Orson Welles’s credit lists his character name. The rest of the cast is listed, with character names, in the closing credits. The character in the film representing the real-life Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742—1819) was listed as Blucher, without an umlaut, in the closing credits. The speaking voice of Hawkins, whose larynx was removed in the late 1960s, was provided by another, unnamed actor.
       As related in the film, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769—1821), a Corsican by birth, rose to power in a few short years during the French Revolution, becoming first a general and then Emperor of France and King of Italy. Highly energetic, Napoleon could work through the night, breaking for only a couple of hours to sleep. As shown in the film, he could dictate different letters to four secretaries at a time, moving among them and holding all the letters in his mind. An innovative military strategist, Napoleon led many surprisingly successful campaigns, gaining control over a large portion of western and central Europe and making enemies of several nations. After a disastrous campaign to invade Russia in 1812 and his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in the fall of 1813, Napoleon’s leadership was in jeopardy. At the 10 Apr 1914 Battle of Toulouse, French forces were defeated by British forces led by Arthur Wellesley (1769--1852), who thereafter became the first Duke of Wellington. Napoleon was then pressured to abdicate his throne, which was restored to King Louis XVIII. Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, but, as depicted in the film, escaped in early 1815 with an army of loyal followers.
       As shown in the film, the king sent Marshal Michel Ney (1769—1815), who had previously served under Napoleon, to lead the Fifth Regiment to stop him at Grenoble. However, when Napoleon approached the regiment alone and addressed the soldiers, the men were inspired to shout “Vive l’Empereur” and join his ranks. This newly expanded army marched under Napoleon to Paris, where he deposed the king and reigned for a brief period in what came to be known as the “Hundred Days.” As shown in the film, Wellington was placed in command of the Anglo-Allied forces and, with Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742—1819) leading the Prussian army, defeated Napoleon near the town of Waterloo, Belgium on 18 Jun 1815. As depicted in the film, Napoleon delayed commencing the battle due to soggy conditions on the battlefield after a heavy rainstorm. The postponement turned the battle to Wellington’s favor, as it allowed time for Blücher’s soldiers to arrive.
       Afterward, Napoleon was again exiled, this time to the island of Saint Helena, where he died six years later. Although Napoleon’s personal physician had listed stomach cancer as the official cause of his death, diaries of Napoleon’s valet have led some historians to believe that he died from arsenic poisoning. Ney was condemned for treason and executed by firing squad. Wellington survived Napoleon by several years, and served in several positions, including prime minister of England, before dying in 1852.
       According to Filmfacts , a picture about Napoleon was first announced by M-G-M and later, by United Artists. Filmfacts stated that producer-director Stanley Kubrick abandoned his plans for a project on the subject after negotiations between Mosfilm and Dino De Laurentiis, who had co-produced Mosfilm’s 1956 War and Peace , were completed. According to a Jun 1965 HR news item, producer Sam Marx and writer Elliott Arnold were preparing a production, in which Richard Burton would play the “Duke of Wellington” and about which the 11 Jun 1965 issue of Life Magazine ran several pages. The HR news item stated that Marx and Arnold had registered the titles Waterloo and Battle of Waterloo two years before, but that reserve position registrations were filed by Milton Sperling, Sperling Pictures, Columbia and De Laurentiis.
       HR and DV news items dated 4 Oct 1965 reported that De Laurentiis had set Waterloo as his next project and hired director John Huston and Marx, as associate producer. The 4 Oct 1965 DV news item reported that at this time no distribution deal had been set and that the production team had no actors in mind for the lead roles. The news item also stated that the Battle of Waterloo would be “faithfully” reenacted and that a British writer had been hired to write an original story and adapt it for screen. An 8 Feb 1966 DV news item announced that H. A. L. Craig was the writer and that no location sites had been set, as the decision was dependent on the availability of a large number of extras and horses.
       In Mar 1967, a Var news item reported that a major reason production had been delayed was that Huston was looking for a location outside Italy. Among the reasons listed were a shortage of a trained horse cavalry in Italy, which Huston believed Turkey, Holland and possibly Yugoslavia might be able to provide. An Apr 1967 Var news item reported that De Laurentiis investigated co-ventures with France, Spain, Yugoslavia and Belgium, as well as other countries, which potentially could supply the large number of extras, horses and riders and large expanse of terrain that would be needed for the telling of the story. The Show review later reported that he also had attempted an unsuccessful negotiation with the government of Rumania.
       Reports that De Laurentiis was abandoning the project and rumors that Peter O’Toole and Burton, who was by then cast as “Napoleon,” refused to work in Italy were discredited in a Jun 1967 HR article by Marx, who added that O’Toole’s business partner, Jules Buck, was considering buying the material and financing the production. A Sep 1967 HR news item, which reported that writer Jean Anouilh was working on a final script, stated that delays caused Huston and Marx to back out of the project due to other commitments, and that the involvements of O’Toole and Burton were also jeopardized. A 21 Nov 1967 HR news item reported that Ponto Corvo was in negotiations as director.
       An Apr 1967 Var news item announced that De Laurentiis was expected to sign a co-production agreement with Bulgar Film to shoot in Italy, Bulgaria and Belgium, and that Bulgar Film would provide 10,000 men and 1,000 horses. According to a 15 Nov 1967 Var news item, De Laurentiis was making final plans to shoot most or all of the film in Bulgaria, but the Bulgar troops had been called to action elsewhere due to hostilities in Vietnam, tension in the Middle East and a “volatile border situation with the military takeover in Greece.” By Mar 1968, a Var article reported that De Laurentiis’ negotiations with the Bulgarian film authorities had officially ended.
       The same Mar 1968 Var article reported that De Laurentiis subsequently was considering Moscow, because of the availability of the Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk, who had directed Mosfilm’s 1968 War and Peace , and the availability of thousands of “celluloid-seasoned” soldiers, period armament, uniforms and battlefield debris used in that film. In Jun 1968, a DV news item reported a formal agreement with Vladimir Surin of Mosfilm, for which battle scenes would be shot in Russia, and exteriors in France and Italy. The script, which the DV news item reported was written by Craig, Anouilh (whose name does not appear onscreen) and Vittorio Bonicelli, included Napoleon’s flight from Elba in Feb 1815 to the Jun 1815 Battle of Waterloo. As noted in a Jun 1968 Var news item, the film marked the second co-production under an Italo-Soviet agreement signed in Rome in early 1967, the first being the 1971 Mosfilm production, The Red Tent .
       According to the Show review, Mosfilm provided trained solders, 16,000 infantry troops, a brigade of trained cavalry and the 350 Arabian mounts of the Moscow Militia who were used to stage the charge of the Scots Grey. According to an Aug 1969 Var article, two Soviet generals supervised the 16,000 members of the Red Army infantry and cavalry who played the soldiers, many of whom doubled as grips or electricians. An Apr 1967 Var article reported that Paramount, which distributed the film in North and South America, would serve as guarantor of completion and financial backer against worldwide distribution, which was assigned to Columbia Pictures.
       According to a Nov 1967 Var news item, De Laurentiis reportedly wanted Rod Steiger to replace Burton as Napoleon. A May 1968 NYT article reported that De Laurentiis had hired Steiger and that O’Toole was “practically set” to play the Duke of Wellington, but, by Jan 1969, a DV news item reported that Christopher Plummer had been cast as the Duke. In the Show review, Steiger stated that he based his characterization of Napoleon on a medical report he received from the American Medical Association, which included the autopsy as well as a document on his medical history. From the information, he learned that from the ages forty-five through fifty-one, Napoleon had cancer of the stomach, partial blockage of the urinary canal, perforated ulcers, a liver disorder and hemorrhoids. “Out of this came the conception of a man whose body was decaying but whose mind refused to die.”
       An 11 Mar 1969 HR news item reported that filming would start on 12 Mar and that major battle scenes would be shot in Jun 1969. Studio production notes reported that the sequences depicting the Tuileries Palace were shot at the Royal Bourbon Palace at Reggis near Caserta. A Mar 1969 Var article added that portions of the film were shot at the Stupinigi Royal Palace in Turin, Italy. According to Filmfacts and a Jun 1969 DV news item, interiors were shot in Naples and the De Laurentiis Studios in Rome.
       According to the Show review, shooting of the battle scenes commenced on 18 Jun 1969, on the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. According to the Show review and a Mar 1969 Var news item, rye, wheat and barley were planted in Mar 1969, replacing potatoes, and spring wildflowers were sown in a two-mile area. The La Haye Sainte and Hougomont farms and La Belle Alliance inn were replicated on the site. Ten cameras were used at the filming site, some on helicopter, some on aerostatic balloons, one on a 92-foot, radio-operated crane and others on wires strung up the length of the field to follow cavalry charges from high altitude angles. According to a Mar 1969 DV news item, the Soviet Union recalled 16,000 military reserves, most in their middle years, to play the troops and 1,500 cavalrymen.
       According to an Aug 1969 Var news item, the production encountered delays due to rain, tropical heat and damp, as well as a flu epidemic among the cavalry horses. A Jun 1969 Var article reported that a major problem with Italy-US and Soviet Union film relations was to get the Russians to realize that production publicity is a vital factor in promoting and merchandising East-West co-productions. According to a Jun 1969 DV article, the Russians had made clear before production started that Usgorod was a military zone and therefore off-limits to the press, and that Tom Carlile, Paramount and Waterloo publicist Grady Johnson were negotiating to allow the press entrance during the shooting period. However, according to a Sep 1969 Var news item, Johnson was expelled from Russia after filing a cable that reported on the hardships of obtaining press access.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a Mar 1969 Var article added to the cast Massimo Girotti, Luigi Vannucchi and Russian actor Bukudi Zakariatze. The same article reported that Olivia de Havilland had been cast as the Duchess, but was replaced by Virginia McKenna. A Jul 1969 HR article added Russian stars Irina Skobtseva and Yevgeni Samoilov (and also a Yugoslav group of trick horsemen) to the cast, but their appearance has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Colin Watson, Adrian Brine, Jean Louis, Giorgio Sciolette, Franco Fantasia, Andrea Esterhazy, Vasili Livonov, Karl Lyepinsk and Viktor Murganov to the cast.
       A Nov 1969 DV new item reported that nine hours of rough footage were shot, aiming at a running time of three hours, which included time for intermission at roadshow presentations in the western hemisphere. Filmfacts , Motion Picture Examiner and STR reported that the original English language running time of the film was 200 minutes, but Filmfacts reported that it was cut to 123 minutes, while STR and Motion Picture Examiner stated 129 minutes. HR and NYT reviews reported the duration as 122 minutes and 123 minutes, respectively. The DV review for London noted a running time of 132 minutes. The version shown in the USSR was five hours long, according to STR .
       According to a Jun 1970 DV news item, Queen Elizabeth planned to attend the London world premiere scheduled for Oct 26. A Nov 1972 Var news item reported that, prior to its television broadcast on ABC, the network deleted all animal footage found objectionable to the American Humane Society. The Humane Society originally classified the film as "unacceptable," charging that the production showed no concern for animal welfare and that the animal sequences were filmed without "proper" supervision. In a Dec 1987 LAT letter to the editor, it was reported that approximately five minutes worth of battle sequences from Waterloo , as well as some footage from De Laurentiis’ 1956 production of War and Peace , were used in the 1987 television film Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story , which was directed by Richard T. Heffron and starred Armand Assante as Napoleon.
       One of the earliest appearances of the characters Napoleon and Wellington on film is the 1899 Amann , named for the British impersonator performing in the film. Among the many other films featuring Napoleon were the 1927 production Napoleon starring Albert Dieudonne, which was written and directed by Abel Gance and distributed by M-G-M; M-G-M’s 1937 Conquest , starring Charles Boyer as the emperor; Twentieth Century-Fox’s 1954 film Désirée , which starred Marlon Brando as Napoleon and was directed by Henry Koster; the 1972 Eagle in a Cage , directed by Fielder Cook and starring Kenneth Haigh as Napoleon (see entries above); and the 1973 television movie The Man of Destiny , which was directed by Joseph Hardy and starred Stacy Keach, Jr.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Mar 1971.
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1965.
---
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1966.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1968
p. 5.
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1969.
---
Daily Variety
12 Mar 1969
p. 3.
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1969.
---
Daily Variety
4 Nov 1969.
---
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1970.
---
Daily Variety
2 Nov 1970.
---
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 70-73.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1965.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 1966.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1965.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1969
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1969
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1971.
---
Life
11 Jun 1965.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
2 Apr 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Jul 1969
Section II, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
1 Mar 1970
p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
2 Apr 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1987.
---
Motion Picture Exhibitor
10 Feb 1971.
---
Motion Picture Herald
21 Apr 1971.
---
New York Times
5 May 1968.
---
New York Times
1 Apr 1971
p. 50.
New Yorker
12 Apr 1971.
---
Newsweek
19 Apr 1971.
---
Show
May 1971
pp. 30-33.
Time
19 Apr 1971.
---
Variety
8 Mar 1967.
---
Variety
12 Apr 1967.
---
Variety
15 Nov 1967.
---
Variety
27 Mar 1968.
---
Variety
26 Jun 1968.
---
Variety
8 Mar 1969.
---
Variety
12 Mar 1969
p. 33.
Variety
11 Jun 1969.
---
Variety
6 Aug 1969.
---
Variety
24 Sep 1969.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1970
p. 16.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
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PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
1st asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc exec
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Story and scr
Scr collaboration by
Scr collaboration by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Still photog
Still photog
Panavision tech
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Assoc ed
1st asst ed
COSTUMES
Civilian cost des
Military cost des
Ward mistress
Ward asst
Shoes by
Jewelry by
VISUAL EFFECTS
DANCE
Choreography
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod supv
Prod supv
Prod mgr
Dial dir
Military consultant
Military consultant
Military consultant
Military consultant
Prod liaison
Scr cont
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
MUSIC
Themes from 1812 Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Battle of Waterloo
Waterloo: The Last Hundred Days of Napoleon
Release Date:
April 1971
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 26 Oct 1970 ; New York opening: 31 Mar 1971; Los Angeles opening: 2 Apr 1971
Production Date:
12 Mar--early Sep 1969 at Dino de Daurentiis Cinematografica Studios, Rome
Copyright Claimant:
Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica, S.P.A.
Copyright Date:
27 October 1971
Copyright Number:
LF74
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
122-123
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
Italy, Russia, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1814, the desire of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor and commander of France, is to enlarge his dominion has prompted four European nations of armies to unite against France. After the loss of several major battles, Napoleon’s chief military men urge him to abdicate, and point out that his nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, is leading the English army against them. His advisors and in particular, Marshal Ney, encourage Napoleon to accept an “honorable” exile to the island of Elba. In a stubborn fit of anger, Napoleon refuses, as he is confident of the Frenchmen’s loyalty to him and believes that another victory will heal their morale. However, when a messenger arrives, reporting that one of his generals has surrendered to the Austrians, Napoleon recognizing imminent defeat, reluctantly addresses his Old Guard to say goodbye. Calling the men his children, he asks that they remember him and kisses the flag to express his love for them. In May 1814, he is transported to Elba, but ten months later, Napoleon escapes and, with a thousand loyal men, invades Europe. King Louis XVIII, who has resumed his reign in France, sends a regiment to stop Napoleon and places Ney in command, who promises to bring him to Paris “in an iron cage.” However, when the armies meet on the road, Napoleon dismounts and addresses the French soldiers, who cheer for their former leader and join his side. Ney drops his sword and also reunites with Napoleon. Fearing for his life, the king hastily abandons the court, and Napoleon triumphantly returns, aware that other nations have declared war on him personally, rather than ... +


In 1814, the desire of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor and commander of France, is to enlarge his dominion has prompted four European nations of armies to unite against France. After the loss of several major battles, Napoleon’s chief military men urge him to abdicate, and point out that his nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, is leading the English army against them. His advisors and in particular, Marshal Ney, encourage Napoleon to accept an “honorable” exile to the island of Elba. In a stubborn fit of anger, Napoleon refuses, as he is confident of the Frenchmen’s loyalty to him and believes that another victory will heal their morale. However, when a messenger arrives, reporting that one of his generals has surrendered to the Austrians, Napoleon recognizing imminent defeat, reluctantly addresses his Old Guard to say goodbye. Calling the men his children, he asks that they remember him and kisses the flag to express his love for them. In May 1814, he is transported to Elba, but ten months later, Napoleon escapes and, with a thousand loyal men, invades Europe. King Louis XVIII, who has resumed his reign in France, sends a regiment to stop Napoleon and places Ney in command, who promises to bring him to Paris “in an iron cage.” However, when the armies meet on the road, Napoleon dismounts and addresses the French soldiers, who cheer for their former leader and join his side. Ney drops his sword and also reunites with Napoleon. Fearing for his life, the king hastily abandons the court, and Napoleon triumphantly returns, aware that other nations have declared war on him personally, rather than with France. When he learns that English and Prussian armies led by Wellington and the general field marshal Blucher, respectively, have separated, he wedges his army between them. He realizes that success now depends on one big battle, similar to the one he successfully led years before, when, he admits only to himself, he was younger. On 15 June 1815, in Brussels, the charming and aristocratic Wellington is biding his time until he determines Napoleon’s next move, and is being entertained at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond. After watching a regiment of Gordon Highlanders perform a sword dance, the Duchess of Richmond calls the British soldiers the “salt of the earth.” Wellington claims they are all “beggars and scoundrels” who fight for gin, but is confident that out of duty they would die for him. When the Duchess admits she has some admiration for Napoleon, Wellington says that although the man’s hat is worth fifty thousand men, he is no “gentleman.” Sarah, the Duchess’ daughter, is smitten with a young officer, Lord Hay, who has yet to face battle. When Iggy, as Hay is called, naïvely promises to bring Sarah the helmet of an enemy, gruff veteran General Picton remarks skeptically that Hay will be lucky to bring back his life, and adds that, from the French, he will learn the art of fighting. Meanwhile, Napoleon and his men cross the border of Belgium in inclement weather. When a Prussian officer arrives at the ball to report that Napoleon has concentrated all his forces at Chalois, Wellington meets with his commanders. Admiring Napoleon for the risks he has taken, Wellington muses, “By God, that man does war honor!” Although his decision will be unpopular, Wellington decides to retreat and take a stand at a place called Waterloo. On a different battlefield, Napoleon is tallying the deaths surrounding him when Ney rides up to inform him of Wellington’s retreat. Instead of being pleased, Napoleon angrily rebukes Ney for not pursuing the enemy, explaining that all could be lost if Wellington is able to choose his battleground. Napoleon orders field marshals Grouchy and Gerard to take one third of the French army to pursue Blucher and prevent him from rejoining Wellington. When news of the retreat reaches the Prussians, Blucher worries that Wellington has given up, leaving them vulnerable. Upon reaching Waterloo in a rainstorm, Picton criticizes the landscape, pointing out a stand of trees and other terrain that could hinder their success. Wellington explains that, despite appearances, the woods lack underbrush and will not impede the movement of soldiers and equipment. He confides that he has had this area in mind for a year, but believing that secrecy is more important than good publicity, does not share his strategy with the men. As the French approach the area, Napoleon also presumes that Wellington has made a tactical error. As it rains heavily throughout the night, both Wellington and Napoleon face doubts about themselves. Napoleon is mystified by Wellington’s choices while Wellington hopes that Blucher can outwit Grouchy and join them. When an Irish private from the Inniskilling Brigade, who is caught stealing a pig, offers a foolish explanation to excuse himself, the amused Wellington jokes that he is able to defend a “helpless position” and promotes him to corporal, instead of ordering the usual penalty of execution. During the night, Napoleon suffers pain from a chronic stomach condition, but marshals his strength by morning. The rain has stopped, but his officers convince Napoleon to delay the battle until the ground dries. During the morning, the soldiers of both sides line up for battle with great pomp and ceremony. After ascertaining the location of what he believes is Wellington’s weak spot, Napoleon orders a cannon fired, which commences the battle at eleven thirty-five. Following several volleys of cannon shot, the footmen advance toward one other. Napoleon first attacks Hougomont, a farmhouse, and tries to lure Wellington out of his position but the Englishman is not tricked into moving his formations. For his caution and courage, Napoleon admires him. In the afternoon, Picton is killed, and the Scots Greys and other regiments charge. The sight of the men on their grey horses prompts Napoleon to remark that they are “terrifying” and he counters with his lancers, who manage to kill the English general, Ponsonby. Meanwhile, hearing the sounds of battle, Gerard, who, with Grouchy, is following Blucher, wants to come to Napoleon’s aid. However, Grouchy believes they must follow the orders they were given and not divide the men. When soldiers can be seen in the distance, both Napoleon and Wellington wonder whether they are led by Blucher or by Grouchy. After Napoleon recognizes that the Prussians are advancing, he predicts that whoever overtakes a farmhouse called La Haye Sainte will win the battle. Because his stomach is hurting him, Napoleon is convinced to take a short break. While he is resting, Napoleon talks to his aide-de-camp, La Bedoyere, who, like himself, has a young son. When Napoleon asks what history will say of him, the young man responds admiringly that he will be remembered as having “stretched the limits of glory.” To Napoleon, this does not seem enough. After Wellington orders a formation of men to retire one hundred paces, Ney, believing the enemy is retreating, triumphantly and impulsively orders the cavalry to charge. As the French ride briskly over a hill, they find the English waiting on the other side, in position to shoot at them. Returning to the field, Napoleon is aghast that Ney rode forth without infantry support. In the late afternoon, Wellington observes Hay’s death, as well as that of his young aide De Lancey. Later, a delirious young soldier yells, “How can we kill one another? Why do we?” As the evening progresses, the battlefield is in flames and smoke, and a hard wind is blowing. Around six in the evening, the French capture La Haye Sainte and Napoleon, believing he has won the battle, sends a report to Paris. Wellington tells his second-in-command, Uxbridge, that they are losing and hopes for the rest of the Prussians to arrive. When Napoleon begins to lead troops toward Brussels, Wellington gathers the brigades to shoot at them. As Blucher and his men draw near, the Prussian orders that no prisoners will be taken. Heavy fighting ensues, which sends the French into a panic and many of them flee. Napoleon yells at his generals not to lose faith, telling them that Wellington is beaten. Ney, too, tries to build up the morale of the men. As Wellington and Uxbridge watch the change in the battle with relief and joy, Uxbridge’s leg is shot off. Meanwhile, the French officers, aware they have lost, move Napoleon to safety. After the Prussians and British surround the remaining French, Wellington compliments the survivors for the honorable fight and offers them a chance to surrender. However, when the French refuse, shooting continues until they are dead. After the battle, Wellington rides past the thousands of bodies being sorted and laid out, hoping that he has fought his last battle. He thinks, “Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won.” The rain has resumed. In shock, Napoleon is put into a carriage and driven away.
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Legend
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Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.