April 11, 2014

Charles Boyer, Conquest

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When you decide to make a film where one of the main characters is Napoleon Bonaparte, an immensely iconic figure in world history whose name is recognizable to just about anyone who's ever taken a history class, it really ought to be interesting. He was, after all, one of the most powerful political and military leaders, who had rose to the position of Emperor of France "by achievement". So with Conquest, there's an inherent problem: this is not a film about Napoleon. This is a film that is strictly about the romance between Napoleon and a woman. Thus, anything interesting about Napoleon, any juice from his life story, any of those "achievements" that helped make him the legend he became--that's all tossed into the back seat in favor of yet another sappy love story. Charles Boyer's portrayal of Napoleon is filled with potential, but he isn't able to make something truly magnificent out of it due to the film's misdirected aspirations.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-04-09at41338PM.pngI will say that I did believe Boyer as Napoleon. A quick Wiki read will tell us that "although not physically imposing," he had a "hypnotic impact" on people as well as an "inexhaustible energy", and I felt that Boyer did a fine job at conveying all these attributes. He has a stern and commanding air to him, and he packs enough charm to make Conquest worth watching whenever he's onscreen (because without him it would only be Garbo, who, looks aside, has a vibrancy equivalent to that of a dead fish's.) With just enough charisma and just enough douche infused into him, Boyer makes his Napoleon very hypnotic in a way. We don't really like him yet we kind of do and are intrigued by him nevertheless--I imagine that's how Napoleon would be in real life, so kudos must be given to Boyer for being able to project that onscreen. Whenever the man gets angry, his outbursts and impassioned monologues infuse the flick with some much needed electricity. With his French accent there were a number of times when I didn't quite understand what it is Boyer was supposed to be saying. The film might have been better had it been geared towards Garbo's character, but since it's roughly equal between the two stars, Napoleon's story arc ends up a bit convoluted. He has a couple of big speeches where he talks about wanting an heir to carry on his legacy, and then wanting to gather his men again to fight and to show all his doubters wrong. That is where Boyer truly thrives, because that's what matters to Napoleon. There's nothing bad about Boyer's chemistry with Garbo per se, but the lovey dovey scenes rings typical and insubstantial and I never got the feeling that their romance was one for the ages, which is a conflict seeing as that's exactly what the film is trying to sell. All the parts of his life that could have made for a better characterization (such as the Battle of Waterloo or his first exile) are omitted from the film. The movie wants Napoleon to be like Boyer, some type of a romantic figure, which is a problem seeing as that's not what the man is known for. Boyer's last scene is an emotional one and quite touching, but I didn't buy his sudden change of heart--at that point it was as if I knew him but I didn't know him, and again I attribute this confusion towards the film. Ultimately, while I feel his work has its positives, the film is much too substandard to allow any of Boyer's strengths to really flourish.


  1. I dislike Napoleon ever since reading War and Peace.

    But I've found a new admiration for Boyer after Hold Back the Dawn.
    Haven't seen this, but was always intrigued. I think I'd enjoy it.

    [curious what u'll think of Camille, with all ur Garbo dislike :) ]

    1. I think the only other film I've seen him in is Private Worlds, and he was decent from what I recall.

      lol, Garbo just doesn't do it for me. Every time another one of her films come along I have to brace myself for the same exact performance under a different narrative. I've seen that some people really like her work in Camille, so we'll find out soon enough :) but I'm certainly not looking forward to watching it.

  2. I think my first encounter with Boyer was in Gaslight, when I was a young teenager. I haven't seen that film in 10-15 years, but I remember him as being quite memorable. You'll get to that one. Soon-ish. :)

    also seen Algiers on TV right around that time, but can't remember a thing.