Napoleon (1927)

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Original title Napoleon
Country of production France
original language French
Publishing year 1927
length 330 minutes
Director Abel Gance
script Abel Gance
production Abel Gance
music Arthur Honegger
camera Jules Kruger Joseph-Louis Mundwiller Léonce-Henri Burel
cut Abel Gance

Napoleon (OT: Napoléon ) is a French historical film by Abel Gance from 1927, which deals with the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte from his training at the cadet school to the Italian campaign .


In the winter of 1781, the young Napoleon showed his first qualities as a leader in a snowball fight at the military school in Brienne .

Years later, patriotic speeches are given in the revolutionary Club des Cordeliers and the Marseillaise is the song of the movement. With the population still starving, Napoleon sees the fruits of the revolution endangered. In view of the ubiquitous violent enforcement of political interests, he has a declaration of human and civil rights in mind.

To awaken a sense of nationality, he and his sister Elisa went back to his hometown of Ajaccio on Corsica for the first time in twelve years , where he learned of Paoli's plans to sell to England. The citizens disagree among themselves as to whether they should belong to Spain, Italy or England; however, all of them demand the death of Napoleon, who declares the hated France a fatherland. His charisma does not help him either, and on May 26, 1793, he fled the island by boat. While Napoleon experienced a storm at sea, there was tumultuous fighting in the National Convention and the heads of the revolution fell victim to the reign of terror .

In September 1793 the French army besieged the port of Toulon , in which there are about 20,000 English, Italian and Spanish occupiers. Napoleon is there as captain of the artillery. His military talent is recognized under General Dugommier . He is promoted to commander of the artillery. At night and in the rain, he attacks the British and wins after three days of fighting.

Robespierre offers Bonaparte the post of commander of the Paris garrison, but the latter refuses and is arrested for it. The reign of terror now claims many victims every day through the guillotine . The National Convention rebels against the machinations of the Robespierists; Robespierre, Couthon , Saint-Just and Henriot are guillotined. General Bonaparte is released.

The Minister of War, Aubry, offers him in vain a command in the fight against the Vendée uprising ; Bonaparte considers the external threat to be more dangerous than the internal threat. Instead, he proposes his plans for a campaign in Italy .

Barras wins Bonaparte's support against the counterrevolutionary royalists. After their suppression, Bonaparte was appointed commander in chief of the Army of the Interior. He met Joséphine de Beauharnais in the circles of political leaders and fell in love with her. She agrees to a marriage and arranges for Bonaparte's appointment as Commander in Chief of the Italian Army.

Before leaving for Italy, Bonaparte went to the empty convention hall, where he saw himself with a vision of the desire of the executed revolutionary leaders to become a strong authoritarian leader and to spread the revolution over Europe, as well as to liberate the oppressed, unite Europe, and crush the borders feels called to the formation of a universal republic. He proclaims that in order to achieve the great goal many wars must be fought so that one day victories can be achieved without weapons.

Against the resistance of the generals, Bonaparte enforces his strategy of attack in the Italian campaign despite being numerically inferior. With an encouraging speech he mobilized his army, which is now heading towards Italy.


Dieudonné as Napoléon.
Still photography by Pierre Choumoff , 1927

The German industrialist Hugo Stinnes helped finance the production. The film was ahead of its time in terms of editing and the use of handheld cameras . Many scenes were colored by hand. Gance's intention was to show the final film roll through Polyvision as a triptych . It was planned that this film would be followed by five more about Napoleon. However, this was not done because of the cost.

The film was first shown in April 1927 at a gala screening in the Paris Opera . Napoleon had only been shown in eight European cities when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the film rights. After the full film was shown in London , it was severely cut. To a lesser extent in the United States published, he found little attention at a time when the very first sound films appeared.


Film historian Kevin Brownlow carried out a restoration of the film in the years up to 1980 that included the scenes in Polyvision. This reconstruction was re-edited and published by American Zoetrope through Universal Pictures in the United States. She was accompanied by an orchestra with music by Carmine Coppola during the performances . These performances earned Abel Gance belated recognition shortly before his death in 1981. The film was further restored in 1983 and 2000 (this time with music by Carl Davis ) and now also included material that was rediscovered by the Cinémathèque Française in Paris .

Individual evidence

  1. Brownlow: Pioneers. Pp. 633, 638.
  2. Ibid., 633.


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