Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk was clearly not a man who believed in giving himself an easy ride through life. Fresh from filming Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he decided to recreate the 1815 Battle of Waterloo for his next project. A lavish, multinational affair, Waterloo contains some of the best large-scale battle scenes ever shot. It may not match the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan for bloodiness or as an anti-war statement, but the hour-long battle scene in the film’s second half is simply breathtaking, epic cinema in its truest form: a technical tour de force that leaves one amazed at the incredibly well co-ordinated scenes of carnage.
Napoleon (Rod Steiger) and Wellington (Christopher Plummer) are opposing generals with one common interest: they both love the smell of gunpowder in the morning. Napoleon, the Little Emperor, has returned from exile to the delight of his French countrymen and has assembled an army to conquer Europe. Wellington leads the allied forces of the British, Austrians, Prussians and Russians to fight the French, with the two armies finally meeting in Waterloo, Belgium. The impressive cast also includes Orson Welles, as King Louis XVIII, and Jack Hawkins as one of Wellington’s attendant officers.
Steiger employs some method acting to capture the madness of Napoleon and, according to Variety , “gives a remarkably powerful portrayal.” Plummer is altogether more refined and laid-back as the Iron Duke, who plays by the rules. Shooting in both Italy and Russia, Bondarchuk used thousands of soldiers from the Red Army as extras for the battle scenes, although he had problems controlling many of them (they used to panic and scatter whenever the opposing cavalry charged at them during filming). “The battle is a masterpiece of production,” wrote Variety, “and is staged colourfully, dramatically and authentically.”
Cast: Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna, Dan O’Herlihy, Rupert Davies, Ian Olgilvy, Michael Wilding,
Director: Sergei Bondarchuk
Producer: Dino De Laurentis
Director of Photography: Armando Nannuzzi
Composer: Nino Rota
Production Design: Mario Garbuglia
Writers: H.A.L Craig, Sergei Bondarchuk, Vittorio Bonicelli
Italy – USSR / Columbia – DDL – Mosfilm / 132 minutes / 1970