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Desirée (1954, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons)



A fictionalised love affair involving one of Europe’s greatest leaders forms the basis for this largely inaccurate biopic of a part of Napoleon’s life. Marlon Brando takes the part of the French general, while Jean Simmons is the woman who fails to throw herself on the altar of his history.

While still a young man, the youthful general meets the nubile Desirée Clary (Simmons), the daughter of a Marseilles merchant. The two develop a powerful attraction that fails to lead to marriage. Instead, Napoleon returns to Paris where he meets and marries Josephine (Merle Oberon), a passionate and powerful woman. However, when Desirée follows him to France’s capital, the attraction between the two is brought to the fore again. Instead of consummating their relationship, Desirée, with Napoleon’s blessing, is married off to Count Bernadotte (Michael Rennie), who is moved to Stockholm, where he is to be made heir to the throne.

While Desirée and Bernadotte work out a restrained but respectful relationship, Napoleon continues with his ambitions to conquer Europe. When this ambition turns to dust, Napoleon is captured by the British and forced to capitulate his position as Emperor of France. However, it is up to Desirée to persuade the mighty Corsican that he must accept the punishment of exile laid on his shoulders by the rest of the world. The film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

production details
USA | 110 minutes | 1954

Director: Henry Koster
Writer: Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by Annemarie Selinko

Marlon Brando as Napoleon Bonaparte
Jean Simmons as Desiree Clary
Evelyn Varden as Marie
Cathleen Nesbitt as Mme. Bonaparte
Elizabeth Sellars as Julie
Merle Oberon as Empress Josephine
John Hoyt as Talleyrand
Isobel Elsom as Mme. Clary
Edith Evanson as Queen Hedwig
Michael Rennie as Bernadotte
Richard Deacon as Etienne Clary
Carolyn Jones as Mme. Tallien
Cameron Mitchell as Joseph Bonaparte
Charlotte Austin as Paulette Bonaparte
Dorothy Neumann as Queen Sofia
Nicolas Koster as Oscar
Alan Napier as Despreaux
Bess Flowers as Attendant Holding Baby at Palace Ball
Gene Roth as Von Essen