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Waterloo (Columbia 1970, Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer)

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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.’

production details
Italy – USSR | Columbia – DDL – Mosfilm | 128 minutes | 1970
Director: Sergey Bondarchuk
Script: H.A.L. Craig, Sergey Bondarchuk, Vittorio Bonicelli,

cast
Orso Maria Guerrini as Officer
Virginia McKenna as Duchess of Richmond
Michael Wilding as Colonel Sir William Ponsonby
Orson Welles as Louis XVIII
Terence Alexander as Lord Uxbridge
Christopher Plummer as Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
Rod Steiger as Napoleon Bonaparte
Philippe Forquet as La Bedoyere
Jack Hawkins as General Sir Thomas Picton
Dan O’Herlihy as Marshal Michel Ney
Rupert Davies as Gordon
Gianni Garko as Drouot
Ivo Garrani as Marshal Soult
Ian Ogilvy as De Lancey
Serghej Zakhariadze as Blucher
Donal Donnelly as O’Connor
Oleg Vidov as Tomlinson
Veronica De Laurentiis as Magdalene Hall
Peter Davies as Lord Hay
Willoughby Gray as Ramsey
Gennadi Yudin as Chactas

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