Napoleon (movie, 1927)

Napoleon is the title of a French historical film , directed by Abel Gance , originally released in 1927 , whose title on the screen is Napoleon seen by Abel Gance . The film is also referenced in many books under the title Napoleon Bonaparte , taking the title of the sound version of 1935 .


The course of Bonaparte , from 1781 to Brienne untilwhile the Italian campaign will end .


The project of Abel Gance

Abel Gance wanted to pay homage to the Emperor by dedicating a fresco to the extent of the epic. That’s why he undertook not a film, but six.

He thought of the project from 1921 , after seeing Birth of a Nation by DW Griffith , and talked with him in during a trip to the United States . He wanted Ivan Mosjoukine in the leading role, but he refused, unable to devote himself exclusively to two years that would require the realization of this fresco 1 , 2 .

However, as a result of the bankruptcy of his main backer, the German financier Hugo Stinnes, Gance had to reduce his project to the making of the first film only, keeping hope of turning the rest of his project entirely. Despite the triumphant presentations of this first film, Gance never managed to complete his entire project.

He sold his scenario Napoleon to Saint Helena to the German filmmaker Lupu Pick who realized it in 1929 .

In 1960, Gance turned Yugoslavia into an Austerlitz, which can be considered as the third part, even if one can not find the initial breath there.

Technical aspects

Beyond the scope of the subject, Napoleon has also remained in history for his revolutionary approach. Twenty-five years before the other wide-format attempts ( Cinérama , CinemaScope ), Abel Gance implements three cameras projecting on three screens, thus allowing different effects 3 , 4 :

  • an image three times larger than the usual format by juxtaposition;
  • the repetition of the same image on the three screens;
  • the projection of three points of view of the same scene (a process prefiguring the split screen );
  • obtaining symmetry by inversion of the lateral image.

Gance also said of this technique, which he calls “Polyvision”: “In some of Napoleon’s shots , I superimposed up to sixteen images, they held their” potential “role as fifty instruments playing in a concert. This led me to the polyvision or triple screen with several dozens of images. The central part of the triptych is prose and the two side parts are poetry, all called cinema. » [Ref. necessary]

These effects allow the director to underline the exploits and to reinforce the “patriotic” side of the film (especially with the views of battles) in a more epic, even mythical, than historical view of the events. But more than the technique, it is above all the artistic will of its author to free himself from the framework that marks, the use of the triptych and a very nervous editing being only the means 5 .


Filming began on January 15, 1925 ( Paris , Palace of Versailles , Petit Trianon , Grand Trianon , Briançon , Corsica ), stops on June 21, because of the bankruptcy of one of its main backers, the German financier Hugo Stinnes . Gance then spends several months trying to get the business back on stream and succeeds by resuming production by Société Générale de Films led by Jacques Grinieff . Filming resumes from January to June 1926 6 .

450,000 meters of film were impressed by eighteen cameras and editing demanded more than a year of work 7 .

Two scenes of this film were mounted on a triple screen, including the final one of the departure of the Army of Italy .

Initial exploitation in Paris (1927-1928)

The big first is held on at the Opera Garnier . We project a montage of 5,200 meters 8 with a final triptych, the musical score is Arthur Honegger . This is the short version, called “Opera”, which will know ten performances.

On 8/9, and 11/12 May 1927 , two screenings are organized for the press and distributors. This is the long version called “Apollo”, footage of 12,800 m , without triptych. Both versions are mounted from separate negatives, corresponding to different artistic choices 9 .

In November 1927, the April version (with triptych and orchestra), exploited in episodes, was screened at the Marivaux cinema, exclusively in Paris. In the morning we play The Youth of Bonaparte, the Siege of Toulon and the departure of the Army of Italy, and in the evening the scenes of the Cordeliers Club, Terror and Departure of the Army of Italy.

In February 1928 , a mutilated version was presented at the Gaumont-Palace, while Studio 28 was inaugurated on the 10th of this month, where triptychs were projected by Abel Gance ( Danses, Galops and Marine ), as well as the documentary by Jean Arroy : Around Napoleon 10 .

1935 Version: Napoleon seen and heard by Abel Gance

Known under the titles of Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon, seen and heard by Abel Gance . Many think that this is a simple sound according to the dialogues initially written for the dumb version of 1927, with additions of some scenes. In fact, this version of 1935 is not just the 1927 film sounded because it responds to a completely different narrative structure.

The Napoleon of 1927 showed us the story “live”, in the present time. Napoleon Bonapartebegins in a wake of a hostel in Grenoble, shortly before the Hundred Days, where we find characters like Stendhal and his publisher, or protagonists who have known the epic Napoleonic and will evoke it in front of the viewer. So it’s the flashbacks that are made up of excerpts from the 1927 version. The film ends with the inhabitants of this inn coming out cheering the passage of the Emperor, returning from the Elba Island. Then, by a powerful shortcut, Gance, through the character of a grognard, completes his story by blending the tired face of this man, after the defeat of Waterloo, with that of one of the anonymous soldiers carved on the frieze of the Arc de Triomphe.

Only a few comedians of the original version are included in this new editing (as Antonin Artaud) – the death of several interpreters of the silent Napoleon forced Abel Gance to replace or post-synchronize (as appropriate) by other actors for additional sequences shot late 1934.

Napoleon Bonaparte left May 11, 1935 in the Parisian room The Paramount. Gance used for the first time his invention developed with the manufacturer André Debrie , the Sound Perspective 11 . This system consisted, instead of having a single sound source in the room (usually the speakers behind the screen), to distribute the sounds through a network of 32 speakers scattered in room 12 . Often presented as the ancestor of stereophony , the Sound Perspective actually wanted to go beyond the notion of realism and, by varying the origins of the sounds, to establish a real sound dramaturgy.

Napoleon Bonaparte was restored in 1988 by Bambi Ballard for the Cinémathèque française.

1971 Version: Bonaparte and the Revolution 

Bonaparte and the Revolution , produced by Claude Lelouch with the support of André Malraux , is based on footage from 1934 with an introduction by Abel Gance himself. Some scenes are added along with a narrative voice of Jean Topart . The duration of the full version is 4 h 35 and that of the TV version of 3 h 13 .

This version is often considered very uneven, suffering from the differences of style between the montages. Depending on the sequences, certain characters are sometimes interpreted by the comedians of the original version, sometimes by those of the additional sequences; thus, Marat is successively interpreted by Antonin Artaud and Henri Virlojeux, and Louis XVI by no less than three different actors.

The reconstructions

Five film restorations of this film have been made to date 14 , all of which combine elements of the two versions “Opera” and “Apollo” 9 :

  1. From 1953 to 1959: by Henri Langlois and Marie Epstein (19 reels), presented at the Venice festival in 1953;
  2. From 1969 to 1982: first restoration by Kevin Brownlow , English film historian with the BFI (6630 m or 4 h 50 15 ), presented at the Telluride Film Festival ( Colorado , USA) on st September 1979;
  3. In 1983: second restoration of Kevin Brownlow , still with the BFI , but this time with the Cinémathèque française (7 155 m or 5 h 13 ), presented in Le Havre on 13 and 14 November 1982 and in Paris at the Palais des Congrès on 23, July 24, and 25, 1983;
  4. In 1991/1992: restoration by Bambi Ballard with the Cinémathèque française (7,500 m or 5 h 28 ), presented under the Grande Arche de la Défense on 29, 30 and 31 July 1992;
  5. In 2000: third and final restoration Kevin Brownlow with reintroduction of tinting and turns ( 5 h 30 is 7542 m ). Presented at the Royal Festival Hall in London in June 2000.

These successive restorations, presented in various parts of the world (Paris, Rome, New York, London, Telluride, Monte Carlo, etc.), have all met with great success.

However, between the versions put forward by Gance at different times, those cross-checked by different distributors, the restorations and the own cuts that they had to undergo certain times 16 , the patrimonial situation of the film had become more confused. People like Claude Lelouch and Kevin Brownlow identified 19 versions of the film, Francis Ford Coppola , a probable total of 23 … That’s why in 2008, the Cinémathèque française decided to stop all exploitation of the film and nominated the director and researcher Georges Mourier, to undertake a vast expertise of the “Napoleon” fund at the national level (Cinémathèque française, French Film Archives and Cinémathèque de Toulouse), as well as the reconstruction and digital restoration of the original version called “Apollo”.

The first results of this expertise were presented by Georges Mourier in January 2015 during the festival “All the memory of the World” at the Cinémathèque française in the presence of Francis Ford Coppola and Costa-Gavras 17. On this occasion, the launch of the new restoration, made for the Cinémathèque française under the direction of Georges Mourier and in collaboration with American Zoetrope and Film Preserve, was officially announced by then general manager Serge Toubiana. The results of the expertise were again presented at conferences by Georges Mourier at the Telluride Film Festival (Colorado, USA) in September of that year 18, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival , (California, USA) on June 3, 2016, 19 , and the inauguration of the exhibition “La Sequence Corse” at the Cinémathèque Corse (November 4, 2016, Porto-Vecchio) 20 , 21 .

In 2015 , the theater of the palace in Paris Le Royal Monceau will team for the projection of “triptychs” 22 .

In November 2016, the British Film Institute publishes the film Bluray and DVD, in a 5:30 edition, established with the help of Kevin Brownlow 23 , 24 . This is the version established in 2000 ( e silver restoration Kevin Brownlow).

On March 7, 2018, during the festival “All the memory of the World” at the Cinémathèque française , Georges Mourier presented for the first time a comparative projection to highlight the artistic differences between the versions Opera and Apollo 25 . This conference ended with the world premiere of the first restored sequence of the “Napoleon” with the assistance of Eclair Laboratories: “Shadows of the Convention” in Apollo 26 , 27 .

This projection allowed to appreciate the significant progress and complements brought to this scene compared to the version of Kevin Brownlow of 2000, published by the British Film Institute in DVD and Blu-Ray in November 2016.

The completion of this restoration under the direction of Georges Mourier is scheduled for 2020 28 , twelve years after it had been entrusted to him the beginnings of the expertise.

Technical sheet

  • 1927 title on the screen: Napoleon seen by Abel Gance
  • Director: Abel Gance
  • Scenario: Abel Gance
  • Assistant Directors: Victor Tourjanski , Henry Krauss , Henri Andréani , Anatole Litvak , Alexandre Volkoff and Georges Lampin (uncredited)
  • Casting Director: Louis Osmont
  • Photography: Jules Kruger , Léonce-Henri Burel , Roger Hubert , George Lucas , Joseph-Louis Mundwiller , Fedor Bourgassoff , Nicolas Toporkoff (under reservation)
  • Production designer: Alexandre Benois and Henri Ménessier
  • Sets: Serge Piménoff , Pierre Schildknecht , Ivan Lochakoff , Eugene Lourié , George Jacouty , Vladimir Meingard
  • Music of the initial version of 1927: Arthur Honegger
    • Additional music for the 1935 version: Henri Verdun
    • Additional music for the 1981 version: Carmine Coppola
    • Additional music for the 1981 version (France and GB): Carl Davis
    • Additional music for the 1992 version: Marius Constant
  • Original editing: Marguerite Beaugé Abel Gance
    • Editing of 1971: Henri Rust
  • Makeup: Boris de Fast
  • Special Effects: W.Percy Day ; Eugen Schüfftan ; Segundo de Chomón
  • Production: Abel Gance
  • Distribution Company: Gaumont (Europe); Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (United States)
  • Country of origin: France
  • Format: Black and white – 35 mm ratio: 1.33 – 3 x 35 mm (triptych) ratio: 4.00 – Mute 29
  • Genre: Historical Movie
  • Duration: 230 minutes (short version called “Opera” of the )
  • Release dates: France :


  • Albert Dieudonné : Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Eugenie Buffet : Letizia Bonaparte
  • Gina Manes : Josephine
  • Harry Krimer : Rouget de Lisle
  • Edmond van Daele : Maximilian Robespierre
  • Alexandre Koubitzky : Danton
  • Antonin Artaud : Marat
  • Pierre Batcheff : Lazare Hoche
  • Max Maxudian : Paul Barras
  • Abel Gance : Saint-Just
  • Annabella : Violine Fleury
  • Nicolas Koline : Tristan Fleury
  • Suzanne Bianchetti : Marie Antoinette
  • Louis Sance : Louis XVI
  • Vladimir Roudenko : Napoleon Bonaparte Child
  • Acho Chakatouny : Pozzo di Borgo
  • Henri Baudin : Santo Ricci
  • Philippe Hériat : Christophe Saliceti
  • Gregory Metchnikoff : Augereau
  • Henri Beaulieu : Beaumarchais
  • Léo Courtois : Cartels
  • Pierre Danis : Muiron
  • Daniel Mendaille : Fréron
  • Guy Favières : Joseph Fouché
  • Roger Blum : Talma
  • Sylvio Cavicchia : Lucien Bonaparte
  • Georges Lampin : Joseph Bonaparte
  • Marguerite Gance : Charlotte Corday
  • Damia : The Marseillaise
  • Paul Amiot : Fouquier-Tinville
  • Armand Bernard : Jean-Jean
  • Jean Henry : Junot
  • Genica Missirio : Murat
  • Philippe Rolla : Massena
  • Suzy Vernon : Mrs Recamier
  • Georgette Sorelle : Madam Elizabeth
  • Francine Mussey : Lucile Desmoulins
  • Yvette Dieudonné : Elisa Bonaparte
  • Pierrette Lugan : Caroline Bonaparte
  • Simone Genevois : Pauline Bonaparte
  • Andrée Standard : Mrs Tallien
  • Mony Thomassin : Madame Royale
  • Lise Carvalho : Miss Lenormand
  • Janine Pen : Hortense de Beauharnais
  • Florence Talma : Louise Gely
  • Noëlle Mattô : Albertine Marat
  • Blanche Beaume : the servant of Marat
  • Robert Gulbert : Sergeant Le Marois
  • Henry Krauss : Captain Mustache
  • Henry Bonvallet : General Menou
  • Robert de Ansorena : Captain Desaix
  • Georges Cahuzac : Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais
  • Alexandre Bernard : Collot of Herbois / Dugommier
  • Raphaël Liévin : Fabre of Eglantine
  • Jean d’Yd : The Bussière
  • Roger Blin : Calmelet
  • Robert Vidalin : Camille Desmoulins
  • Serge Freddy-Karl : Marcellin Fleury
  • Roger Chantal : Jerome Bonaparte
  • Jean Rauzéna : Louis Bonaparte
  • Maurice Schutz : Pascal Paoli
  • Louis Vonelly : André Chénier
  • François Viguier : Georges Couthon
  • Conrad Veidt : the Marquis de Sade
  • Robert Arnoux
  • Camille Beuve : Dr. Guillotin
  • W. Percy Day : Admiral Samuel Hood
  • Olaf Fjord : Captain Horatio Nelson
  • E. Engeldorff
  • Felix Guglielmi
  • Fabien Haziza
  • Georges Henin
  • jacquinet
  • Léon Larive
  • Ernest Maupain
  • Laurent Morléas
  • Marcel Pérès
  • Maguy Pironet
  • Jack Rye
  • Jean Tissier
  • Adrien Caillard

and among the performers of the 1934 version (called Napoleon Bonaparte ), but not appearing in the 1927 version:

  • Marjolaine : Theroigne de Mericourt
  • Vladimir Sokoloff : Tristan Fleury
  • José Squinquel : Stendhal
  • Marcel Delaître : Capucine
  • Edy Debray
  • Jane Marken
  • Georges Paulais
  • Rivers Cadet
  • Armand Lurville

Around the film

  • Other actors anticipated for the role: Edmond van Daële , Lupu Pick , Rene Fauchois , Ivan Mosjoukine .
  • Albert Dieudonné had interpreted the role of Napoleon Bonaparte at the theater in 1913. Legend has it that he was so imbued with his role and his character that he died mad in 1976 by taking himself for Napoleon.
  • If the film is titled Napoleon , its scenario stops only in 1796, at the moment when Bonaparte is only general.


  • Abel Gance, Napoleon: cinematographic epic in five epochs , script edited by Jacques Bertoin, preface by Jean Tulard , Jacques Bertoin Publishing, Paris, 1991 ( ISBN  978-2-87949-002-1 )
  • Jean Arroy, Turning Napoleon with Abel Gance: Memories and impressions of a sans-culotte , Editions Renaissance of the Book, Paris, 1927.
  • Kevin Brownlow , Napoleon, the great classic of Abel Gance , Armand Colin, Paris, 2012 (Translation of Kevin Brownlow ‘s Abel Gance Gance’s Classic Movie – Alfred A. Knopf, New York – 1983, 2004).
  • Sylvie Dallet , The French Revolution and Cinema: From Light to Television , Éditions des Quatre-Vents, coll.  “Cinema and its history”,, 240 p. ( ISBN  2-907468-04-9 , online presentation  [ archive ] )
    (Work from a doctoral dissertation on cinema and television, defended in 1987 at the University Paris- X Nanterre in front of Serge Berstein , Marc Ferro and Paul Gerbod, [ presentation on line  [ archive ] ] .
  • Raymond Lefèvre, Cinema and Revolution , Edilig, Paris, 1988.
  • Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionary of Cinema – Films , Robert Laffont / Bouquins, Paris, 1992 ( ISBN  2-221-05465-2 )
  • Georges Mourier , ” The comet Napoleon ,” Journal of Film Preservation , International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), o 86, ( read online  [ archive ] ).
    Introduction  [ archive ] by Joël Daire, Heritage Director of the Cinémathèque française.
  • Dimitri Vezyroglou , ” The Bonaparte of Abel Gance: a hero for” fascist apprentices “or for neo-romantics?  ” Companies & Representations , o 26,p.  115-130 ( read online  [ archive ] ).


  • 1928 : Around Napoleon by Jean Arroy
  • 1964 : Abel Gance, yesterday and tomorrow by Nelly Kaplan (short film)
  • 1967 : Abel Gance – The Charm of Dynamite by Kevin Brownlow (BBC Documentary)
  • 1984 : Abel Gance and his Napoleon by Nelly Kaplan (TV movie)
  • 2005 : In the shadow of the great oaks (Abel Gance) by Georges Mourier (documentary)

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Cf. Letters Abel Gance and Ivan Mosjoukine, in The Children’s Carnival , filmed documentary, French version, Bach editions (DVD), Galina Dolmatovskaïa
  2. ↑ Archives BnF: Letter from Mosjoukine to Gance.
  3. ↑ Jean-Jacques Meusy, “The PolyVision forgotten hope of a new movie,” 1895 , o 31 (Abel Gance, a new look), October 2000, p.  153-211
  4. ↑ Valerie Peseux, The big show projection , Higher Technical Commission of the image and sound, Paris: Dujarric, 2004, p.  74-77
  5. ↑ Technical inventions Abel Gance: myth or reality?  [ archive ] – Georges Mourier’s lecture of November 15, 2013 at the Cinémathèque française
  6. ↑ Roger Icart, Abel Gance or the Prometheus smashed , Editions L’Age d’Homme , 1983
  7. ↑ Roger Icart, Abel Gance or the Prometheus smashed , Editions The Age of Man , 1983, p. 171
  8. ↑ ” Article george Mourier JFP No. 86 April 2012 ”  [ archive ]
  9. ↑ a and b  [ archive ] : The restoration of “Napoléon” Abel Gance is launched
  10. ↑ Kevin Brownlow, Napoleon, the great classic of Abel Gance , Paris: Armand Colin, 2012, p. 182.
  11. ↑ Patent o 750 681 10 May 1932 Abel Gance and Andre Debrie.
  12. ↑ Valerie Peseux Archive o 87 Institut Jean Vigo, April 2001, p. 4
  13. ↑ Roger Icart, Abel Gance or the Prometheus smashed , Editions The Age of Man , 1983, p 468
  14. ↑ Georges Mourier, “The Comet Napoleon,” Journal of Film Preservation o 86 April 2012
  15. ↑ The durations are calculated at a rate of 20 frames per second.
  16. ↑ The version projected at the Radio City Music Hall in New York in January 1981 by Francis Ford Coppola ( American Zoetrope ) in collaboration with Robert Harris [Which?] (Images Film Archive) was a montage reduced to 4 hours (at 24 fps)approximately 6,584 m ) of Kevin Brownlow’s first restoration at Telluride .
  17. ↑ Georges Mourier Conference of January 29, 2015 1/1  [ archive ] and Georges Mourier Conference 2/2: example of reconstruction of the scene of “La Marseillaise”  [ archive ] .
  18. ↑ (in-US) Meredith Brody , ” The Inadvertent Telluride Silent Film Festival ”  [ archive ] , on Indiewire ,(accessed June 8, 2016 ) .
  19. ↑ ” Amazing Tales from the Archives | Silent Film Festival ”  [ archive ] , on (accessed June 8, 2016 ) .
  20. ↑ ” The Corsican Sequence ”  [ archive ] .
  21. ↑  [ archive ]
  22. ↑ Ratio: 4.00. See ” The Royal Monceau, 2015, p. 3 » ( Archive • WikiWix • • Google • What to do? ) [PDF] .
  23. ↑ (in) Mark Brown, ” Epic five-hour silent movie Napoleon to be released on DVD ”  [ archive ] , on, (accessed October 28, 2016 ) .
  24. ↑ (in) Bluray sales page ”  [ archive ] , on (accessed October 28, 2016 ) .
  25. ↑ ” Conference of Georges Mourier at al Cinémathèque française March 7, 2018:” The light found? ”  »  [ Archive ],
  26. ↑ ” ” The Napoleon Abel Gance: the light found? ”  »  [ Archive ]
  27. ↑ ” Subject broadcast JT TF1 20h on 7/3/2018 ”  [ archive ] , on
  28. ↑ ” Discovering the incredible restoration of” Napoleon “Abel Gance “, LCI , ( read online  [ archive ] )
  29. ↑ See Napoleon viewed by Abel Gance (1927), technical specifications, IMDb.  [ archive ]

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