Country : USA / Italy
Medium : Vistavision Technicolor
Duration : 208'
Video : Paramount
Production : Ponti / Dino De Laurentiis
Scenario : King Vidor, Bridget Boland, Robert Westerby and Mario Camerini after Tolstoy
Screenplay : King Vidor
Music : Nino Rota
Director of photography : Jack Cardiff
Plot : In 1812, after fierce battle sin Austria, Napoleon and the Grande Armée are driving ever deeper into Russia down the Niemen. Moscow follows closely the passage of the French on Russian soil and begins to fear at the taking of Smolensk. This is particularly true for the great noble families like the Rostovs, the Bolkonskis and the Besukovs, consumed as they were in petty struggles for privilege. Against the backdrop of their love, the couples both come together and separate, always obsessed with their love of life. As Tolstoy himself said "the most difficult thing, the essential thing, is to love life, even in suffering. Because life is all, life is God and to love life is to love God" (Tolstoy).
Cast : Herbert Lom (Napoleon) ; Audrey Hepburn (Natasha Rostov) ; Henry Fonda (Pierre Besoukov) ; Mel Ferrer (André Bolkonski) ; Vittorio Gassman (Anatole Kuragin) ; Oscar Homolka (Kutuzov) ; Anita Ekberg (Hélène) ; John Mills ; Milly Vitale ; Jeremy Brett ; Wilfred Lawson ; Sean Barrett ; Tullio Carminati ; May Britt ; Barry Jones ; Anna Maria Ferrero
Extract : « Bolkonski. - But, General, if the French are south of Austerlitz, our plans are...
Kutusov. - Your plans ! Tomorrow after the battle, the generals will wonder why their plans did not succeed. And they will blame everybody but from themselves.
Bolkonski. - How will the battle go tomorrow ?
Kutusov. - I believe that we shall lose the battle, but we shall not lose the war. We shall sign the peace and we shall begin the war again. Men like Napoleon don't stop until their own ambition has destroyed them. The only important battle is the last one. »
Review : This version of War and Peace, with the "star-studded" cast of Fonda, Hepburn, Gassman, Ferrer, Ekberg, Brett and Mills, its "blockbuster" costumes by Maria de Matteis and excellent direction, is almost Cecil B. de Mille-esque in its grandeur. But King's work in the end does not have the authenticity of the latter's, nor does it rival Bondarchuk's Voina i mir of ten years later. Of course the scenery is marvellous, the cast is literally "of thousands" and scenes such as the crossing of the Berezina transport viewers back in time, but there are too many cinematic clichés and shots which are too wide leave the viewer underwhelmed. All this without mentioning Herbert Lom's all-too-dicreet Napoleon. The film's three hours could have been put to the service of a better adaptation of Tolsoy's masterpiece. But credit where credit is due, King's representation of human passion is sheer genius and Nino Rota's music carries all before it.