Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Russians join Battle of Waterloo -- Napoleon still loses

Cleveland Press April 2, 1971

"Waterloo" is playing at local heaters. Historical drama; general audiences. In the cast are Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Wilding. Running time: 129 minutes.

'Waterloo" is another spectacle movie, the kind the industry keeps saying we will never see again because of the heavy costs of making them.

This Italian-Russian coproduction was filmed in Russia and the battle of Waterloo staged with the use of 20,000 Russian troops and another 1,000 or so cavalry.

As movie battles go you couldn't ask for much more. The picture lives up to its title with about half of its slightly more than two-hour length devoted to the battle itself. The rest of the picture deals with those events that led up to it in the days immediately preceding.

"Waterloo" was directed by Sergei Bondarchuk who also directed the Russian movie version, the six-hour one, of 'War and Peace." "Waterloo" is "War and Peace" without the human drama.

DIPPING BACK into history, it also dips back into movie making techniques. Bondarchuk likes the broad canvas, films everything in a straight away fashion which,. for spectacle, works better than the newer and trickier techniques.

"Waterloo" spends a few minutes, before the titles come on, sketching in the background. Paris is surrounded and Napoleon is being urged by his staff to accept surrender terms and go into exile. He bids farewell to his tearful old guard and sails to Elba.

Within months he has escaped and triumphantly marches on Paris causing Louis XVIII to flee. The powers of Europe declare war on him and the stage is set for his fateful meeting with Wellington at Waterloo.

No historical movie is ever completely successful in presenting the men when it is so complete y wrapped up in the event as is Waterloo." This movie succeeds better than most and the principals manage to emerge as humans.

ROD STEIGER'S Napoleon is not the usual caricature. If the performance has flaw it is that Steiger makes him such a suffering and illness-ridden man that he sometimes emerges as smaller than life.

Still it is a portrayal that manages to come through the spectacle, the picture of an ambitious leader, mercurial between moments of arrogance and depression, honest emotion and posturing.

Plummer's Wellington is sometimes effete and the entire British side of the story is told through the eyes of gentlemen officers who look upon war as a sporting event.

"Bonaparte is not a gentleman," Wellington pronounces while expressing admiration for his military prowess.

"I am France and France is me," Napoleon declares.

Both statements sum up the men.

IN THE END the battle is all and with enough of the Red Army at his disposal plus a great deal of undeveloped Russian real e state Bondarchuk not only can allow his camera to pan across the soldier-filled battlefield he also must pan to take it all in.

Sometimes his screen is over-filled with bodies and smoke to the point of confusion. But there are other overpowering moments as in a scene in which the camera draws up and back (probably in a helicopter) to show the British troops arranged in their traditional squares-more than a dozen of the formations-and the French cavalry charging in and around them.

'Waterloo" is solid, sometimes to the point of lumbering. It will be put down by some in an age of intimate movies and films of relevance.

But "Waterloo" succeeds in what it set out to do -- to re-create a major historical event and place it in some kind of perspective.