From 1937: «Conquest», which pairs Greta Garbo with Charles Boyer and achieves something sublime (Garbo) and ridiculous (the script). Boyer is convincing at least as Napoleon. It’s based on the true story of Napoleon’s advances, on the field and off, and his retreats, on the field and off, and the Polish countess who he conquers, as well as his illegitimate son.
“A [P]olish countess becomes Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress at the urging of Polish leaders, who feel she might influence him to make Poland independent.”TMDb
In the context of what would happen to Poland just two years after this was filmed, it was timely stuff. And anything about Napoleon is pretty much guaranteed to be pass-the-popcorn high entertainment.
Emanuel Levy «writing in 2010» had this to say;
“The project had been in development for years, based on MGM’s dream casting on Garbo, as the Polish countess Marie Walewska, Napoleon’s mistress. But they could not find the right leading man, within and without MGM. That changed after the Gallic actor Charles Boyer became an international star, thus deemed proper to play Napoleon.
“Tale, co-penned by Samuel Hoffenstein, Salka Viertel, and S.N. Behrman is too melodramatic to qualify as a genuine tragic romance and too fake to allow Garbo render a fully realized performance.
But it did not matter, as Garbo was then at the peak of her career, and MGM didn’t spare any money in making a lavish production, casting the film with numerous extras.
The scenes between Napoleon and his son (cute child) are fake and sentimental, and last farewell, when Maria fails to convince the emperor to escape with her, is ridiculous.”Emanuel Levy, Cinema 24/7
He’s right, that ending is completely ridiculous, although «the boy, Alexandre Colonna Walewski, actually did exist», living until 58 years old and having an illustrious career in Polish and French politics, escaping Daddy’s continental conquest ambitions and confining himself to French legislative affairs.
The film itself is fairly representative of the period and shows how far ahead of her time Garbo was … that she could shine in spite of rather stilted dialogue, in a non-native language shows just how great an actor she was at the height of her career. It wasn’t bad, and I might have another look under certain conditions, but I probably wouldn’t buy it for the DVD collection, unless Criterion gets hold of it.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “I shall send it up to you, invite you to my quarters.”
Countess Marie Walewska: “I have a husband, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “He’s four times your age!”
Countess Marie Walewska: “He has his dignity. He has his honored name. He has his pride. And so have I, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Now I understand. So, it is pride you have in common!”
Countess Marie Walewska: “That does not become a conqueror, sire.”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “When you have conquered, Madame, you may instruct me. “Conquest
“When you have conquered, Madame …” is mee-rowr fabulous! (I said above some dialogue is stilted, and so it is, but these quotes are pretty damn good, especially the following exchange with the Countess’ dotty, skeptical old mother
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Who are you?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “I am Napoleon!”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Napoleon? Napoleon who?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Hmm? Bonaparte!”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: ‘Napoleon Bonaparte? What kind of name is that? What nationality are you?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Corsican by birth. French by adoption. Emperor by achievement.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “So, you are an Emperor, are you? What are you Emperor of?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Emperor of France, madame.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Hee, hee, hee. So you are Emperor of France. And my very good friend, His Majesty, King Louis Sixteenth abdicated in your honor, I suppose?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Well, he didn’t know it at the time but in a sense he did, madame.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “This house is getting to be a lunatic asylum.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “What were you before you became an Emperor?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “A corporal.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “That’s what I thought. A soldier. Why do you say you were an Emperor?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “One can be both, Madame. Alexander was.”
Countess Pelagia Walewska: “Everybody who goes crazy thinks he is Alexander. Now, if Alexander went crazy, who would he think he was?”
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte: “Napoleon.”Ibid
Conquest. 1937. TCM. English. Clarence Brown, Gustav Machaty (d); Waclaw Gasiorowski, S.N. Behrman, Samuel Hoffenstein, Talbot Jennings, Helen Jerome, Salka Viertel, Carey Wilson (w) Greta Garbo, Charles Boyer, Reginald Owen, Alan Marshal, Hentry Stephenson, Leif Erickson, May Whitty, Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Henry Gordon, Claude Gillingwater, Vladimir Sokoloff, George Houston, Scotty Beckett, Dennis O'Keefe, (p). Herbert Stothart (m). Karl Freund (c).