Over-produced comic-historical, from Victorien Sardou’s oft-filmed play about the unlikely career of Napoleon’s laundress (Gloria Swanson & Arletty both did it earlier) misses the rollicking tone the same director, Christian-Jaque, caught in FANFAN LA TULIPE/’52.* Here, everybody press so hard, high spirits feel like work. Sophia Loren, in a role that’s a Washer Woman Marianne (the idealized symbol of La Republique), shouts her lines to diminishing effect moving from laundry proprietress to camp follower to designated Queen. (Nappy’s running dry on presentable relatives to elevate.) Robert Hossein, loyal army man-of-the-people in thrall to the Revolution & then to Bonaparte, carries Madame along for the ride. Physically all wrong for Sophia, Hossein’s burly, blunt appearance & manner is the one thing adding texture & ballast to a production that’s all Carnavale. If only some of the fun projected off the screen. There’s a good score from composer Angelo Francessco Lavagnino (Orson Welles tapped him for OTHELLO/’51 and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT/’65), but the film comes off as oafish.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Other versions are hard to track down. Swanson’s, filmed in France in her ‘20s Paramount heyday, is lost. The 1941 Arletty film sounds promising, though, especially with Albert Dieudonné, Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON/’27, repeating as Bonaparte.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *As mentioned, FANFAN LA TULIPE; great fun and an early break for Gérard Philipe.