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  • I've often thought that those first twenty minutes of Conquest are the most important of the film. When those Cossacks invade the civilized home of Count Walewska, their actions there establish the reason for all that follows in the film. They are one greasy, slovenly, disreputable lot, set against the urbane Henry Stephenson as the Count and his young wife Maria, played by Greta Garbo.

    After what we see of the Cossacks, no wonder the Poles welcome the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte as liberators, restorers of their country which had been carved up about 40 years earlier by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. And when it seems that Greta Garbo is the best thing the Poles have to offer Charles Boyer, it becomes her patriotic duty, even Stephenson unwillingly goes along with the liaison.

    But she really loves the Little Corporal as it turns out. They even have a son together. But unfortunately Boyer is about himself first last and always.

    Maria Walewska was not the first or last of Napoleon's amours. In fact this film ought to be seen back to back with Desiree, a lost love of Bonaparte's from an earlier time. Both of his marriages were for political reasons, Garbo should have known about the first one going in.

    Conquest is one of the few Garbo films where she is not number one, what holds the film together is Charles Boyer as Napoleon. Boyer captures perfectly both the idealism and ambition that was Bonaparte, he got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous. Not that Garbo's bad, but I can't recall any other film where her leading man overshadowed her.

    Although Conquest takes quite a few liberties with the historical record, it's still a fine costume drama, one of the best that MGM put out back in its height.
  • This movie has two halves to evaluate. The first half is brilliant, among the best scenes ever put on film. Boyer gives the performance of his life as the "Little Corporal" trying to woo an obscure (and obscurely beautiful) Polish Countess. Sadly, once she is wooed the movie is lost in a muddle of syrupy sentiment and questionable history lessons.

    Boyer is outstanding all the way through the movie. This is the role he was born to play. He is funny, abrupt, insane, and believeable. He puts his whole body into this role. But Garbo - *sigh* - she's better at portraying melancholy than happiness. When she's in love in this movie, it's irritating. Excepting her scene with Dame May Whitty as Napoleon's mother, I just can't stand it.

    The second half is just mush. It's plodding, for the most part uninteresting, and sheds no light on Napoleon as a historical figure. Maybe the first half of the movie had so much energy that it was impossible to sustain. In any case, I recommend this movie, if only for Boyer's performance and the opening sequence.
  • What was Greta Garbo's greatest film? I suppose most people would opt for CAMILLE, ANNA KARENINA (the sound version), QUEEN Christina, or NINOTCHKA. But I feel that CONQUEST may be the only major film in her career that she ended up being dominated by her co-star. It isn't that she doesn't act, or that Clarence Brown (her favorite sound film director) did not do what he could to show her to advantage. It is that Charles Boyer is a very fine actor, and he is playing one of the leading figures of history. Boyer is Napoleon Bonaparte, and he is fantastically good in the role, showing the childlike hesitation and fascination with simple things that mingled with his military and political genius (and growing egomania). My favorite moment in the film is when Boyer first dances with Garbo, and his clumsiness is actually quite charming.

    Garbo could not compete with this character. Marie Walewski may have sacrificed all for her Poland (briefly Napoleon did create a Duchy of Warsaw out of fragments of the Poland that had been destroyed by Prussia, Austria, and Russia), but she did not do all that badly as the Emperor's mistress. She did not succeed Josephine as Empress (she could give no political advantage to Napoleon if they had married) but what advantage did Napoleon's second wife, Marie Theresa of Austria, get out of it - they married in 1809, had one sickly son (who died in 1831 as Duke of Reichstadt), and in 1815 the Emperor was defeated for the second and final time - her husband's empire was finally gone. So we are left looking at that fascinating man of destiny. He at least keeps our attention.

    One problem that I have with the film - Reginald Owen is very good as Talleyrand, but in 1815 (at the time of Waterloo) he was not an adviser of Napoleon. In fact, with Joseph Fouche, they were doing their best to undermine the Emperor's attempt to return to power. He certainly would not have supported the creation of a new grand army to confront the Bourbons and the Allies. Yet even with this error, I have to admit that one of my favorite moments in the film is when Napoleon, after a discussion of military strategy with Talleyrand, throws his pen down on the table on a map, and it ("miraculously") lands pointing on the portion of the map where Belgium is, at Waterloo. A corny bit of business, but quite well done.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Conquest" was an attempt by all departments to secure a hit… Garbo's co-star was the romantic idol of the day, Charles Boyer; the subject was to have an epic sweep – Napoleon's retreat from his disastrous Russian campaign, through Poland and Marie Walewska, on his inevitable way to Elba…

    Garbo's role – as his suffering, cast-off mistress, victim of high politics – was a chance to touch the heartstrings… It all failed, for reasons clearly laid out early on in the story when Marie tells an admonitory Emperor: 'Sire. You stand in the sun.' Garbo's fans saw no point in their idol standing in the shadows…

    "Conquest" remains a measured, dignified, and often rather dull historical fiction, lightened by excellent performances and production
  • Ever since I first saw "Conquest" back in '38, I've been convinced that the first half of the film is a magnificent production, while the second half is terribly slow,as Clarence Brown's films always tended to be. The magnificent opening, with the cossacks invading the Walewski Palace, is typical of the best Clarence Brown, even if reminds you of Josef von Sternberg's "The Scarlet Empress". The trouble with the picture is that it starts telling the story or Marie Walewska, and in the middle leaves Walewska (and Garbo!) behind to tell us the political and military fall of Napoleon, which it does very badly. It is typical of this Garbo film, that its best scene omits her, and is a verbal duel between Charles Boyer and Maria Ouspenskaya. Garbo is magnificent, but Boyer was a more talented performer, and is the only actor ever to "steal" a picture from her. Magnificent production, a screen play that has no unity, and a direction that drags, conspire to make you admire Garbo, Boyer and Ouspenskaya during the first half, and sleep through the second.
  • CONQUEST (1937) directed by one of Garbo's favorite directors, Clarence Brown, is a movie that appears to have multiple levels of analysis. It is a historical epic, it is a romance, it is a Garbo movie and a Charles Boyer movie at the same time. Moreover, it is a Hollywood classic production from the days when art meant something more than automatic computerized techniques.

    I had usually wondered why many modern movie buffs turn to old films until I myself came across one or two true silver screen classics and fell in love with them. Now, for me, the most obvious answer to that question is that these films had a soul, they were made for beauty and passed this beauty to the world. In other words, they really had something to offer. However, they were also vehicles for stars. Among the actresses that still stands as a symbol of that cinema is Greta Garbo.

    Garbo, however, does not appear to be so good here as in her other films. She has a difficult role that, logically, occurs quite vague for the Swede. She portrays a very specific patriot, a Polish patriot, Marie Walewska whose love to her nation is psychologically torn by the love to a great conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer). He was, historically speaking, a great hope for the Poles since Poland did not exist at the map at the time and patriots hoped that by gaining Europe, he will help Poland rise again from the oppression of three neighboring empires. And that is mentioned clearly in the movie; yet Garbo turns out to be better in the romantic side of the role than in the historical one.

    Charles Boyer as Napoleon is perfect. He truly portrays an ambitious unstable character: proud, inconsistent, emotional, sometimes furious, strong yet easily broken conqueror whose psyche is built upon power and madness, upon courage and fear. He is the one who shakes the very fundamentals of Europe and, to the contrary, the one who is shaken within. His performance is truly one among the very best in the history of cinema and, as a result, his character is usually dominant in CONQUEST even though the film is not solely on Napoleon. There are roles everlasting, like Peter Ustinov's in QUO VADIS (1951), Garbo's in QUEEN Christina (1933), Bergman's in CASABLANCA (1942). So is it with underrated Charles Boyer's in CONQUEST (1937).

    Except for the aforementioned advantage of the movie, the historical events appear to be shadowed in the movie, directed towards background, like in many Hollywood movies of the time. Therefore, history is not a strong point of the film. Yet, the two other strengths about CONQUEST that should still be appreciated and cherished are stunning visuals and memorable moments. Clarence Brown was very good at directing elegant sequences in royal courts. He proved that in ANNA KARENINA a few years earlier as well as in other of his productions and that is exactly what we have here in CONQUEST: exceptionally beautiful picture of a "luxurious life" with lavish sets. Consider, for instance, the Schonnbrunn scenes or a visually symbolic pearl when the map of Europe is shadowed by the figure of Napoleon.

    As far as memorable moments are concerned, I most admired the romantic short scene when Napoleon tells Walewska "I love you" - such a well known sentence in cinema, yet presented in a beautiful way: snow falls as if it sealed their words. Among funny moments, the one worth considering is the hilarious conversation between Napoleon and Countess Pelagia Walewska: when she asks him who he is and he tells her "Napoleon", that does not make sense to her at all. I also laughed at the scene when Napoleon learns to dance with Walewska. Among the supporting cast, the performance that I find worthy attention is Dame May Witty's as Laetitia Bonaparte, Napoleon's mother.

    CONQUEST is a very beautiful film, a classic like many other movies of the time. However, as I have already mentioned, do not treat it as Garbo vehicle or your first Garbo movie for it is not. CONQUEST is the last film Garbo made with Clarence Brown, her last great love story but it is not at all similar to ANNA KARENINA or QUEEN Christina. CONQUEST is foremost an epic, a romance, a picture of sentimental patriotism and a Charles Boyer splendid manifestation of talent. 9/10
  • This has to be one of the most intelligent movies exploring the theme of power and its corrupting effects upon love. Napoleon (admirably played by Charles Boyer) is not shown as a complete monster or idealist, but as a man who gradually loses his humanity as he becomes consumed with dreams of universal power. Even at the end, he rejects a woman's love in order to become a legend, exiled alone in St. Helena.

    Greta Garbo does a really stirring job as the woman (Countess Marie Walewska) who genuinely loves him just for being a human being, and is distressed to see him corrupted by increasing dreams of worldwide domination, founding a new dynasty, etc. It is remarkable how she manages to avoid romantic clichés and deal in direct and honest fashion. In this respect, the movie seems remarkably modern.

    I really recommend this film to anyone interested in human relationships, not just French history. Garbo, as always, is as intelligent and humane as she is sexy, and has many interesting things to say. I still reckon her best performance is in Queen Christina, still this is not far short of it. You can feel the decades melting away just listening to her.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a classic film buff, age 57, I had never even heard of "Conquest," but now I have discovered this neglected masterpiece. Obviously, some viewers can't get the point of the film. If this sort of reaction was typical at the time of the film's release, and if audiences could not grasp Garbo's increasingly sophisticated choice of roles in "Ninotchka" and "Two-Faced Woman," the fact that she retired so early in her career becomes less of a mystery.

    Immediately after the Opening Credits, the text on the screen explains that this is the story of a love affair, not a historical dramatization.

    What is very surprising is that this affair began in a very striking way, which is never discussed, but rather ignored, or even distorted, in plot summaries. It presents an unflinching portrayal of loveless passion and loveless betrayal, and perhaps is too realistic to be welcome in a culture which glorifies the consummation of physical passion as an end in itself.

    Early in the picture, Garbo is an honorable married woman who has refused Napoleon's attentions and illicit overtures. She finally accepts a mission urged upon her by desperate Polish patriots, to use her feminine attractions as an inducement to prevail upon Napoleon to guarantee her country's independence. In a private audience with the Emperor, she declines the role of seductress and instead eloquently pleads her cause. But not only is her request ignored, but she is forced against her will to submit to him.

    All this is presented dramatically with great taste and subtlety, but the sober humiliation of her defeat is written all over Garbo's face at the beginning of the next scene. Stoically, she must then suffer even further as her older husband, robbed at once of his pride and the joy of his marriage, announces he will annul their union, and she will never see him again. There is a clear time lapse until her next meeting with the man who has ruined her life.

    "Conquest" does not become a romance, there are no swelling chords in the film score, there are no breathless avowals of rapture in the film at all until Napoleon's exercise of power - naked, self-absorbed, egotistical power, in this case over a woman - is replaced by the finer feelings of a man who has recognized shamefacedly his own weakness and comes to value someone who can offer him both forgiveness and love.

    The tragedy of power, turning eventually in Napoleon's make-up into blind megalomania, brilliantly portrayed by Charles Boyer, is treated expertly in the second half of the movie, although some reviewers have criticized this section as boring and slow-moving. On this basis, mercilessly probing psychological dramas such as "Macbeth" and "King Lear" are also a waste of time.

    Napoleon sees, but does not see, the self-sacrificing courage of the young revolutionary who attempts to kill him. He sees, but does not see, Garbo's shocked disillusionment at his cold-blooded calculations for a royal marriage. He sees, but does not see, the final, heartsick, angry despair of a dying soldier on the doomed, frozen march from Russia.

    And he sees, but does not see, his adjutant's wide-eyed expression, bordering on accusation, as the ship carrying Garbo and her son plows through rough seas leaving Elba. Napoleon has cut short her visit of reconciliation to send her on an errand to his secret allies, knowing that the carrier of his previous message has been murdered.

    The bottom line of "Conquest" is that a deeply-abiding, human love relationship co-exists with human frailty, and it is transfigured by human loyalty. In the lives of two people who are truly committed to each other, these and other disparate elements are the hidden currents. The world only sees a couple from the outside. The genius of Clarence Brown's production, and that of any creative artist approaching this classic theme, is to reveal the mystery of all these complexities and many dimensions, with the utmost sensitivity and respect.

    This is one of those films which is worth several viewings. It is for grown-ups. It is a truly beautiful piece of work by all concerned.
  • Some scenes in this film drag on too long and others are too wordy, but I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Boyer's performance as Napoleon Bonaparte. His slight accent accentuates believability. The same can be said about Greta Garbo's slight accent, but she is so stunningly beautiful I hardly noticed. She is also excellent in her last dramatic performance. There are two great scenes to watch for: the opening attack of the cossacks, riding their horses inside the stately home of Garbo and Henry Stephenson and wrecking it; and the ball at the palace in Warsaw, filled with noblemen and noblewomen adorned in gorgeous period clothing. (The gowns were designed by Adrian). Both crowd scenes are handled very well by director Clarence Brown. I was a little disappointed in the limited screenplay. Somehow, when I think of Napoleon I think of a grand epic such as "War and Peace," and not just his personal life. The only part of his war life you see is a brief scene of his retreat from Moscow in the harsh Russian winter. I was impressed by Napoleon's vision of a United States of Europe. He would have been delighted at the introduction of the Eurodollar this year.
  • mik-1918 September 2005
    Married Polish countess, Marie Walewska, falls in love with Napoleon Bonaparte, savior of her country. They engage in a passionate relationship lasting until his divorce from Empress Josephine is finalized and he is persuaded to marry into the Habsburg dynasty for political reasons.

    I watched this movie on Greta Garbo's 100th anniversary, and am moved to remark on her progress as an actress. I admired her fluidity as a screen presence, but she really came into her own in the mid-30s with great performances in 'Camille', 'Anna Karenina' and in 'Conquest'. Of course she looks awesome and wears a costume like no one else, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Just watch the marvelous scene in 'Conquest', where she, as the noble countess, greets her brother after a long separation. He comments on her hair which has grown longer, making it hard to pull, and she giggles and shrieks as they chase each other through the hallway. This is the most liberated Garbo ever was, and she is adorable.

    Charles Boyer is not to be outdid as Napoleon, and he has the meatier part of the two. He is mischievous and arrogant, impetuous and playful. You see the tyrant in Boyer's performance, just below the surface, waiting to be unleashed. His speech to Walewska about his dream of a United States of Europe obviously demands heightened interest in this day and age, and the quiet intensity, even solemnity of Boyer's delivery is brilliant. "I have signed many treaties, but this is the first time I am at peace", he tells her. Boyer's performance is many-layered and complex, neither hero nor scoundrel. Just very, very human.

    This has got to be director Clarence Brown's best film. I really liked 'The Eagle', his sprawling silent epic with Rudolph Valentino, but as a rule I find his other Garbo pictures, 'Anna Karenina' first and foremost, vapid and lifeless.

    I love a picture like 'Conquest' that affords detail in abundance, and I especially loved Maria Ouspensaya as Walewska' aging and dotty sister in-law who remembers nothing of the past 40 years. When she meets Napoleon in the parlor and he presents himself, incredulously, as the Empress of France, she smiles with tolerance, "This house is getting to be an insane asylum", she sighs, slightly scandalized. "Everybody who goes crazy thinks he is Alexander. If Alexander went crazy, who would he think he was?". "Napoleon, madame?", Boyer suggests.

    Watch it. And watch out for its release on DVD.
  • lugonian10 August 2013
    CONQUEST (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937), directed by Clarence Brown, is not a full-fledged biography nor grand scale remake of the four hour silent epic of director Abel Gance's French masterpiece, NAPOLEON (1927), though any attempt might have been interesting. Instead, this historical mini 112 minute epic indicates: "This is a story of an historic love. The imaginary detail supplied by the dramatist has not violated the spirit of this immortal romance." Starring the fine combination of Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer for the first and only time, CONQUEST, like NAPOLEON, falls into a lavish scale style, fortunately not at four hours. It does, however, equally balance these leading performers to the best capacity in screen entertainment. Reportedly a box office disappointment upon release, it was Boyer, not Garbo, who garnered enough attention to earn an Academy Award nomination, indicating Boyer was not just an ordinary Garbo co-star, but a logical choice to play Napoleon.

    Told in detailed title format, the first chapter reads, "January 1808, Eastern Poland" followed by rebellious horseback riding Cossacks invading and destroying personal property of the luxurious home of 75-year-old Count Wakenski (Henry Stephenson) and his attractive, younger third wife, Marie (Greta Garbo). Shortly after the intruders depart comes Marie's brother, Lieutenant Paul Pachinski (Leif Erickson) of the French Army, with news of the Emperor Napoleon and his Army arriving in Poland. Later that night, Marie leaves home just long enough to see and capture the attention of Napoleon (Charles Boyer) while standing outside a church. Chapter Two: "Two months later, at the Poniatowski Palace, Warsaw" - The Count and Marie attend a ball where Napoleon, after meeting with the Countess once more, attracts attention from surprising guests by being together on the dance floor. Though Marie consoles her husband of Napoleon's love letters to her, it is Senator Malachowski (George Zucco) who encourages her to accept Napoleon's invitation so he can free Poland. Having gone against her husband's wishes, Wakewski leaves Marie and annuls their marriage. Chapter 3: "The Castle of Finckenstein, East Prussia" - With Napoleon and his personal staff seeking shelter in the Wakenski home, Marie acts coldly towards the aggressive guest. Things eventually change as Napoleon's loneliness falls into Marie's own personal pattern. After Marie's brother learns of their affair, he loses all respect for them. Chapter 4: "Two years later, July, 1809, The Rue De La Houssaie, Paris" - Bonaparte's mother, Laetitia (Dame May Witty) confronts Marie of her son's intention on divorcing his wife, Josephine; Chapter 5: "Three Weeks Later, Schoebrunn Castle - Vienna" - Napoleon encounters an assassin; Talleyrand (Reginald Owen) encourages Napoleon to marry the Duchess Marie Louise of Hapsburg in order to have an heir of royal blood. The news proves disappointing for Marie; Chapter 6: "Two years later, December 1812, The Retreat of the Grand Army from Moscow through Poland," Napoleon and Army march through a stormy blizzard and encounter a half frozen soldier; Chapter 7: "Two years later, August 18, 1814, The Island of Elba" - After a defeat at Waterloo, Marie arrives with a surprise for Napoleon; Chapter 8: "One month after Waterloo, July 1815, The Port of Rochefemas, France." Napoleon goes into exile.

    In the supporting cast are Claude Gillingwater Sr. (Stefan, Marie's loyal servant); Alan Marshal (O'Ornano); C. Henry Gordon (Prince Poniatowski); and Scotty Beckett (Alexander). Maria Ouspenskaya should not go unmentioned as the Countess Pelagia, Wakewski's sister with memory loss. Her card playing encounter with Napoleon is as noteworthy as Napoleon telling Marie that, "You are the only woman whose favor I ever begged for." Aside from a smooth underscoring by Herbert Stothart, and impressive sets, CONQUEST, which often cries for Technicolor as well as extensive war battle scenes, the camera shows Garbo to great advantage on numerous occasions of her now mature, yet stunning beauty.

    No stranger to broadcast television prior to the 1980s, CONQUEST, with availability after-wards on video and DVD formats, remains a much underrated Garbo product. Interestingly, in the 1990 documentary, "The Divine Garbo," as hosted by Glenn Close, of all the Garbo films, CONQUEST did not get a single mention, almost as the movie itself never existed, which is quite unfortunate. CONQUEST may not be accurate in its historic account nor will it ever become a sort-after Garbo conquest in cinema history, but it's certainly worth exploring the next time it broadcasts on Turner Classic Movies. (****)
  • Considering this film is getting on for 70 years I must say it has stood the test of time exceptionally well. The art director has excelled himself with the very impressive sets and the black & white format captures the sad mood of those times when Poland was under the heel of almighty Russia. This is made clear in the opening sequence when the Russian soldiers invade the Walewski palace on horseback trampling and destroying the beautiful interior. Countess Maria (Greta Garbo) realizing the sorry state in which Poland finds herself agrees to plead with the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer)to save her country and give it independence.

    The dialogue which follows and continues through much of the film sounds very much like a series of political speeches, but even so Napoleon is mesmerised by this beautiful and sad Countess. They fall in love and spend as many nights together as his military manoeuvres permit. She divorces her husband the aging Count Walewski.

    Having seen this film I have come to believe that Charles Boyer IS Napoleon. He looks the part, acts with authority. struts about in his uniform and never goes out of character. Whenever i think of Napoleon in the future I will think of him as portrayed in this film. Although it is his film, Greta Garbo does have her moments. Watch her suppressed happiness as she is about to announce her pregnancy and the anguish that follows when Napoleon informs her of his intention to marry an Austrian Princess to produce a royal heir.

    This film is predominently a love story (and all the dialogue is imagined by the screen writers). It is not a documentary on the life of Napoleon and thankfully the war scenes are kept to a minimum. As for the love interest I believe the scenes they played together could have had more warmth and intimacy. It was not until little Alexander appeared that I was aware of any true love in their lives.
  • zeula2 January 2003
    Goodness, I can't believe, I'm saying this, but Garbo is good in ''Conquest''...... Here I was, complaining the other day, about Garbo's ''Inspiration'', and saying the only good performance she ever gave was in ''Ninotchka''...... I take that back now, so far, her good performances are given in both ''Ninotchka'' & ''Conquest''...... Garbo & Boyer displays well blend chemistry together...... (a surprise, since this is their only movie together) However, it's Boyer who carries off, and holds the movie together, w/ his charm & wit...... (during some flat spots) You could see, that Garbo is responsive to Boyer's performance/character, unlike her usual ''I want to be alone'' self...... What's more stunning, is Garbo smiles in this movie..... (more than once too!) That's enough good shock for me...... We do see a rare, lighthearted Garbo here, just like in ''Ninotchka''...... I would even say, that Boyer is Garbo's best co-star so far..... Charles Boyer & Melvyn Douglas......
  • This frivolous epic may be novelettish at best but it is also sumptuous and highly entertaining and with Garbo and Boyer in the leads it couldn't be anything less. He's Napoleon, (and Oscar-nominated for his performance) and she's a Polish countess called Marie Walewska, (the film's alternative title), with a husband over twice her age, (the great Henry Stephenson). Initially she just admires Napoleon but then falls in love with him, leaving her husband and risking scandal and the movie works as a likeable if trite romance greatly helped, of course, by the chemistry between its stars, both of whom are outstanding. A splendid supporting cast and the kind of art direction that only money can buy also go to making this something of a treat.
  • Halfway through this film, I started thinking how it almost seemed like the kind of film George Cukor would direct, with fussy attention to detail. Instead, CONQUEST is directed by Clarence Brown, a workmanlike craftsman who also tended to dwell too long on intimate and wordy scenes that lack enough spark.

    However, he does elicit fine performances from Garbo and Charles Boyer. Garbo is radiantly photogenic as the married woman, wife of an elder man (Henry Stephenson), who for the sake of her country gives herself to Napoleon (Boyer). And Boyer is every bit as convincing as the man destined for his Waterloo, acting the part with every bit of his abilities and often stealing the show.

    But what really steals the show is the lavish production MGM gave this story. The sets are opulent, majestic and large, looming over every frame of the film with no expense spared. The artful B&W cinematography captures every elegant detail of costumes and sets with breathtaking results.

    And the supporting cast is a sturdy one, including Dame May Witty, Reginald Owen, Maria Ouspenskaya, Alan Marshal and Leif Erickson.

    Garbo is livelier than usual, even smiling more often for her "gayer" moments when enthralled with being in love, and the chemistry between her and Boyer is evident from the start.

    It's too bad the film wasn't fully appreciated as one of her best films when it opened, but time has been kind to it. Despite some slow moments amid a longer than necessary running time, it's an historical romance played out in the Golden Age tradition of opulence expected from MGM.
  • Some say Queen Christina was Garbo's best role. Well, she's better in this than she was in Queen Christina. So, one might assert that this is her greatest role.

    So, why the lousy 6.8 rating? Today's fatuous audiences deduct for things like black-and-white, "old" actors and actresses (yes, there are actors and there are actresses), technical acting, ad nauseum.

    Conquest admittedly has its faults, in particular the horrendous editing - some kind of studio chop job - and I'd like to see the un-cut version. The pacing is also way uneven.

    Against that, however, is a part for Garbo that well suits her swooning delivery and one for Charles Boyer, as Napoleon, that well suits his tortured, manipulative cad persona. There's also a nice small part here for Henry Stephenson as Garbo's Countess Walenska's aged husband.

    Here's a solid story about Napoleon's other-other woman, the true love of his life.
  • "Conquest," a 1937 film directed by Clarence Brown, stars Charles Boyer and Greta Garbo as Napoleon and his lover, Marie Walewska.

    The film is based on the true story of Polish patriot Marie Walewska, a married woman who becomes the mistress of Napoleon with the belief that it will help her country gain its independence. The two have a great love affair, but politics intervene. The power of love becomes the victim of the love of power.

    "Conquest" is a little uneven and unsure of its plot. It begins very dramatically, with the Cossacks, horses and all, crashing into Count Walewska's (Henry Stephenson) palace. From there, we get the love affair and then Napoleon's battles, exile to Elba, and his return.

    The film isn't really a Garbo film; it's a rare film where she is secondary. Napoleon (Boyer) is really the main character. The love affair becomes secondary to Napoleon's battles, both political and on the field.

    Garbo is good, but I guess it's a little jarring not to have the film all about her. Boyer is fantastic - tough, passionate, conflicted, and ambitious, a man seen as a savior to some and a bully to others. Truly one of his greatest roles.

    Worth seeing for the cast, which also includes diminutive Maria Ouspenskaya, sets, and costumes.
  • This film reminded me of another MGM costume drama--MARIE ANTOINETTE. Both were late 30s MGM epics with lavish costumes and the full MGM treatment (the typical high-budget music, dialog, pacing, direction, etc.). And, both were pretty boring--at least to me. Now I know these films were well-received at the time and they both starred MGM divas (Norma Shearer in MARIE ANTOINETTE and Greta Garbo in CONQUEST), but didn't change the fact that these were very stagy and unengaging films. To put this in some perspective, I love movies from Hollywoods Golden Age and I am a history teacher and I still was bored to tears by the films. I think it is films like these that got students to really hate history! My advice--watch a documentary about Napoleon or watch a romance but don't combine the two into a static and unappealing film like this.
  • It is generally agreed that Greta Garbo reached per peak as an actress in 'Camille' in which she simply transcends the art of film acting. An opinion that is shared by this viewer who happens to be an avowed Garbomaniac. The script was superlative and Garbo herself in a positive frame of mind(by her standards anyway!)

    Her next film, her twenty-second in eleven years, could not, alas, afford a greater contrast.

    When the idea of a film depicting the relationship between Napoleon Buonaparte and Countess Marie Walewska was first suggested to Irving Thalberg he expressed doubts as to whether Napoleon would be of any interest to the average American cinema goer. He was also concerned that Marie would be a secondary character and unworthy of MGM's greatest asset. By the time the film went into production Thalberg had gone to the great studio in the sky but his doubts proved to be well-founded. It had the dubious distinction of being MGM's most expensively mounted sound film and the one that incurred the greatest losses.

    So as not to confuse viewers with too many syllables the title was changed from 'Marie Walewska' to the simpler 'Conquest'. The costume designer, Adrian, was heard to ask:"Who cares about Napoleon?" Throughout the production everyone seemed to be asking themselves the same question with the notable exception of Charles Boyer who was concerned that French audiences would not find his portrayal satisfactory. Director Clarence Brown, making his seventh film with Garbo, was frustrated by a script from various writers which seemed to arrive in dribs and drabs. Garbo herself was weary and seemed to have given up the ghost. She was also much thinner thanks to a daily consumption of a health food concoction called Bieler's Broth.

    Both Garbo and Boyer are consummate professionals and have some very good moments but are done no service by the ponderous script. Boyer has just the right touch of megalomania and Garbo's ability to convey 'thought' is mesmerising. The final farewell scene, written by Charles MacArthur, is beautifully understated.

    Karl Freund is behind the camera in the absence of William Daniels and the score is by MGM regular Herbert Stothart. The exodus of Napoleon's army from Moscow is accompanied, naturally, by Tchaikovsky's '1812'.

    Great supporting cast as one would expect and a gem of a performance from Maria Ouspenskaya as a senile Countess. As Marie's elderly husband Henry Stephenson epitomises nobility whilst Reginald Owen as Talleyrand epitomises duplicitous diplomacy.

    For Garbo, the death of Thalberg and this film's failure turned out to be two devastating blows to the career of this magnetic, magnificent artiste. Despite the triumph of 'Ninotchka', the catastrophic 'Two-faced Woman' further hastened it's demise.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    CONQUEST (MGM 1937)

    The film belongs to Boyer, who gives quite possibly his best performance. As Napoleon Buonaparte, he brings the complex man to life with a many-faceted performance that deservedly was nominated for an Oscar - the first of four for Boyer. Ably assisting him is Garbo as his mistress, Marie Walewska, one of four women who spiraled around this enigmatic man (Desiree Clary, who went on to become Queen of Sweden and Norway; his first empress, Josephine Beaumarchais; Walewska; and Maria Theresa of the Hapsburgs; his second empress).

    Marie, the third wife of an elderly count, became Napoleon's mistress after his disillusionment with Josephine, and according to this script, remained loyal to him even after he divorced Josephine and married into the Hapsburgs to secure a royal line of succession. Garbo gives a luminous performance, full of love and devotion, and would have been Oscar nomination worthy for this performance alone, had not her even more divine CAMILLE given her that recognition that same year.

    The MGM production is top notch with Oscar-nominated Art Direction, superb direction by Clarence Brown, and sumptuous costumes. The score is derived from Tchaikovsky (Symphony #6 and 1812 Overture). There are 28 scenes beginning in 1807 and ending in 1815. This is a domestic Napoleon with news of his conquests and defeats coming in from the outside, as is fitting. Amazing to think that a mere 8 years separated him from being on top of the world to exile.

    Reginald Owen is unrecognizable as Talleyrand, under a wig and a Broadbent nose. Dame May Whitty brings rustic charm to her portrayal of Napoleon's mother, but it is Maria Ouspenskaya, who steals the film. In only four scenes she establishes her character as mother to the Walewska Count Marie has married and in an hilarious scene, in which she plays cards with Napoleon, she is able to discount his identity (she only remembers the Louis reign) and angrily accuse him of cheating. Would she had been in the film longer. We yearn to have her return.

    CONQUEST is a superb piece of historical drama with great production values and a brilliant Boyer performance at its heart. Highly recommended.
  • The 'plot summary' for this film really sums up the storyline, but there are so many other nuances going on here. CONQUEST co-stars the amazing Garbo as the MUCH younger wife of a Count ( Henry Stephenson ) and Charles Boyer. What other french-man would they have play Napoleon? He meets the countess on his way up, and cajoles her into being the mistress, which of course gives grounds for the breakup of her marriage. The awesome Ouspenskaya is in here as the batty old aunt Pelagia. Some comedy, as the crazy old aunt plays cards with Napoleon but refuses to belive an emporer could displace the king, and she insults him over and over. Ouspenskaya didn't make that many films, but in so many roles, she played the serious, heavy handed old woman with a past. The story has the Countess reluctantly "spending time" with Napoleon, purely "for the good of the country", but who knows how much of that is accurate. She did leave memoirs for her family, and some information can be found on Wikidepia . The trivia section says that this film was a HUGE money-loser for MGM, but maybe that was due to the length of the film, almost two hours. or maybe the subject matter was distaste-ful for a public that had just accepted the film production code. Napoleon's mom played by the fun Dame May Whitty. Apparently, a good chunk of this story actually occurred. For a period piece, it's not so bad. Some parts are a bit silly, but it does tell a story. Garbo only made two more after this. Near the end of her film career. Of course, she WAS nominated for the next one... Ninotchka. For those interested in when and where "Countess Marie" died, please visit the wikipedia link.
  • jazza9237 March 2010
    61/100. This film was a failure at the box office and notable as being the film that started Greta Garbo's downfall in Hollywood. The production is superb. The costumes, art direction, cinematography and the score are all first rate. Greta Garbo is only fair, Charles Boyer overacts quite a bit as Napoleon, not one of his better performances. I know Hollywood is know for fictionalizing a bit in their movies based on real people, but Conquest takes it a little too far. It's too talky, and that brings about some very slow stretches. Pretty much everyone is miscast, particularly Dame May Witty and Maria Ouspenskaya. Director Clarence Brown's films usually have a good pace, this is an exception.
  • jucsetmai4 November 2020
    Warning: Spoilers
    Good movie good time the 1937 coming soon on Warner Archive Blu-ray release December
  • SnoopyStyle18 September 2020
    Poland is caught between Napoleon Bonaparte and Russia. Polish Countess Marie Walewska (Greta Garbo) has caught the eyes of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer). With Napoleon's mounting demands, Polish nobles are desperate for him to grant them independence. They recruit Marie to become his mistress and gain influence.

    This is a lavish costume drama. It has Garbo and Boyer who earns an Oscar nomination. There isn't much to the plot other than following history. It needs to be a chess match between Marie and Napoleon but that is not the feel of this. The writing is oddly simple until the one big scene between the two leads. They have big dramatic acting. The last half hour saves the movie before it's too late.
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