Like all Hollywood biographies, Desiree needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Especially regarding historical accuracy. Having said that, however, it’s a very interesting film. It weaves the lives of four people and two countries together.
Desiree is setiIn Marseilles, France in 1794. Young Napoleon Bonaparte (played well by Marlon Brando) is engaged to Desiree Clary (Jean Simmons). She is a young lady with a sizable dowry. Due to her family’s business. Although attracted to her, he’s more attracted to her money. And how it can help advance his political career. But while in Paris, he turns his affection to the beautiful Josephine Beauharnais (Merle Oberon). Her political connections can do more for his career. And so he becomes engaged to Josephine …. Without bothering to notify Desiree.
Desiree tracks down her missing fiancee. With the help of General Jean-Baptiste Berandotte (Michael Rennie, in another fine performance). She enters an exclusive party where Napoleon is … And she finds out the hard way that he’s engaged to another woman. She throws champagne on her rival’s dress. Then, Desiree storms out, weeping inconsolably … Although Berandotte tries to console her.
Marriage to Berandotte
After two years of looking for her, Berandotte finds Desiree again. And he asks her to marry him … Before he’s shipped off to one of Napoleon’s wars. Napoleon has risen through the ranks, and played the political games. He is becoming Emperor of France. He marries Josephine … Although years later, since she has produced no heirs to the throne, he feels forced to divorce her.
Wars and exile
Berandotte is unexpectedly offered the position of (adopted) prince …. And heir to the throne of Sweden. This causes friction between the two old friends … And eventually, two wars — and Elba.
In short, Desiree is a very enjoyable historical drama. It’s elevated by some very good performances by very good actors;. Desiree is strongly recommended, and I grade it as a B+
- Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront).
- Desiree Clary (Jean Simmons, Guys and Dolls, Spartacus, Divorce American Style)
- Josephine Beauharnais (Merle Oberon, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Pimpernel)
- General Jean-Baptiste Berandotte (Michael Rennie, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 5 Fingers)
- Joseph Bonaparte (Cameron Mitchell, High Barbaree)
- Julie, Désirée’s Sister (Elizabeth Sellars, The Mummy’s Shroud)
- Paulette Bonaparte (Charlotte Austin)
- Madame Bonaparte (Cathleen Nesbitt)
- Marie (Evelyn Varden)
- Madame Clary – Désirée’s Mother (Isobel Elsom)
- Talleyrand (John Hoyt, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes)
- Despreaux (Alan Napier, The Mole People)
In Marseilles, France in 1794, Desiree Clary (Jean Simmons), a young millinery clerk, becomes infatuated with Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando). But winds up wedding General Jean-Baptiste Berandotte (Michael Rennie), an aid to Napoleon. A man who later joins the forces that bring about the Emperor’s downfall. Josephine Beauharnais (Merle Oberon), a worldly courtesan marries Napoleon. She becomes Empress of France. But is cast aside by her spouse when she proves unable to produce an heir to the throne. …Desirée (1954)