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Desiree (1954) starring Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando, Michael Rennie,  Merle Oberon

 Like all Hollywood biographies,  Desiree needs to be taken with a grain of salt, regarding historical accuracy. Having said that, however, it’s a very interesting film. It weaves the lives of four people and two countries together.

In Marseilles, France in 1794, a young Napoleon Bonaparte (played well by Marlon Brando) is engaged to Desiree Clary (Jean Simmons).  She is a young lady who has a sizable dowry due to her family’s  business. Although attracted to her, he’s more attracted to how her money can help advance his political career. But while he’s 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.

Missing fiancee

Desiree tracks down her missing fiancee. With the help of  General Jean-Baptiste Berandotte (Michael Rennie, who turns 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. After throwing champagne on her rival’s dress, Desiree storms out, weeping inconsolably … Although  Berandotte tries to console her.

Marriage to Berandotte

After two years of looking for her,  Berandotte finally 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, played the political games, and 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, elevated by some very good performances by very good actors; 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)


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)

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