“Désirée” (1954)

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Co-stars: Jean Simmons, Merle Oberon, Michael Rennie, Cameron Mitchell

Character: Napoleon Bonaparte

This sure was a movie! It was hard as hell to find too- took up my entire evening yesterday, which is why I’m behind the 8-ball in my posts. It hasn’t been released on DVD to buy, and I managed to find 2 VHS copies, both extravagantly expensive. But I digress. I need to focus- after all, who else is going to explain what Brando’s balls look like through terrible white trousers? No one, that’s who. I’m your only source for that dubious… pleasure? Experience. Let’s go with experience.

The movie starts with Désirée Clary running home, late for dinner. She has just met a young man named Joseph Bonaparte, and has invited him and his brother home for dinner the next night. That night, she meets Napoleon, a general of France’s army. She swiftly falls for him, even though Napoleon admits to an interest in her large dowry. Soon, they are seen in Désirée’s family silk shop, when Napoleon is arrested there on the spot. They take him to Paris, where he is told to hunt down Royalists. He returns to Désirée as soon as he is released, and asks her brother for her hand in marriage. He tells him no, in no uncertain terms. Napoleon disregards this, and asks Désirée herself to marry him. She says yes, and before you can say “IT’S A WEDDING”, Napoleon asks to borrow money from her, and is off to Paris.

He is gone for several months, as Désirée waits patiently, preparing for their nuptials. She listens in on his sisters, who discuss his fabulous new life. Angry, Désirée storms out and towards Paris. There, she is seen trying to enter a marriage ceremony but is blocked from entrance, which is where she meets Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. She asks him to escort her into the wedding, which he does, impressed by her boldness. Inside they separate, where she goes off in search of Napoleon. She is shocked to find that he is the man about to be married, to the well connected Joséphine de Beauharnais. After tossing champagne at Joséphine’s dress, she rushes off and considers killing herself. Jean-Baptiste follows her, and asks to call on her, but she turns him down. She returns home, heartbroken.

"Do you find my skin tight silk pajamas sexually arousing?"

What I have failed to mention, is that Désirée’s sister, Julie, has married Napoleon’s brother Joseph.  Because of this, she returns to Paris with them for one of Napoleon’s soirees. He hones in on her, and begins to flirt in his dubious manner. She is clearly uncomfortable, and looks as if she may gag or cry. Maybe she has had a flash from the future of Napoleon’s silk pajamas? Regardless, Jean-Baptiste is also at this party, and also zeroes in on her. He rescues her from Napoleon, and they go on walk over a bridge, where he kisses her. They are swiftly married, and she is swiftly with child, and then that child is swiftly born, and then that child is swiftly a toddler. Meanwhile, Napoleon has been rising to power, and is now the Emperor of the French. Naturally, his clothing has gotten more ridiculous. He also continues to hit on Désirée, much to the chagrin of Jean-Baptiste. And Désirée. And probably Joséphine.

Napoleon is soon divorcing Joséphine because she cannot give him a child, even though he allegedly knew this before their nuptials. He is to be wed to Marie Louise of Austria, an 18 year old girl. However, not before he takes the opportunity to flirt with Désirée in his incredibly ridiculous pajamas. Jean-Baptiste is approached by representatives of the Swedish monarchy, seeking to adopt him as their heir, having not had on their selves, and believing him to be a man able to stand up to Napoleon. Désirée is stunned to find that she will one day be a Queen, and the couple are off to Sweden, but after they renounce their citizenry of France to Napoleon, he is rather unimpressed. However, Désirée fails at Queen camp, and soon chooses to head back for France.

Eight months after returning, she finds herself at a ball celebrating the birth of Napoleon’s son. It is there that he decides to announce her as a hostage, unless Sweden cooperates in his campaign to invade Russia. Sweden does not cooperate. Napoleon invades Russia, annnnnnnnnnnnd……………. well. We know how that ends up going. Napoleon returns to France from the front and heads to Désirée’s home, and asks her to write a letter to Jean-Baptiste seeking his help. It’s then that she realizes that Napoleon still loves her. Jean-Baptiste chooses to not help Napoleon, overthrows his rule, and is reunited with Désirée. Napoleon is exiled to Elba, but the movie doesn’t end there. Check your history books to figure out the ending.

"This isn't acting. This is how I feel about having to make this movie."

After the great success that was On The Waterfront, why did Brando make this movie? The answer is simple- it was this or serious legal action. He had initially been locked in to make a film known as The Egyptian, but hating the concept and dreading the production, he went on the lam. He stayed in a variety of East side hotels under the name Myles Gahan (his maternal great grandfather’s name), stayed with friends, changed his style of dress, all to avoid the film. There were even private investigators in pursue of him (and I’d like to picture Dog the Bounty Hunter at it too).  He returned to his apartment in New York to retrieve personal items when it had finally quieted down, and that was how he was picked up. By U.S. marshals. His absence caused the production of the film to halt completely, costing the studio large sums of money. He was given two choices: a lawsuit, or starring in Désirée.

He chose Désirée, but he wasn’t happy about it. He was petulant on set, and gave uninspired performances. Eventually, he was given the warning to smarten up, or ship out. Not willing to call the studio’s bluff, he got in line and finished the movie. It went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards (art direction and costumes), and didn’t completely suck. It should be noted that this movie was based on a book, and is only somewhat historically accurate. The film is simply dated, and doesn’t display the incredibly high caliber of acting Brando was known for. Therefore, I give this… a chin resting on a fist. Huh.

OH! You wanted to know what Brando’s balls look like through a pair of ridiculous white pants right? Yeah. They look like a pair of balls through a pair of ridiculous white pants. They sure were balls.

Quotes: “Have you ever heard of a thing called destiny, Désirée?”

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