Vitagraph’s “Napoleon”, 1909

Napoleon and the Empress Josephine (aka Napoleon, the Man of Destiny)
R: J. Stuart Blackton. D: William Humphrey. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1909
Print: Desmet collection
Dutch titles, Engl. subtitles

“To successfully depict even a portion of the dramatic scenes and incidents in the life of such a man as Napoleon, is a task of great magnitude. To succeed as admirably as the Vitagraph has done in its late effort is to be commended. Sometimes manufacturers have made the mistake of following too closely the written records of such characters. Undoubtedly it is better to suggest rather than follow slavishly. Generally a character is known by some salient development, and the character of Napoleon is one of these. But beyond the fact that the character is admirably suggested, the scenario is a marvel of historic accuracy. The manager of the company went to France for the express purpose of obtaining accurate information for this purpose. That he did so is shown by the picture itself. Both the characters of Napoleon and Josephine are presented with fidelity and power. The film opens with a scene in a garden in the West Indies, where the young Josephine is told by a fortune-teller that she will be queen. The next scene is where Napoleon and Josephine meet for the first time. The historical accuracy of the uniforms and costumes in this is interesting. The setting is beyond description. The divorce itself, the final parting, and, last of all, the memories of Napoleon at Malmaison, are all good. Of all the ambitious attempts of this house none has succeeded so admirably as this. It is a pity that the daily changes give it only a short run. It should have more.”
The Moving Picture World, April 10, 1909

“Given Napoleon’s popularity among social formations whose members probably did not normally attend the nickelodeon,  Vitagraph may have hoped to lure in new viewers or at least gain a certain measure of social cachet for the studio. As the laudatory reviews suggest, the Napopeon films may well have garnered Vitagraph a certain status within the industry. And they would certainly have performed well in the European export so vital to Vitagraph’s financial health. The films may also have been an extension of Blackton’s social and cultural obsessions, allowing him to travel to France and to impress his friends.”
William Uricchio, Roberta E. Pearson: Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films. Princeton University Press 2014, p. 157