I will go further. This was comparable To James Agee's Lincoln (OMNIBUS) Orson Welles' The Fountain of Youth, The greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone and the Honeymooners, Marty, Patterns, The Comedian, Twelve Angry Men, Sam Peckinpah's Noon Wine (And "Line Camp" from The Westerner, , The Fabulous Fifties, the Chief Dan George episode of Kung Fu, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and "Postmodern Prometheus" (Kung Fu)My World and Welcome To it, "Fall-out" (The Prisoner) and the best routines of Ernie Kovacs. This episode didn't just PUSH the envelope: It BROKE IT.
Waterloo! Is any battle more famous, or more proverbial? With a superb score, a remarkable eye for detail, and stunning overhead shots. ( Not to mention an entire Soviet Army division ), Bondarchuk recreates the highlights of the Napoleonic battle to end all Napoleonic battles. ( Quite literally.)As far as I can tell, the only historical flaw is that The film makes it appear that Wellington's army was exclusively composed of British redcoats, ( Incidentally, one of the best British regiments wore GREEN coats.)when they were only about a third of the "Iron Dukes" polyglot and multi national army. The Kings German Legion, The Dutch, The Danes, the Hessians and the Belgians, are conspicuous by their absence.)
However, what really makes this film stand out is the excellent acting, beginning with the protagonists. Steiger, with his " New York School " method acting, captures the many shades of Napoleon's character: the brilliance, the rages, the sudden bouts of lethargy, the volcanic Corsican eruptions of love and hate.Plummer, the Canadian product of Stratford in the fifties when Sir Tyrone Guthrie was its guiding spirit, brings a very different style to a very different figure. Plummer's Wellington is dry, ironic, skeptical, a man of extraordinary coolness under fire, whose outward stoicism is relieved by sudden flashes of humor and even compassion. He has a job to do. He does it admirably, and at the end, he has lost all stomach for war. Dan O'Herlihy is superb as Ney, a man of extraordinary courage- and absolutely no judgment. Jack Hawkins, sadly at the end, still captures the gruff doggedness of Picton. Finally, there is Welles. This is from the phase of his career when he would do five minutes as Cardinal Wolsey, then five minutes as General Dreedle, all to raise enough money to somehow, someway, finish Don Quixote. Its Tuesday, so Orson is " working for the Russian on the Waterloo thing", doing five minutes as Louis the Seventeenth- and doing it magnificently, playing the corpulent shadow of the Bourbon dynasty as more of a tragic figure than buffoon.
A tremendous effort. Somehow, poor marketing, studio interference and the poor taste, historical ignorance and general stupidity of the American cinema going public lead to box-office failure, which had even more tragic consequences. Kubrick's proposed biopic on Napoleon was not green lighted, thus depriving the world of what should have an even greater film than Gance's Napoleon.
The socio-economic context in the book and the film is CLASS , and class conflict.Golf began as a game for aristocrats. In the very first scene, aristocrats confiscate the young Harry Vardon's family farm to build a golf course. Twenty years later, the humbly born Vardon is the greatest golfer in the world. Vardon is a self-made gentleman who infuriates the British golf establishment by picking the uncouth Ted Ray as his co-representative for Great Britain at the !919US Golf Championship. Ouimet himself is an social outsider, a working-class youth who stuns the US golf establishment by his superb play, which culminates in a three way playoff who determine the championship. Ouimets eventual upset win created an international sensation, In addition, the book and the film have a moral context as well. They both celebrate the virtues of true sportsmanship; courage, loyalty, perseverance, and hard work. They also show that true aristocracy is a matter of merit, not birth. The humbly born Vardon and Ouimet- even the Falstaff-like Ted Ray, possess more truly aristocratic qualities than the aristocrats of the gold establishment.
On top of all that, this is a well-acted, expertly directed, and superbly edited and shot film. In short, this is the best sports films, ever.
I just saw it again in an uncut, restored version on TCM. To be honest, I can see no fault in this movie. The direction ( by Peter Hunt, who as far as I know ], did not direct another significant film in his life - His credits include such immortal series' as "Tucker's Witch") was excellent. The acting is terrific and pitch perfect, by a cast that almost never appeared in major motion picture's again, was very fine. I was amazed to notice the likes of William Hansen, ( who I only knew from a single "Slattery's People" episode.) and Dark Shadows regulars David Ford and Emory Bass in a feature film. I notice carping critics who say that Willam Daniels looked nothing like John Adams.( other than his height). Who cares? He TALKED like Adams, THOUGHT like Adams and FELT like Adams.
Finally,l there are the songs and the script. I noticed people saying that there were no memorable songs. Are these people tone-deaf? "Molasses to Rum", "look Sharp", the magnificent " Can Anybody Hear', the poignant duets between John and Abigail: ( Incidentally, EVERY word in those songs was lifted from the actual letters of Abigail and John.) these are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Then there was the script. It was witty, thoughtful, literate and erudite. This film is testimony to the fact that America was not only founded by bloodshed; it was founded by intelligent , sometimes painful argument. This show was not simplistic patriotism. No one who heard Molasses to Rume could think that. I hope to use this film with my American government students. It is one of greatest films about America-and one of the wisest films about politics- I have ever seen.