A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Old Soak - and a bit of a shock

Final soak in the Simple Green, Matron
Today I rescued some old French cavalry from the Clean Spirit soak - this was their second stage soak - they'd already had a preliminary rub down with the toothbrush about a week ago, after the first soak. They came out very nicely. I also had a few getting a heavy-duty second soak in Simple Green, since the first soak in Clean Spirit hardly damaged the shine - this is usually a sign of polyurethane varnish, though it might sometimes be a sign of Plastidip, which is very bad news in Strip Town.

The Simple Green has worked OK, so a good scrub and those few are back in for a final "therapy"  soak - should be a couple of days.

Next load - you can even re-use the Clean Spirit; here's a bunch of assorted Bavarians
I put in to soak this afternoon - I'll have a look at them in 10 days or so
All this probably sounds like routine, but the mere fact that stripping has become something of a routine is still a source of considerable satisfaction for me!

After this morning's blog post (on the subject of the manufacture of resin buildings) I had a further think about the chap I knew who had a resin scenery business, but had to close down because the chemicals damaged his lungs. Now I also remembered that for a while his business partner in this venture was another chap I used to know, one-time owner of the only decent model shop this side of Edinburgh. He was quite a character - he did some Napoleonic figure painting for me, and he was well known locally because he used to run Saturday morning workshops at his model shop for kids - to teach them about Warhammer gaming and figure painting.

It occurred to me that I hadn't seen him or heard from him for quite a while, and that he might have some ideas or contacts, so I did some searching online to see if he is still in business. Well, in fact it turns out he isn't. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015 for stabbing someone to death in an argument.


This is absolutely true, by the way. I'm more than a little shaken by this belated discovery, and I am very relieved to be able to say that I never fell out with the fellow at any time, even though I wasn't thrilled with his painting. Good grief.

Anyway, I now have a number of units in the cupboard - some British dragoons, some skirmishers of the 5/60th and a load of French cannons, which were painted by a convicted murderer. It's not as good as figures painted by Peter Gilder, but it is a potential conversation piece.

Vauban Fort update - a hesitant toe in the water

Low-grade photo of my current half-fort from the old Terrain Warehouse range
I've mentioned a few times over recent years that I was keen to augment my collection of bits for my (15mm scale) Vauban fort. I have enough parts to make just over half a complete fort (on a hexagonal plan). I bought these - cast and finished (painted & flocked - including glacis sections) from Terrain Warehouse, maybe 9 years ago. Nice - as far as I can trace, no-one ever really produced anything to match it. Henry Hyde once described this range as "the Rolls Royce" of siege toys in this scale.

Two bits of bad news:

(1) The range was never complete - I had some correspondence with TW back then about providing drawings for some extra sections - garrison buldings, gates, a ravelin with a bridge etc.
(2) Terrain Warehouse stopped production - the range was sold on.

I have spent some years trying to keep tabs on who had the moulds, and what they intended to do with them. The current owners manufacture a wide range of products, and they are rationalising. I learn this morning that they have decided that the Vauban Fort is not one of the items which will be continued. The word is that they might be open to offers for the moulds and, since the manufacture uses an expanding foam product, the moulds come with a frame to hold the parts rigid during curing.

In context - with extra buildings (not in range) and 20mm figures - a useful piece of kit
A couple of thoughts here:

* The most sensible approach for me here might be simply to shrug, and resign myself to scratch-building any future fortress expansions
* On the other hand, it does seem a pity to let these things disappear.
* I have no experience of (nor facilities for) resin casting - I did, however, have a friend who had to pack in his business and retire because he damaged his health running exactly this type of cottage industry...
* There are many unknowns - I have no idea what sort of price the current owners would be looking for (not huge, I think), I have no idea at all of the current state of the moulds - or where they are. Basically I have no idea about anything.
* I said it was a toe in the water.

I'm looking for some input here. Anyone have experience of working with these materials, or a tame, air conditioned workshop just waiting to start up, or any thoughts at all, really?

This is not necessarily a vision of a crack-pot start-up or a business venture - though such a thing is not out of the question if there is interest and it makes sense. If someone with a current manufacturing capability would like to take these on, or talk about them, that would be useful. What I am NOT looking for is for someone to take the stuff on, and then shelve it as commercially unviable. We've already been through that - a few times, in fact.

At that point I would just go back to the scratch-building plan...

This is not a hustle. As a first priority, I have no wish to mess anyone about - not the current owners, nor anyone else - especially myself. If you wish to get in touch, without commitment, email me at the address in my Blogger Profile, or send a comment here, which I shall not publish if it is sensitive or confidential. I'm interested to see whether we can save these things from disappearing, but only if it makes any sort of sense.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

D'Hubert and Féraud - one more time

Ah yes, D'Hubert and Féraud - The Duellists. Further to my previous post, having become a little itchy on the subject, I decided I would finally make some sort of effort to find out a little more of the true story on which the film was based - just for my own amusement, you understand, and - since I get bored quickly - don't expect too much to come of this.

If you haven't seen Scott Ridley's movie then you should be ashamed of yourself - go and watch it immediately, and come back when you've done so...


The film is based on Joseph Conrad's short story, The Duel: A Military Story (published in the US as Point of Honor), which is reputedly based on fact - I started off by downloading the complete works of Conrad for my Kindle (for the princely sum of £0.88 for the lot - no-one can accuse me of stinting this project). I read The Duel yesterday (while listening on the radio to Liverpool FC hanging on to win at Leicester), and noted the differences between it and the movie screenplay - not much, really - just details - the sort of film-maker's licence you'd expect - in fact Scott seems to have been unusually faithful to the text, which is a testament to the quality of the original narrative.

Next stop was a quick squint at Georges Six's Dictionnaire Biographique, which has a lot on François Fournier-Sarlovèse (that's the madman Féraud in the movie), but it's all very businesslike; I also read the section on him in Robert Burnham's Charging Against Wellington - he seems to have been a throughly disreputable fellow - intriguer, thief, breaker of hearts, torturer of prisoners and - of course - legendary duellist. Burnham mentions only one known opponent, a General Poinsot - the references include Charles Parquin's biography, and Parquin was actually on his staff for a while.

Fournier-Sarlovèse, in his pyjamas
You don't need to spend very long online, of course, before you find that the story which is the basis for the legends, for Conrad's short story and the film is Fournier's long-lasting dispute with Pierre Dupont, which is variously reported as having consisted of between 13 and 30 separate duels, and to have spanned a period of some 16 years - the last duel being in 1813. Some of the stories I turned up are quite complex - none of them have much in the way of documented support though.

Unusually bad day at Baylen

One thing which I am rather embarrassed to have failed to realise previously was that it was that Pierre Dupont - Dupont de L'Etang - most famous as having had a conspicuously bad day at Baylen in 1808, when he became the first of Napoleon's generals to be defeated by the Spanish army. His career never recovered, really.

Headbangers?: Fournier and Dupont
Next I tried to form some kind of framework of dates of promotion, and of where the two alleged protagonists were stationed at various times - in other words, how feasible is it that they managed to get together frequently enough to keep this splendid effort going over a period of 16 years? I didn't follow this through fully - Fournier was born in 1773, Dupont in 1765; Dupont's career progressed rather more rapidly, so their ranks would have been out of step for a lot of the time, meaning that it would have been illegal and (more importantly) incorrect for them to have fought each other during these periods. Disappointingly, the last great duel (with pistols) is supposed to have taken place in 1813 (the film places it in 1816), but Dupont was imprisoned from 1812 to 1814, which might be a problem.

I decided, eventually, that I had quite enjoyed my reading but the actual evidence is mostly pretty flaky - these gentlemen, I'm sure, did fight one or more duels during the period, and the story has become very famous. Why risk spoiling a good yarn? - I'll happily settle for the popular version.

Dupont seems to have been a cultured man - he was Louis XVIII's Minister of War for a while, he was the author of a number of books, and wrote several volumes of poetry, including translations of the odes of Horace. Fournier seems to have been very brave, very bad-tempered, and to have received the benefit of a lot of doubt because General Lasalle thought highly of him as a leader of cavalry.

Unless I attempt any of the 1808 Andalusia campaign, Dupont is unlikely to appear on my tabletop in 20mm form; Fournier, however, was commander of a brigade of dragoons in Spain - the 15eme and the 25eme, which brigade is sitting in my cupboard as I type this. I understand that he was one of the generals Marshal Marmont sent packing when he took over in 1811, but there is still a good chance that he might get into one of my Peninsular War battles - especially if he promises to wear that very understated uniform...

Back to the movie - D'Hubert with General Treilliard, who is most definitely
in my Cupboard
It would be fascinating to know where Joseph Conrad picked up the story. If you happen to know, maybe you could mention it. If it turns out that it says where he read it, further down the same Wikipedia entry, please spare my blushes and move on. Dupont also produced an unpublished, unfinished autobiography, I understand - I don't suppose it's in Google Books?

* * * * * * Late Edit * * * * * *

All right, all right - under pressure from a supposed friend, I am prepared to add a little more of the story. This is taken from Andrew Steinmetz, The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries, vol. 2, published 1868. You may, like me, think that it has the authentic ring of Total Bollocks, but you may find that, as bollocks goes, this is not without some entertainment value. [I can cut and paste with the best of them - and some of the best of them, let's admit it, are damned good]:

A Duel lasting Nineteen Years.

This most curious duel was brought to a termination in 1813, after lasting nineteen years. It began at Strasbourg, and the cause of the protracted fighting was as follows : —A captain of hussars, named Fournier, who was a desperate duellist, and endowed, as the French say, ” with deplorable skill,” had challenged and killed, on a most frivolous pretence, a young man, named Blumm, the sole support of a family. At the event the entire town put forth a cry of lamentation — a cry of malediction on the murderer.

The young man’s funeral was attended by an immense multitude, and sympathy was felt for the bereaved family in every household. There was, however, as it happened, a ball at the quarters of General Moreau. The ball was expressly given to the citizens of Strasbourg, and the General, apprehensive that the presence of Fournier might be offensive to his guests of the evening, charged Captain Dupont, his aide-de-camp, to prevent him from entering the ball-room. He accordingly posted himself at the entrance, and when Fournier made his appearance, he exclaimed, ”Do you dare to show yourself here?”

“The deuce! what does this mean?” asked Fournier.

”It means,” replied Captain Dupont, ” that you ought to have understood that on the day of the funeral of poor Blumm, it would have been only decent to remain at home, or certainly not to appear at a reunion in which you are likely to meet with the friends of your victim.”

”You mean enemies; but I would have you to know that I fear nobody, and that I am in a mood to defy all the world,” said Fournier.

”Ah, bah! You shall not enjoy that fancy to-night; you must go to bed, by order of the General,” rejoined Dupont.

”You are mistaken, Dupont;” said Fournier, ”I cannot call the General to account for insulting me by closing his door upon me, but I look to you and to them, and I am resolved to pay you handsomely for your commission as door-keeper which you have accepted!”

”Oh, as for that, my dear fellow, I’ll fight you when you like. The fact is, your insolent and blustering behaviour has displeased me for a long time, and my hand itches to chastise you!”

”We shall see who is the chastiser,” said Fournier.

The duel came off, and Fournier was laid on the grass with a vigorous sword-thrust. “That’s the first touch,” he exclaimed as he sank. “Then you wish to have another bout, do you?” asked Dupont.

”Most assuredly, my brave fellow, and before long, I hope,” said Fournier.

In a month Fournier got well; they fought again; this time Dupont was grievously wounded, and in falling he exclaimed, ” That’s the second. As soon as possible again; and then for the finish.”

The two adversaries were about equal with the sword; but with the pistol the chances would have been very different. Fournier was a frightful crack shot. According to M. de Pontecoulant, often when the hussars of his regiment were galloping past smoking, he amused himself with smashing their short pipes between their lips!

I have seen some wonderful doings with the pistol. I have known a determination to hit a certain part of the adversary, and it was hit. I have seen hens held out by the hand of a negro, hit by a pistol bullet; but the feat of hitting a pipe in the mouth of a galloping horseman is beyond my comprehension. If Fournier could do that, then Dupont was perfectly justified in refusing to try him at that game, as he proposed. They fought again with swords, but the finish was not forthcoming; it was only a slight wound on both sides; but now they resolved to continue the contest until either of them should confess himself beaten or satisfied. They drew up formal terms of the warfare, as follows:

1   Every time that Dupont and Fournier shall be a hundred miles from each other, they will each approach half the distance to meet sword in hand.
2  Should one of the contracting parties be prevented by the duties of the service, he who is free must go the entire distance, so as to reconcile the duties of the service with the exigencies of the present treaty.
3   No excuse whatever, excepting those resulting from military obligations, will be admitted.
4  The present being a bona fide treaty, cannot be altered from the conditions agreed upon by the consenting parties.

This contract was religiously executed in all its rigour. Moreover, the contracting parties found no difficulty in keeping their engagements; this state of war became to them a normal condition, a second nature. Their eagerness to meet was like that of two lovers. They never crossed swords without first shaking hands in the most boisterous manner.

Their correspondence during this periodic duel is the essence of burlesque. Take the following:

”I am invited to breakfast with the officers of the regiment of Chasseurs, at Suneville. I hope to be able to accept this pleasant invitation. As you are on leave in that town, we will take advantage of the opportunity, if you please, to get a thrust at each other.”

Here is another, less familiar, perhaps, but not less tender:

” My dear friend, — I shall be at Strasbourg on the 5th of November, proximo, about noon. Wait for me at the Hôtel des Postes. We shall have a thrust or two.”

Such was the style and such the tenor of the entire correspondence.

At intervals, the promotion of one of them provisionally interrupted the meeting; this was one of the cases anticipated by Article 3 of the treaty. As soon as they got on an equality of rank in the service, the party last promoted never failed to receive a letter couched in the following terms, written by Fournier.

”My dear Dupont, — I hear that the Emperor, doing justice to your merit, has just promoted you to the grade of Brigadier-General. Accept my sincere congratulations on a promotion, which by your future and your courage is made natural, a mere matter of course. I have two reasons for exultation in this nomination. First, the satisfaction of a fortunate circumstance for your advancement; and secondly, the facility now vouchsafed to us to have a thrust at each other on the first opportunity.

They afterwards became generals. Dupont was ordered to join the army in Switzerland. He arrived, unexpectedly, in a village occupied by the staff, and which had not a single inn or tavern in it. The night was dark. Not a light was seen excepting at the window of a small cottage. Dupont went to the door, entered, and found himself face to face with Fournier.
“What! You here?” exclaimed the latter rapturously. ” Now for a thrust !”
They set to at once, conversing as they fought.

”I thought you were promoted to some high administrative function?”

”You were wrong; I am still of the trade. The Minister has sent me to the Fourth Corps d’armee, and here I am.”

”And your first visit is to me ? It is very kind of you. Sacrebleu!”

Dupont drove his sword through Fournier’s neck, and held him spitted to the wall, saying, ”You will admit that you did not expect that thrust!”

Dupont still held him fast, and Fournier muttered, ”I’ll give you a thrust quite equal to this.”

”What thrust can you give?”
”Why, as soon as you lower your arm, and before you can parry, I shall lunge into your belly!”

”Thank you for the hint. Then we shall pass the night in this position.”

”That’s an agreeable prospect ! But, really, I am not very comfortable.”

”Drop your sword, and I set you free.”

”No, I must stick you in the belly.”

Meanwhile some officers, attracted by the noise they were making, rushed in and separated the two generals.

Thus the contest continued, the contract being faithfully fulfilled on both sides. At length, however, Dupont thought of marrying, and he set his wits to work to find out how to make an end of the engagement. He must either kill Fournier, or muzzle him effectually. He went to him one morning ; it was at Paris.

”Ah!” said the latter at seeing him, ”Glad to see you. Let’s have a brush together.”

“A word first, my dear fellow,” said Dupont. ”I am on the point of getting married. We must end this quarrel, which is becoming rather rancid. I now come to get rid of you. In order to secure a definitive result, I offer to substitute the pistol for the sword — there!”

”Why, man, you are stark mad!” exclaimed the dead-shot Fournier, astounded by the proposal.

”Oh, I know your skill with the pistol, mon ami . . . But, let me tell you, I have hit upon a plan which will equalize the conflict. Here it is. Near Neuilly there is an enclosure, with a little wood in it. It is at my disposal. My proposal is this. We shall enter the wood, each provided with a pair of horse- pistols, and then, having separated, and being out of sight of each other, we shall track each other as best we can, and fire at our convenience.”

”Capital ! Agreed !” exclaimed Fournier ; but let me give you, mon vieux, a little piece of advice.”

”If you please,” said Dupont.

”Well, don’t go too far with your marriage project. It will be time and trouble lost; for I warrant you’ll die a bachelor.”

”They who win may laugh,” said Dupont.

On the day appointed Fournier and Dupont set out in their hunt. Having separated, and got out of sight of each other, as agreed, they crept about or advanced like cautious wolves or foxes, striving to catch a glance at each other through the thicket, whenever the motion of the leaves showed their presence.

All at once, as though by a common movement, both came in sight together, standing behind two trees. They squatted down, and thus remained for a few minutes. The situation was delicate - critical. To stir was certain death, to one of them, at least. Dupont, however, was the first to make the attempt, or rather to pretend to do so. He raised the flap of his coat, and allowed one end to project out of cover. Bang! came the bullet in an instant, cutting through the cloth.

“That settles one shot,” ejaculated Dupont, with a sigh of thanksgiving. After a short interval, Dupont returned to the charge, but this time on the other side of the tree. Holding his pistol with his left hand, he presented the barrel, as though about to fire, and at the same instant he held out his hat with his right hand. Bang! came another bullet, driving the hat into the bushes.

“Now, my brave, it’s all up with you !” exclaimed Dupont, stalking out, with both pistols in hand and cocked ; and marching up to Fournier, he said: —
“Your life is at my disposal, but I will not take it.”

“Oh, just as you please about that!” muttered Fournier.

Dupont continued: “Only you must remember that I do not give up my right of property in it. Beware of ever crossing my path again, for if you do, I may probably put my two bullets into your brains, as I might this instant.”

Such was the termination of this long quarrel of nineteen years, ending with the marriage of one of the parties, who contrived at last to beat the unapproachable crack-shot at his own weapon.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Late Night Napoleon

Since domestic life is currently a bit unpredictable (as a result of the Contesse being engaged pretty much full-time getting her mother settled in a new home, in another town - a story for another time - in the pub, for preference), I've been watching DVDs late in the evenings for the last week or two.

A few days ago I watched Scott Ridley's super The Duellists for the umpteenth time - always a delight. Knowing the end of the story actually makes for a more relaxed experience. I haven't watched it quite as many times as Bondarchuk's Waterloo, I believe, but it must be getting close.

I've also taken the opportunity to revisit some other Napoleonic titles - some that I've promised myself I would get back to, and a couple that I may never have watched before - at least I didn't remember much of them. [Three upsides of failing memory are (1) no repeats on TV; (2) you make new friends every day; (3) no repeats on TV.]

A couple of nights ago I watched Sacha Guitry's rather quirky Napoleon from 1955. My viewing experience was a little hampered by my having the only edition I could afford - this has dubbed English dialogue, and it is (I think) a Korean-manufactured version which is so heavily compressed that the picture quality is nostalgically reminiscent of those pirated video tapes we used to watch in the last century - or somebody watched them - your grannie will tell you.

Sacha Guitry hosts The Talleyrand Show
The story is threaded together by the rather interesting idea of having the scenes from Napoleon's life narrated (at a social evening) by an elderly Talleyrand (played by Guitry himself). Once you've got used to the strangely detached dubbed speech, and - in my case - the fuzzy pictures, it goes along quite well. Good show at the Coronation - very snazzy. Battle scenes were hampered by lack of resources, but they were mostly cameo shots of a victorious flag, or similar. One major hiccup for me was that they use two different actors for Napoleon, Daniel Gélin as young NB, and Raymond Pellegrin as an older imposter later on. They do not look remotely similar. They even make a feature of the changeover - young, slim Napoleon sits down for a haircut, and after it everyone remarks that he looks completely different. Yes - he does. Never since the glorious Plan 9 from Outer Space has there been such a show-stopping continuity failure.

Before and after that haircut

One thing that I was struck by was the scene where the marshals confront Napoleon and ask him to abdicate - this looks, and plays, so like the similar scene at the start of Waterloo that I would guess Bondarchuk was very familiar with the earlier movie. Anyway, overall I rather enjoyed it - I wouldn't mind a better-restored copy, but I might well watch it again. I mean - Jean Gabin as Lannes - Yves Montand as Lefebvre - you have to watch it again, don't you?

Last night I watched Abel Gance's Austerlitz from 1960. No complaints about the picture quality here - superbly restored, and the original film was very heavy on the composition and photography - no expense spared, beautifully filmed, and the Coronation in this film blows Guitry's (which certainly wasn't bad) out of the water. The visual side of things is hardly impaired by the presence of Claudia Cardinale, Lesley Caron and numerous other delectable ladies in the roles of Napoleon's assorted sisters and mistresses - and we even get Anna Moffo singing, which was an unexpected treat. Yes - all that is splendid - sumptuous, in fact.

Claudia is Pauline - and she'll punch your nose quick as look at you
I have to admit at this point that one problem for me was the dialogue. I read French pretty well, but my understanding of spoken French is helped greatly if there is a teacher at the front, writing it down in chalk on the board. So I am a subtitles man. English subtitles, of course, if they have them (many French films do not), but I can manage well enough with French subtitles - you know, for the hard of hearing (pardon?). This DVD is advertised as having just French subtitles, but they only kick in when Kutuzov and his chums are speaking Russian, or when Pitt and Fox and those other rascals are speaking what I can only assume was supposed to be English. The rest of the time I was left to flounder on, picking up the gist of what was going on. In fact, it wasn't too bad - I sort of managed, though I might have some difficulty explaining exactly why Napoleon was so offended by what Pauline said at the soirée after about an hour.

The film lasts almost 3 hours, which is a little gruelling if you are struggling with the lingo, but it went well enough for me to list it for another viewing fairly soon. The role of Napoleon is played by Pierre Mondy, who is basically a comedy actor - he seems to have been chosen because he was short, and because he produces a number of fantastic, bravura tantrums; this is the most vase-throwing, screaming Napoleon I have seen - is this what he was like? Should we be glad that Gance never made a biopic about Hitler?

The military stuff. Hmm. One has to rise above the petty outrage of their using the wrong belt-buckles or sword knots (or whatever). They did a brave job of putting on the battles, though the instantaneous cuts between outdoors and very-obvious-sets-in-a-very-big-hall jar a bit at times. Given the inevitable difficulty of staging a massed battle with a limited number of extras (Bondarchuk, remember, did not have this problem with Waterloo), it's quite spectacular, but I really didn't understand much of what was going on. I must watch it again, if only for the actual Austerlitz bit at the end. The director was obviously very taken with shots of formless crowds of cavalry racing across the fields, usually with a marshal galloping about 200 yards in front, waving his sabre (this may be why there were so many openings for promotion). There is relatively little infantry action.

I confess that I am not completely clear on all this. At one point Lannes (I think) is leading some charging cavalry (which includes the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard), and he clashes with the enemy, and then Murat (with some more charging cavalry, also including the Guard Chasseurs) appears on his left, and things are going swimmingly. Meanwhile, Soult, who is itching to get involved, is sent by Napoleon, with very explicit instructions where to advance and so on. As far as I could see, Soult was then leading another cavalry charge. I'll suspend judgement on this until I've watched it again.

The French won, of course, but the biggest surprise for me came at the end. Having spent the day galloping around sunlit fields, the defeated enemy were suddenly retreating through a winter scene - snowfields - and (unwisely) opted to retreat over a frozen lake. You'll never credit this, but the French artillery put some cannonballs through the ice, and - yes, that's right - there was much spectacular footage of limber teams and foot soldiers falling through the ice. Good heavens, I hear you gasp. [Discuss] 

This all started because I had intended to re-run the French TV mini-series of Napoleon (that's right - the one with Dupardieu and all that lot), which has been sitting waiting for me for a couple of years - I'll get to it, but in the meantime I'm rather enjoying being distracted.

Albert up the Alps
One serious commitment, of course, is that I need to make a decent attempt at watching the re-issue of Gance's 1927 classic, Napoleon (great title), for which I now have the greatly enhanced 2016 edition, with fabby music score by Carl Davis, wonderful digital restoration, lots of extra material somebody found somewhere - what's not to love? Also the magnificently smouldering Albert Dieudonné as the ectomorphic (and apparently quite tall) young Napoleon - this is compulsive viewing, except...

Well, to be ignorant about it, I need drugs to get through it. It weighs in at 5-and-a-half hours and it was, of course, a silent film, so that the acting is a bit extreme throughout. In fact, you get the hang of that, and Davis' score helps greatly with the silent bit - quick example: at one point young Rouget de Lisle is stood up before the Revolutionary crowd, and the scene becomes a complete tour de force as the whole place joins in fervent singing of his new hit, La Marseillaise. Quite how this scene would have worked in the silent version is a point of interest, but of course the new musical score fills it out nicely.

The problem, for me, is that Gance was obviously obsessed with the possibility of making very long scenes, in this virtually unlimited-scope sortie in what was still a new and largely experimental medium. Some of these scenes almost seem to have been left to run, in the hope that they eventually become interesting, or maybe in hope that the relatively unsophisticated cinema audiences of the day might eventually get the idea of what was happening. I can, of course, accept all this for what it is, though 15 minutes into the snowfight at Napoleon's school I was definitely getting twitchy. No - I will make a proper effort at watching the whole thing - I need to check the diary for a consecutive run of evenings, and give it a go. If Napoleon could conquer most of Europe, I'm certain I can get through a damn movie.

A couple of trivia items - there is a cameo appearance by Beethoven in both Gance's 1927 film and Guitry's 1955 one; and Orson Welles, apart from playing Fat Louis XVIII in Waterloo, also appears as Hudson Lowe (boo, hiss) in the Guitry movie, and as Robert Fulton, the American inventor, who appears in Gance's 1960 effort, trying to interest Napoleon in his ideas on steam-powered warships - this all rather earlier than Trafalgar.

[You will gather that I am not an expert in this field. I know so little, in fact, that I even talk about "films", in the plural, rather than "film", in the approved singular.]