Set against the backdrop of Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia, King Vidor's adaptation of the Tolstoy sprawling classic stars Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezhukov. Despite the vast scope of the author's detailed portrait of the classes, regions, and characters of Russian society, he was able to draw on his own experience as a soldier in this campaign, capturing the chaos and confusion of battle in its terrible immediacy. Both the immensely wealthy Pierre and his friend Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrer), members of an aristocracy of warriors, become disenchanted with the unheroic truth of war. As he says, "The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and darkness." The reflective, unhappily married Pierre is a seeker after truth, wracked with doubt about himself, about the purpose of the war, and about the destiny of the human race. It is only in his love for the enchanting Natasha (Audrey Hepburn) that the ruminative protagaonist can find the meaning that he sought for so long. The film suffers from a leaden script and the 54-year-old Fonda is seriously miscast, but it is worth watching for the excellence of the panoramic battle scenes alone, directed by Mario Soldati.
King Vidor's film is an all-star version of Leo Tolstoy's literary masterpiece. This epic tale takes place during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the years 1805-20. While these calamitous historical events unfold, a variety of characters from various classes and cultures tries to deal with their own personal dramas. Whether peasant or prince, soldier or gentlewoman, each person undergoes a search for happiness and self-knowledge...and each one ultimately finds a different answer.
Big Battles |
Period Piece |
Theatrical Release |
Theatrical release: August 2, 1956.
Filmed in Lazio and Rome, Italy.
Estimated budget: more than $6 million.
Count Leo Tolstoy published WAR AND PEACE in 1869 after taking six years to write it.
The film was theatrically released in the Soviet Union two years after its completion, in 1958.