In 1937, MGM was looking for "a Napoleon who wouldn't wither in the bright rays of Garbo's sheer presence." They certainly found him in Boyer.
That Conquest was a Garbo vehicle from day one is evident in the fact that the working title was 'Marie Walewska', the Emperor's mistress.
Yet as scriptwriter S.N. Behrman noted: "What Charles Boyer accomplishes in his portrayal is the issue of his own intelligence and his own magic. He didn't have a lot of help from the script, although he had help, and inspiration, from Garbo."
Boyer was nervous about playing the great historical figure, saying, "I was fearful that to the French people no performance of Napoleon Bonaparte, not even a perfect one, would be satisfactory."
However, the general consensus upon the film's release was conveyed by The New Yorker: "For the first time, Garbo has a leading man who contributes more to the interest and vitality of the film than she does."
The film holds up well today through sheer star-power and the beautiful direction by Clarence Brown. As Marie, Garbo is luminous; in Napoleon Bonaparte, Boyer takes a complex legend and makes him a human being.
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