Armand Assante in Napoleon & Josephine: A Love Story
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Marlon Brando in Desiree

Grenadier Roland (Il granatiere Roland)

Original poster for the Italian release of Il granatiere Roland.
Release Year: 1911
Country: Italy
Director: Luigi Maggi
Writer: Arrigo Frusta
Cast: Alberto Capozzi, Mary Cléo Tarlarini, Giuseppe Gray, Arrigo Frusta, Gigetta Morano, Norina Rasero, Ernesto Vaser, Mario Voller-Buzzi
Sound mix: Silent
Company: Società Anonima Ambrosio
Film length: 374 meters (around 15 minutes)


tory: Compiled (and quoted) from various sources, see reference list, below. Roland (Alberto Capozzi), a grenadier in Napoleon's (Arrigo Frusta) army, has been following the French colors through their victorious progress through the whole of Europe and is getting homesick. He leaves the army and returns home looking forward to reuniting with Helene (Mary Cléo Tarlarini), his fiancée, but learns that she thought he had been killed and has since married Henry (Giuseppe Gray), an officer on Napoleon's staff. While sitting in an Inn, Roland sees his ex-fiancée and her husband walk by a window. Distraught, he seeks forgetfulness by re-enlisting with his old regiment.

At the siege of Moscow, Roland encounters his former sweetheart. An impassioned conversation between the two is halted by the intervention of her husband. After the battle, Helene goes to Roland's camp and asks him to help her find her husband, who was wounded in the fray. They find him and carry him to a lean-to where the wounded are being treated.

Napoleon's troops retreat through the Russian winter.
Moscow burns and Napoleon's army retreats through the snow. Roland is able to show the depth of his love, and throughout the weary retreat he is ever near the girl whom he loved in vain. He gives her his coat to ward off the freezing cold and aids her wounded husband. Napoleon's army trudges through the snow and suffers the onslaught of the merciless Russian winter. At last, the hovering Russian army draws in on the fleeing French soldiers, and in order to give Helene and her husband time to escape, Roland and some of his comrades remain behind.

As the girl and her husband, along with the balance of the pitiful remains of Napoleon's Grande Armée, make their escape, the Russians attack and Roland and his companions take a desperate stand on a small bridge over the Berensia River. Hopelessly outnumbered, they fall dead before the oncoming bayonets. After it is all over, their bodies lay stretched out in the snow while crows circle ominously overhead.

Napoleon (Arrigo Frusta) watches his troops retreat.


omment: Grenadier Roland made quite an impact on audiences in 1911. Unlike many movies of the time, it was not filmed in a studio with painted backdrops, but on location in the Piedmont Alps in Northern Italy. Critics were carried away by the realism, and were a bit effusive in their praise. Press releases boasted that the film was made with 2,000 extras, though more sober accounts put the number at 600 men on foot and another 100 on horseback.

The Ambrosio film company came into being in 1906, founded by Arturo Ambrosio and Alfredo Gandolfi. It was one of the most prolific Italian film studios of the silent era, releasing around 200 films a year at its peak. It gained recognition for its historical dramas with Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii (The Last Days of Pompeii) in 1908 and Nerone (Nero) in 1909, both directed by Luigi Maggi, who also directed Il granatiere Roland (Grenadier Roland). Alberto Capozzi and Mary Cléo Tarlarini, the stars of Grenadier Roland, were leading actors in the Ambrosio company.

The part of Napoleon was originally intended for Oreste Grandi, a fine actor who proved unsuitable for the role. In his place, Arrigo Frusta (pen name of Piedmont lawyer Augusto Ferraris), the scenarist for the film, shaved his moustache and played the part. Frusta was the writer for many of Ambrosio's films and had his hand in directing a number of them, but his turn as Napoleon was his only screen appearance.


istorical Context: From the various accounts of Grenadier Roland in the newspapers of the day, it would appear that the critics were of the opinion that it accurately portrayed the events of Napoleon's taking of Moscow and his army's disastrous retreat. Presumably, the battle described as being a part of the "siege of Moscow" was intended to be the Battle of Borodino, but I have not been able to confirm this supposition.

Availability: A damaged, incomplete copy of Grenadier Roland is reportedly held by the BFI, but it has not been made available on video or DVD. A clip lasting a few seconds showing the French troops trudging through the snow is included in the first episode of Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's excellent documentary, Cinema Europe - The Other Hollywood (1995).

References: IMDb; Wikipedia; BOOKRAGS STAFF. "Ambrosio", 2009, August 12 2010; British Film Institute (BFI); Enciclopedia del cinema in Piemonte; The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, November 5, 1911, Fort Wayne, Indiana; Poverty Bay Herald, October 10, 1911, Gisborne, New Zealand; Mattei, Jean-Pierre, Napoleon & le cinema: Un siecle d'images (French Edition), Ajaccio, Editions Alain Piazzola, Cinémathèque de Corse, 1998.

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© 2010 by Clark J. Holloway.