This lavishly costumed historical epic had an estimated $100 million price tag. Spectacularly photographed battle action contrasts with often plodding individual scenes that bog down the plot. Fearing his growing power, European monarchs force Napoleon Bonaparte (Rod Steiger) to abdicate as Emperor and retire to Elba, and the French are concerned they will be outnumbered by a force of combined armies from many countries in Europe. Napoleon no sooner says goodbye to his loyalist troops than he begins to rally his men and prepare for another takeover. King Louis XVIII (Orson Welles) sends Marshal Michel Ney (Dan O'Herlihy) and his men to counter Bonaparte, but upon seeing his old commander (and ally), Ney thrusts his sword to the ground and takes up arms with the deposed emperor. They all return to Paris by popular demand, defying the orders of Louis (who flees from the palace) and running the monarchy tout seul. Soon England, Austria, Prussia and Russia unite to try and stop the dictator. Wellington (Christopher Plummer) readies his troops near Waterloo, refuses to retreat anymore, and waits for Prussian Marshall Blucher (Sergei Zakhariadze) and his army to join up with the British as the only hope to stop the French juggernaut. Jack Hawkins and Michael Wilding portray key military commanders Picton and Ponosby, respectively. Napoleon and his troops cut into the Prussian and British forces dramatically, weakening their power, but three problems arise. First, Ney refuses to lead his segment of the troops onward; and second, Bonaparte's men are plagued by the wet weather, which causes
the cannon brigade to become immobilized in mud (when Wellington strategically gives Bonaparte's troops the lower ground) rendering it ineffective until late in the day. And even more calamitously, Bonaparte - growing increasingly ill -- insists on leading his men from the rear, which causes the information to become outdated as soon as it gets to him. The Russian version of this film was nearly four hours long, while western audiences saw an edited version slightly over two hours long. Unfortunately, Waterloo bombed at the box office.
Dan Pavlides, www.allmovie.com