(1956 c 208')
Adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s novel, three Russian families live through the Napoleonic wars learning about relationships and life.
At the beginning of the 19th century the French army led by Napoleon moves from western Europe to the east. Russian soldiers march through the streets of Moscow. Prince Mikhail Rostov (Barry Jones) and Pierre Bezukhov (Henry Fonda) watch them from windows and talk. Pierre says his father his dying. Rostov tells him he has a home there whenever he wants. Natasha Rostova (Audrey Hepburn) comes to a window and talks to Pierre. She says only men have fun; but she cries when she realizes they are marching away to fight and be killed. In the house Nicholas Rostov (Jeremy Brett) tells Sonia Rostova (May Britt) not to be frightened. Natasha runs to her brother Nicholas and admires his uniform, and he promises to bring her something from Austria. Natasha introduces Sonia to Pierre, who remembers her. Natasha decorates Nicholas, and young Petya Rostov (Sean Barrett) wishes he were old enough to go. Pierre wishes Nicholas good luck and shakes his hand, and he asks Pierre why he does not take a commission. Natasha says she would present all problems for Pierre to solve, and he asks why him. She says because his heart is pure, and he is good. Pierre says he would hesitate if he had power, and he leaves. Natasha walks downstairs with him and says there are currents in her family. She asks if he is going to Dolokhov’s room and lets him go to his fascinating debauchery.
At Dolokhov’s party Russian soldiers are dancing and drinking. Pierre is drunk and throws a bottle through a window pane. Dolokhov (Helmut Dantine) offers a bet that he can drink an entire bottle without stopping while standing on the outside ledge of the window, and he bets Anatol Kuragin (Vittorio Gassman) fifty. Pierre gets on the window frame and pushes it out with his body, and it falls several stories to the ground below. Dolokhov stands on the ledge and tells the band to play. Without taking the bottle from his lips he drinks it all as the band stops playing. They cheer when he is done. He asks who else will do it, and Pierre says he will. Pierre stands on the ledge, but Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrer) comes in and tells him his father is calling for him. Pierre comes down to leave, and Andrei tells Anatol that Pierre’s father will not last the night.
Pierre and Andrei walk on the street, and Pierre wishes that his father had married his mother. Andrei tells him he is not living up to the best in him. Pierre says his father cannot quite acknowledge him. Pierre says he is disgusted each morning with what he did the night before. He thinks of becoming a saint, but he is easily tempted. Andrei asks what he wants to do. Pierre says he wants to discover the value of suffering and what men say when they go to war and what men and women feel when they really love. Pierre says Andrei always knows what he is to do. Andrei says he is wrong; he is going to the war because he is married to an honorable woman and cannot stand it. He warns Pierre not to marry, or he will be wasted on trifles. They go into the room where people are mourning, and they see Helene (Anita Ekberg), who asks Andrei if her brother Anatol is coming. Andrei says he is not coming. Prince Vasili says they are giving him extreme unction. He tells Pierre to go in. Pierre watches the ritual and kisses his father’s hand. His father gives him a box, and Vasili says he wants to sleep. Pierre goes out and tells Andrei that at the end he loved him. Andrei opens the box and finds a letter to the Czar and one to Pierre, who asks him to open it. Andrei reads that his father wants the Czar to know that Pierre is his son and the heir to his entire estate. Vasili tells Helene to kiss her cousin Pierre, and she does so.
Pierre goes back to Moscow in a stage with Helene and Vasili. They stop by a river crossing, and Andrei greets Pierre, who says his estate is huge. Helene is helping him. Andrei asks him to speak to his wife Lisa Bolkonskaya (Milly Vitale), who talks with Helene. Andrei asks Pierre if he is going to ask Helene to marry.
At home Mary Bolkonskaya (Anna-Maria Ferrerro) greets her brother Andrei and Lisa. Andrei goes up to see his father, Prince Bolkonsky (Wilfrid Lawson), who is working at his desk. Lisa gives Andrei a medallion and makes him promise never to take it off. Andrei asks his father to send for a doctor when his wife’s baby is due. His father gives him a letter for Mikhail Kutuzov whom he is asking to keep Andrei away from headquarters. He warns Andrei not to shame him. Andrei asks him to raise his son if he is killed. His father sternly tells him to go. Andrei goes out, and Lisa begs him not to go and embraces him. Andrei says goodbye to Mary.
Natasha is drawing a horse, and Pierre offers her a million rubles to paint his portrait. Petya rides off on the horse, playing at war. Pierre asks he if she has heard from Nicholas. She says war must be a great pleasure, and she puts it on her list of pleasures. Pierre finds pleasure in believing in God and in love. She is not ready to surrender to love yet, and he says she will change. She asks him to dine with them tonight, but he says he is dining with Helene. He says he is going to marry her, and Natasha asks who is surrendering. She orders Pierre to be supremely happy and rides off.
At night Nicholas brings a message to Kutuzov, and Andrei tells him to give it to him. Nicholas says it is a verbal message and tells him. Andrei goes into the war council, and Field Marshal Kutuzov (Oscar Homolka) tells them to have a good sleep before the battle. They all leave except Andrei, who asks him how the battle will go. Kutuzov says men like Napoleon can never stop.
Kutuzov and Andrei on horses survey the battlefield, and Kutuzov orders the men to charge. He sees men running away and orders Andrei to stop them. Andrei gets them to turn around and charge again. Andrei lays wounded on the field, and Napoleon (Herbert Lom) sees him and orders his doctor to take care of him.
Pierre in a robe caresses Helene in bed as she is waking up. He gets the morning paper and sees they lost again; an armistice was signed. She asks what difference it makes and says it is boring. She says the army will be coming back, and Moscow will be gay and exciting. She asks if they can stay in Moscow, but he says he has work to do. She tells him to go to the country, and she will join him in the spring. He needs her, but she says she has to buy clothes. He walks out.
Russian soldiers are returning, and Petya asks why they are cheering them for losing. Nicholas comes in and embraces a servant. Natasha sees him and rushes into his arms. Petya jumps on his back. He embraces his mother, Countess Rostov (Lea Seidl). Nicholas kisses Sonia.
In the morning Nicholas comes out of his bedroom in his nightshirt, and Sonia runs away. Natasha tells him that Sonia said she will love him. She warns him not to marry her because he must. Natasha says she may never marry.
At night in the snow Andrei comes home limping. He finds Lisa in bed and kisses her. She asks why she has to suffer. The doctor tells him to leave her. He hears her scream, and a baby cries. He goes in and finds that Lisa died. He goes to his father, who cries.
At an opera intermission Nicholas and a friend see Helene flirting. Nicholas says her husband is in the country.
Pierre reads a letter warning him that his wife has been seeing Dolokhov.
At a dinner Anatol and Dolokhov laugh and propose a toast to Pierre. Dolokhov snatches a paper that Pierre is reading, and Pierre splashes him in the face with his drink.
In heavy snow Pierre and Dolokhov prepare for a duel with pistols. Dolokhov says he has no apologies. They begin to advance. Pierre stumbles and shoots Dolokhov, who falls and shoots at Pierre but misses before he passes out.
Helene mocks Pierre as her hero; but she says he is a fool because Dolokhov is not her lover. Pierre suggests they separate, and she agrees and says he will have to pay her a fortune. He tells her to get out.
Pierre visits the Rostov home, and Rostov tells him that Dolokhov will recover. Pierre says he wants to leave Moscow and get away from men who kill. He says he was convinced of his wife’s guilt but asks if that is a reason to kill. He says he is the only guilty one because he married her without loving her. Rostov suggests they all go to his place in the country. He rouses his family to leave that night.
They ride in sleighs across the snow at night, and Denisov sings. Pierre embraces Natasha.
In the spring Andrei rides a horse. The Rostovs are hunting, and Pierre rides over to invite Andrei to join them. Andrei sees Natasha, who persuades him to do so. They follow the dogs in the hunt.
That night Pierre talks with Andrei, who calls the Rostovs thoughtless animals. Pierre advises Andrei not to be a hermit. Andrei says he feels remorse because he let Lisa die. He found glory stopping a retreat for five minutes. He wants to forget all that. They say goodnight. Andrei goes out on the balcony and listens to Natasha talking to Sonia about him. He smiles, and she says he almost never smiles. She feels like flying away.
The Rostovs are going into a ball, and Natasha tries to look disdainful at her first ball. She makes Nicholas promise not to dance with her. He says no girl will ever be able to amuse him as much as she does. Natasha watches couples dance, and she is afraid nothing will happen. An older man asks her to dance, but the music stops. Natasha is thinking of Prince Andrei and wishes he were there. Suddenly he is there and asks her to dance. They dance a waltz twirling. Rostov dances with his wife, and Nicholas dances with Sonia. Andrei tells Natasha that this is the first dance he has come to in two years. She hopes he will visit her, and he says he will. He asks if she wants to fly away, and she learns that he heard her. A young man asks her to dance, and Andrei thinks about her. He says if she smiles at him, she will be his wife. Natasha smiles at Andrei as she dances.
In her nightgown Natasha gets into her mother’s bed and complains that Andrei has not been there for five days. Her mother tells her to be patient and wait for a proper proposal. Natasha says she is a little frightened and asks if it is love. She says it must be fate. Her mother tells her to pray because marriages are made in heaven.
Prince Bolkonsky tells his son Andrei to be reasonable and says her family is nothing. He says Rostov used to chase women, and now he is a bad gambler. Andrei says they are happy. His father reminds him that he is much older than her. He begs him to put it off for one year and go on the peace mission to Napoleon. It is his last word.
Natasha wonders if she will be the wife of this prince her father admires. Andrei comes in and says he loved her since he first saw her. She says she loves him, and he kisses her. She cries and says she is happy and kisses him. Andrei says one year is not too long, and he wants her to be sure. He will be in Poland for a few months. She is happy and says they have the rest of their lives.
At Tilsit in Prussia on June 13, 1807 Napoleon meets with Czar Alexander to discuss a peace treaty.
Natasha and her father call on the Bolkonskys. Mary says her father cannot see them yet because he does not feel well. They decline tea, and Prince Bolkonsky comes in wearing a robe and says he did not know they were there. He asks them to excuse him and says he does not like Moscow. He walks out. Mary tells Natasha that her brother has found happiness.
At an opera Rostov, Natasha, and Sonia sit in a box. Rostov talks to Helene in the next box. Anatol points out Natasha to Dolokhov, who says she is not his type. Anatol stares at Natasha and nods to Helene, motioning for her to help him meet Natasha. During the next intermission Helene asks Rostov to let Natasha sit with her. Helene tells Natasha that all the women are jealous of her. Anatol comes in, and Helene introduces her brother to Natasha. He sits by Natasha and asks her if she felt it too when their eyes met. He says he must see her again at his sister’s house. He takes a flower from her as a pledge and goes back to his seat.
At a salon Natasha notices Anatol staring at her. He puts his hands on her and tells her she is enchanting. They dance alone, and he says he is madly in love with her. Natasha runs to her father and asks to leave. She asks for her coat and steps into a room by herself. Anatol comes in and kisses her passionately.
Natasha is sleeping, and Sonia comes in and reads a letter to Natasha from Anatol. Natasha wakes and is glad she read the letter. Sonia asks how Natasha can love Anatol after seeing him only three times. Natasha says she does love him. Sonia threatens to tell. Natasha says she can’t live without Anatol. She tells Sonia to go away.
Dolokhov asks Anatol where he will take her. Anatol says it will be worth it for one week. Anatol asks a friend to find a priest. Dolokhov takes a fur coat from his girlfriend so that Anatol can have it for Natasha when they elope.
On a rainy night Natasha is wearing a black cape and finds that her door is locked. Sonia refuses to open it and says she sent for Pierre. Anatol arrives in a carriage, and Pierre tells him he must leave Moscow. He tells him to amuse himself with other women and not ruin this one. Pierre makes him leave in the carriage. Natasha is looking out the window and sees Pierre coming. She cries. Sonia opens the door for Pierre, who says he came to stop her. He tells her that Anatol is a gambler, a liar, and is already married. She cannot believe it; but he asks her if he could purposely deceive her. She closes her door.
Sonia tells Pierre that the rumors are all over Moscow. She says Natasha is to be pitied. Pierre goes into her room where she is crying. She tells Pierre to ask Andrei to forgive her. She feels tormented for the wrong she did. Pierre says he is her friend and asks her to think of him. He says she has her life ahead of her. He says if he were free, he would not hesitate to ask for her hand and her love. Pierre goes out and looks at the comet. He tells his driver that life is beautiful.
Napoleon in a tent reads a letter from Czar Alexander, and he tells Andrei that he reciprocates. Napoleon recognizes him and asks where they met. Andrei says it was on the field at Austerlitz. Napoleon thought he was dead. Andrei says the Czar wants to avoid war, and Napoleon says he agrees. Andrei says he personally thinks the French troops are requested to withdraw from the frontiers of their country. Andrei says the Czar is not his enemy. Napoleon says he will send his answer later. Andrei goes out, and Napoleon tells his officers they are crossing into Russia and will talk of peace in Moscow.
Napoleon with an army of 200,000 men crossed the river. The Russians leave the area and burn everything. Russian officers tell Kutuzov they should fight. Kutuzov says the people would become the subjects of Napoleon. He says they want to drive the Frenchman from Russia. He would let the burning increase.
Russians have abandoned Smolensk. Pierre goes into a church and hears a prayer for victory. He says goodbye to the Rostovs and says he is going to see the army taking a stand at Borodino. Natasha invites him to dinner. She asks him about Andrei. Pierre says he is sad and that his father died. She says she prayed for his father. She asks if Andrei will forgive her, and Pierre says he has nothing to forgive. She hopes nothing will happen to Pierre and kisses him on the cheek.
Pierre asks soldiers where he can find Col. Bolkonsky. At night they meet, and Pierre says he came to see the battle. Andrei asks about Moscow. Andrei asks about Anatol, and Pierre says he was already married. Andrei says a fallen woman should be forgiven, but he cannot do so himself. Pierre says she is not a fallen woman. Pierre says Andrei seems disturbed. Andrei says that is normal the night before a battle. Andrei says he feels he is going to die this time. He asks why Pierre came when he hates violence and war. Pierre says he wants to understand it. Andrei says the battle is won by those determined to win it. He says the French destroyed his home, and they are his enemies. He will take no prisoners, will kill or be killed. Andrei says he must sleep, and he tells Pierre to go. His only friends now are those fighting by his side. They say goodbye.
Napoleon dictates a proclamation to his troops. He says victory depends on his soldiers. He is shown a portrait of his baby son whom he calls the king of Rome. Napoleon is dressed and gets on his horse.
Pierre in civilian clothes watches the soldiers and picks a yellow flower. He observes the battle from a hill and drops the flower. Russian soldiers charge down a hill. Pierre watches a Russian artillery battalion firing cannons. A shell causes him to fall, and he is warned to get down and then to keep out of the way. A soldier asks why he is not afraid. Pierre says it is an interesting morning, and they laugh. A messenger says the French infantry are advancing en masse. They hold their fire and hear the French drums. The artillery prepares to fire. Russian rifleman wait in lines on the hill. When the French are near, the Russians begin to shoot. The French retreat, and the Russians cheer.
Napoleon is told, and he orders the cavalry to clear the way. A bugle sounds, and the French cavalry charges. They pass the fleeing infantry, and they turn around. The cavalry overruns the artillery. Pierre finds a wounded soldier and picks him up. He carries him to the first-aid tents, and a doctor tells him the man is dead. Pierre curses Napoleon.
An officer tells Kutuzov they must attack now, but Kutuzov says they cannot attack. He says the enemy will bleed to death. He says the Russian capital is not the question, but saving Russia is. Kutuzov orders a retreat.
In Moscow the Rostovs are packing their furniture and belongings in wagons. Natasha looks at her white dress and remembers the ball. They see wagons bringing the wounded from Borodino. Sonia asks for water to give them. Rostov tells Natasha he has given the wounded permission to live in their house. Natasha looks at the wounded. Sonia gives them water, and in a carriage she finds Andrei. She tells Countess Rostova, and they resolve that Natasha must not know. Natasha asks an officer what will happen to the wounded in the house. She asks if they are to be left to die. She tells her father they must take those three wounded men, and he gives up that piece of furniture. Natasha sees many more wounded waiting at the gate, and she tells her father they must take them with them. He agrees, and he orders the servants to unload all the carts. Rostov says they will find room for them all. Countess Rostova asks her husband about their things. She says the government should take care of the men. Natasha asks her to consider if Nicholas or Petya were among them, and she realizes Natasha is right. They leave with the wounded. The streets are filled with the people leaving Moscow. Natasha sees Pierre and calls to him. She asks him to come with them, but he says he has something he must do. Sonia tells Natasha that Andrei is among the wounded unconscious.
French soldiers march into Moscow, and Napoleon rides his horse. In the evening he looks at the palace art and says he is ready to accept the surrender of the city. He is told the city is empty and on fire. There is no government. He says there must be a surrender, and he is insulted.
People see that Moscow is on fire. Petya tells his father he must have his permission to join the army, but his father tells him to help his mother. Natasha hears a man singing a love song about a warrior, and she goes looking for Andrei. She asks where the officers are, and she finds Andrei moaning in a bed. She kisses his hand and asks him to forgive her. He says he loves her more than before.
Pierre sneaks around in burning Moscow. He hears drums and goes upstairs. He sees Napoleon coming on a horse and points a revolver at him, but he lets him go by. Napoleon orders the fires put out. Pierre sees a woman trying to get free of French soldiers and goes to help her.
A French firing squad shoots two prisoners as Pierre watches with the other prisoners. Two more are taken to the stakes and are shot also. The officer says that is all because the orders were to shoot only the incendiaries. Pierre and Platon (John Mills) are taken back to prison. Platon shares a potato with Pierre and with his dog. Platon is a peasant with faith that things happen as God judges. He says the great thing is to live in harmony. He was sentenced to serve as a soldier; but that was a blessing because his younger brother had five children. Platon prays to Jesus Christ and lays down to sleep. Pierre asks about some of the prayer, and Platon says it is for the horses and animals.
In a monastery Natasha is knitting by the bed of Andrei, who says she is better than she was before. He says he knew nothing about love until now. He says he hated her, but he lover her more than anything now. He wonders if the monastery is influencing him.
The Rostovs have Andrei’s son Kolya. Nicholas asks about Petya, and his mother tells him he ran off to join the army. Natasha greets Mary and Nicholas. Sonia tells Nicholas she read his letter, and he is free. Natasha takes Mary to Andrei, who talks with her. He urges her to marry Nicholas. She goes to get Kolya. Andrei tells him not to cry, and he sends him out to play. He tells Mary not to cry. Later Andrei gasps for breath and says in a dream he saw a door and that as he died, he awoke. He says death is an awakening, and he breathes his last. Natasha says it is over and asks where he has gone.
Napoleon has reports that food is diminishing, and he asks who is correcting things. He calls his soldiers junkmen. An officer tells him there have been no emissaries from Kutuzov. Napoleon does not like the smoke and threatens to replace all his staff. He orders the window closed. He realizes they cannot stay there in winter.
Kutuzov thinks of the patience and time he needs. A courier comes in and says the French are preparing to leave Moscow. He reads the letter and kneels down to give thanks for Russia being saved.
Pierre and Platon are walking with the prisoners. They notice the Russian women who must leave with the French or die.
Kutuzov tells his officers that he does not want to attack because the French are going away from their country. He says the Russian retreats brought about the destruction of the French army. He says they will follow the French to make sure they go.
French soldiers march, and the weather gets worse. They trudge in the mud, and carriages get stuck. Men wake up covered by snow. Officers order them to move and tell prisoners that all stragglers will be shot. One man refuses to move, and he is shot. They march on the snow. A Russian woman is found frozen, and a soldier takes her coat. Pierre is counting as he walks. Napoleon in a sled passes them. Platon asks why Pierre counts. Pierre says he counts to keep his feet moving. Platon falls and leans against a tree. His dog whimpers. A soldier tells him to get up, and he shakes his head and prays. The soldier shoots him. Pierre goes back and picks up his dog.
Petya says he brings a dispatch from his general. The officer Dolokhov reads the order to fall back with the main army for a general attack when the French cross a river. Dolokhov tells Rostov that he did not find him. He will attack the French, and Petya persuades him to let him go with them. Petya gets some food and shares it.
The Russian group attacks on horses, and Pierre hides by a log. Petya waves his sword and is shot in the chest. Pierre mourns for Petya as soldiers dig his grave. Dolokhov asks Pierre to forgive him and says Helene died. Pierre gives him his hand. Dolokhov has his prisoners shot.
The French are crossing a pontoon bridge. Russian cannons begin firing at them. Eventually the bridge is broken, and no more may cross. Napoleon tears up his map and has his flags burned. He gets back in his sled.
Kutuzov on his horse thanks his soldiers for their hard and faithful service. Their victory is complete.
The Rostovs in carriages return to their home in Moscow and go into the charred building. Natasha takes Mary upstairs and sends Sonia to look at the kitchen. Natasha tells her parents that the north wing is as it was. She says they have a house. Natasha remembers Andrei’s words and Petya’s enthusiasm. She sees Pierre come in and runs to him. They embrace, and he kisses her. She says he is like the house; he suffers and shows his wounds, but he stands.
Tolstoy concludes, “Life is God, and to love Life means to love God.”
This epic drama reflects Tolstoy’s passion to teach humanity to avoid war and live in peace. The historical situation is true and provides the background for the human conflicts and love of the Russian aristocrats. None of the characters are perfect, but each of them is able to learn from the experiences their flaws cause, thus enabling the audience to understand vicariously without having to undergo the suffering directly.