Happy Valentine’s week everyone! I thought this would be the perfect time to feature a blog about what I consider to be Stephen Boyd’s most romantic role – as the Hussar (cavalry officer) Jules de Canouville in the Napoleonic epic “Imperial Venus”. The movie itself was a career project for Gina Lollobrigida, who campaigned to make the film as far back as 1956. The story is based on the real life of Napoleon’s sister Pauline Bonaparte and the novel by Edgar Maass called “Imperial Venus”. Apparently it was about to be made in early 1958 when Gina pulled out of the filming. The producer had promised to cast her opposite a ‘famed Hollywood actor’, but Gina balked when she discovered Lex Barker was chosen as Canouville. Lex had previously starred as Tarzan. Gina and her husband refused to film the movie as they considered this casting would disparage the project. “I do not wish to be made love to by Tarzan,” Lollobrigida would say at the time. Gina sued the producer, and Barker accused Lollobrigida of libel! Years later Gina would run into Stephen at a Hollywood party, and alas, she had finally found her perfect ‘Canouville’. The filming occurred during the summer and fall of 1962. Stephen was somewhat frustrated with the haphazard Italian film schedule, but had nothing but good things to say about Gina and her professionalism. Not too many anecdotes exist about the filming of the movie, except this one :
“I’ll never forget the big moment of passion between Gina Lollobrigida and myself in ‘Imperial Venus’. I had to grab Gina, kiss her so passionately that our knees gave out from under us, and we sank gradually and gracefully to the floor–it said in the script. And that’s the way the director insisted we play it.
“What actually happened is that I’d grab Gina and she’d swoon. But as we tried to sink to the floor out knees would bump together, we’d have to fight to keep out balance and rehearsal after rehearsal we’d wind up roaring with laughter. Censors? They never crossed our mind.” (Stephen Boyd Interview, Sept. 11, 1966 by Dorothy Manners, Anecdotes of Sexy Scenes)
The passion onscreen between Gina and Stephen, in my opinion, is marvelous and feels truly romantic and genuine. The fact that Pauline’s romance with Canouville starts later in the movie makes it all that more urgent and poignant. The lushness of the Napoleonic settings and decor is truly beautiful in this film. Stephen wears a magnificent looking ‘Hussar’ uniform. “The uniform of the Napoleonic hussars included the pelisse, a short fur-edged jacket which was often worn slung over one shoulder in the style of a cape and was fastened with a cord. This garment was extensively adorned with braiding (often gold or silver for officers) and several rows of buttons” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussar). Gina Lollobrigida is cast perfectly as the temperamental princess. Pauline stows Canouville away in her ornate boudoir, and the passion between the two lovers continues to build until Pauline’s heart-break when Canouville is forced to part with her. Boyd’s Canouville is charming, reckless, sensual, carefree, and tender. Boyd himself described the role as an ‘Errol Flynn’ like character. Sadly, American audiences were deprived of seeing this movie due to censorship. Apparently the bedroom scene of Boyd stripped naked but covered by a sheet was too shocking, or European, for the US censors to allow, and the film was never released in the United Stated until 1971. Banned for ‘male nudity’! https://stephenboydblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/stephen-boyd-censored/
Luckily the gorgeous wide-screen version of the movie has been somewhat restored and released on Italian DVD – https://www.amazon.it/Venere-Imperiale-Stephen-Boyd/dp/B01J4UP4HK.