Lucrèce Borgia (Lucrezia Borgia) (1935)
Director: Abel Gance.
Starring: Edwige FeuillPre (Lucrezia Borgia), Gabriel Gabrio (César Borgia), Maurice Escande (Jean Borgia, Duke of Gandie), Roger Karl (Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI), Aimé Clariond (Niccollo Machiavelli), Philippe Hériat (Filippo, sculptor-lover), Jacques Dumesnil (Giannino Sforza, Duke of Milano), Max Michel (Alfonse de Aragon), Louis Eymond (Capt. Mario, officer-lover), Jean Fay (Tybald), René Bergeron (Pietro), Gaston Modot (Fracassa), Antonin Artaud (Girolamo Savonarola), Marcel Chabrier (A Monk), Georges Prieur (Baron de Villeneuve).
good story of the many political marriages of Lucrezia Borgia used by her family as a political pawn
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The film opens with a shot of the book "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli. (Cesare Borgia was used as Machiavelli's model for the Prince.) During the times of cruelty, debauchery and violence, Italy lived under the sign of the Borgias. In 1492 an old soldier named Rodrigo Borgia was elected as Pope Alexander VI.
Soldiers return with the new pope dressed in military armament. Alexander changes into his papal outfit and prays. During his youth, he had several children. Cesare Borgia was the perfect ferocious beast. And he does indeed look like a brute. Cesare is at a tavern. A woman brings him a woman for his pleasure but he doesn't think much of her. The woman who runs the tavern sends a bar maid with French wine up to Cesare on the second floor. She does not want to go because of Cesare's terrible reputation with women, but the tavern manager sends he up anyway.
Soldiers bring in a new brunette. They turn her over to the tavern owner to take care of her. The new woman starts to resist and the men in the tavern start man-handling her. A man comes to her defense and insults Cesare and the Borgias. The second floor is open to the tavern and Cesare listens to the man's words. He comes down. He sends one of his man to get the new brunette and bring her to him. She is brought back to Cesare. He tears her bodice exposing her breasts. She screams.
Cesare's brother Jean Borgia, Duke of Gandia, is the favorite son of Alexander. He is frivolous and refined and a supporter of the arts. Cesare's sister, Lucrezia Borgia, is awakened by her ladies-in-waiting. Outside her window two men get into a wrestling match. Lucrezia and the other women watch from the balcony. When the wrestlers end the match, the women encourage them to continue. The taller man wins. The women think it all very gay. The women dress Lucrezia.
Cesare talks with Machiavelli, the Chief General of the Armies, who tells him that the Borgias tolerate the insults while they forget the names of their enemies: the Colonnas, the Orsinis, the Sforzas. Cesare responds: "No one will be spared!" Machiavelli asks: "With Romagna conquered what will become of the small republic of Siena? And Florence and Naples." Cesare comments: "All of Italy."
Alexander visits with his two sons. He tells them that the news from Florence is that the Dominican Savonarola continues to preach against the Borgias. Cesare tells his father that he has a plan against rebellion. He asks his father to look at it. Savonarola is in Florence. He shouts to his audience: "The authority of Christ is under siege!" Cesare gets an order from his dad declaring that their enemies are all outlaws. He is happy to tell Machiavelli of the order. Machiavellis says that there are still a few obstacles in his way, but that he has the trump card: Lucrezia Borgia. Cesare even dreams of his sister becoming the Queen of France.
There are plotters against the Borgias who want to assassinate both Cesare and Jean Borgia. The main plotter suggests that they create a scandal that will destroy the Borgias. His idea is that one of them will seduce Lucrezia Borgia. When no one volunteers, the leader says he will do it himself. He gets into the private garden area of Lucrezia. He watches as she romps playfully in the nude in her pool tossing rings with her ladies in waiting. She sees the fellow who has come to seduce her. She puts on a robe, walks over to him and tells him that she could call the guard. She asks which woman he was trying to get to. She figures out it is she herself. Lucrezia tells the man that what he did was very risky.
Cesare poisons one of his servants to test that his poison is the right dose. He then tells his head of intelligence to take the wine to His Eminences, the cardinal. Cesare's mistress Penelope awaits her man. He tells her that he knows that she loves him. He kisses her.
The cardinal dies. People kneel and pray outside his house.
The conspirator continues to work on Lucrezia Borgia. She suddenly asks him: "Why don't you marry me?" He asks her is she would come with him to Pesaro and she says yes. Lucrezia's ladies in waiting come to warn her that there are men in the garden. The conspirator is a member of the enemy family Sforza. She tells him that if she is found with a Sforza her honor will be compromised. It would be a scandal. Cesare shows up and finds out that a Sforza is with Lucrezia. He becomes very angry. The fellow tells Cesare that he wants to marry his sister. Cesare asks: "How dare you, dog?" But Lucrezia says: "I will be his wife." She suggests a political alliance to her brother rather than fighting. But things are too heated up. The Sforza fellow has to run and then fight Cesare's men. At this time Jean Borgia arrives and comes to the support of Sforza. Jean says that he is the oldest brother and the Pope's lieutenant. Therefore, he is giving the orders. Cesare goes away angry.
Lucrezia tells Sforza to ask her father for her hand. The Pope gives them his blessing. The husband-to-be is named Jean Sforza. The Pope also issues the names of several outlaws, including Cardinals Orsini and Alviano and Prince Salviah. Their castles and lands will be destroyed. The pope tells Cesare that the French want proof of their friendship so Cesare will be sent to them, not as a hostage, but as an observer. Cesare is none too happy about this.
Cesare plots against Sforza. A young sculptor sculpts Lucrezias's body. Cesare tells Machiavelli that Sforza is in his way. Therefore, he must get the marriage annulled. Machiavelli responds that since there is no child, the marriage has not been consummated. This makes Cesare very happy. Cesare learns that the name of the young sculptor is Filippo. He says that he will stop Filippo's career. Sforza is sent off hunting. Cesare uses the time to talk to Lucrezia. He puts on a big party for her. Cesare insists that everyone dance. He tells Lucrezia about his plan, but she responds that Giannino would never agree to an annulment. Later Donato from Ferrara starts to fall in love with Lucrezia. They kiss.
Cesare and Machiavelli tell Jean Borgia of their plans. Jean tells then not to count on him. When Jean leaves, Cesare says: "What an idiot!"
Sforza protests against signing a confession of impotency, but does it anyway. When he returns to Lucrezia, she and her brother Jean tell him that Cesare's men want to kill him. She has Captain Mario saddle up her husband's horse and urge Sforza to flee to Pesaro. Lucrezia tells him that she will join him later. Sforza leaves. Soon afterwards, Cesare's men come looking for Sforza just to be told that he has already left. Cesare is mad at Jean for warning Sforza. He whispers something in the ear of his intelligence chief.
A fisherman is brought in and tortured. He finally breaks and says he will tell all. He says he saw the murderers. Apparently, Jean Borgia has just been assassinated. The Pope is very upset by the news and he asks why. He has the fisherman brought in. He tells the tortured man that he will give him a lot of gold for his cooperation. The man tells the Pope that he saw a troop of five or six soldiers. One carried a body behind him on his horse. The victim is stabbed and the leader says: "Is it finished, Michel?" The Pope tells the man to hide behind a curtain and listen to the voice of the man come to visit the Pope. If it is the voice of the murderer, the man is to sing out. Cesare Borgia comes in. The man hears his voice and comes out to tell the Pope: "That's the voice! It's him!" Cesare is infuriated and he stabs the man to death. The Pope leaves the room and tells everyone to come in to see his son's assassin. They are all shocked to see Cesare as the accused. Cesare scares everyone off and then just laughs and laughs.
Lucrezia tells Cesare that she is going to a convent. It's not her husband that she is upset about as much as she is about her brother Jean. She tells Cesare: "He'll be avenged!" He tells his sister that some people say that he killed his brother out of jealousy, but he denies that he killed Jean. Lucrezia observes: "Now I'm alone." Cesare tells her not to worry. He will marry her off soon. She asks: "Already!" Then she sighs that it doesn't matter. She is to marry Alphonse of Aragon. Cesare shows her a portrait of the man and Lucrezia seems intrigued.
Cesare succeeds his brother as head of the Pope's military forces. The Pope publicly says that he knows nothing of the assassin of his son Jean. Cesare then throws an elaborate party. Two men notice the beauty of Penelope. Lucrezia has a new suitor, but she tells him that she will marry Alphonse of Aragon. Regardless, Cesare wants the new suitor killed. The assassin tells Cesare that he will do anything he wants him to do as long as he can have Penelope. Cesare just says: "She's yours!" The fellow goes in to rape Penelope. She puts up a fight, but in the end knows it's useless. As the man approaches again she dies. He then finds the knife with which she killed herself.
The party starts turning into an orgy. Cesare is kissing a woman lying on the table before him. The man with Penelope comes to tell Cesare the bad news, but Cesare barely even pauses at the news. He grabs another half-naked woman and throws her atop the first woman. Lucrezia's new suitor is found dead on a city street.
Savonorola still preaches against the Borgias. Later he tells the Pope off to his face. He says that Borgia troops are ravaging Italy. The guards take the preacher out of the room.
Lucrezia is happy with Alphonse of Aragon. She says: "I waited so long for love." She has a son by her husband. The Pope thanks her for giving birth to the boy. Cesare comes in and Lucrezia has her son taken from the room. The Pope asks Cesare if he has come from Ferrara. Cesare says that he brings greetings from the King of France, an ally of Ferrara. Unhappy being near Cesare, Lucrezia leaves. Cesare continues to talk with his father. Charles VII of France dies and Louis XII succeeds him. And Alphonse of Aragon's hopes for Naples are compromised. Therefore, Lucrezia's husband is now politically useless. So Cesare wants Lucrezia to marry the Duke of Ferrara. Cesare orders her husband to be assassinated, but the local doctor fixes him up. Lucrezia comforts her husband. Cesare comes in with two of his henchmen. He asks Lucrezia to leave her husband for a brief while so they can talk alone. Lucrezia reluctantly leaves. One of Cesare's henchmen strangles Alphonse of Aragon to death. Cesare comes out of the room looking very sad and then takes his leave. Lucrezia goes into her husband's room and finds him dead. She screams.
Lucrezia complains to her father about Cesare. She blames her dad, who just says: "Justice will be done." She gets mad and starts to leave. Outside an uprising backed by Savonorola flares up. Lucrezia cries and her father helps her up. She says her husband was the one man she loved and now he is killed. She adds: "Woe to you, father!" The crowd attacks the Pope's quarters. They push through the gates. The Pope looks at the crowd. When they climb up the steps to his private room, he comes out to confront them. They step back and then kneel down before him.
Cesare speaks with Lucrezia in the cathedral during her husband's funeral. She is very hostile to him and he answers back with a secret weapon. He pulls the carpet back to reveal the graves of every man who ever was a suitor to her. Lucrezia is floored. She screams telling her brother to "Shut up!" Machiavelli comes in to introduce the Baron of Villeneuve, ambassador of Louis XII, to Lucrezia. Lucrezia says she will go to Ferrara: "I've renounced all personal happiness."
Savonorola is burned at the stake as a relapsed heretic. Lucrezia is now the Duchess of Ferrara. And as Duchess she becomes a patroness to the arts and philosophy. Machiavelli comes to see her and gives her a letter. It tells of the death of Cesare Borgia in Spain. Lucrezia declares that the court will be in mourning for three months or more. Machiavelli asks her if she has pardoned Cesare. She says yes. Her only hope now is that she will be revered as a patron of the arts.
Good movie. It gives a good accounting of Lucrezia's three political marriages. She acquired a reputation as an evil woman, but the movie gets closer to the truth portraying her as more of a victim than an evil doer. Edwige FeuillPre as Lucrezia Borgia and Gabriel Gabrio as César Borgia were both very good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Prince of Foxes (1949).
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