Ah the Golden Age of Hollywood! Hollywood made lots of  “historical films” during this period, usually filled with historical howlers. Juarez is one of the more accurate “historical films” of this era, the biggest howler being the complete absence of the extreme anti-clericalism of Juarez and his Liberals.  Also, the Mexican Conservatives were not the cardboard reactionary villains they are depicted as being in the film.  Alas, Emperor Maximilian was as idealistic and wooden headed as he is portrayed in the film. As one can see from the trailer, the film, released in 1939, had a definite anti-Axis theme, with Napoleon III, brilliantly portrayed by Claude Rains, as an unlikely stand-in for Hitler.

Paul Muni gives a dead-on portrayal of President Benito Juarez of Mexico.  Bette Davis, as usual, is incandescent as the Empress Carlotta as she begins her descent into madness.  Brian Aherne gives a competent portrayal of Emperor Maximilian, for which he received an oscar nomination.


The US opposed French intervention in Mexico from the start, but could do little in the midst of the Civil War, although Lincoln gave verbal encouragement to Juarez.  With the US distracted, the French took control of Mexico in 1862-63 and placed the Austrian Archduke Maximilian on the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximilian in 1864.  After the war in 1865 a 50,000 man army under Phil Sheridan was dispatched to the Mexican border to threaten intervention against the French and to provide arms to the Juaristas. Napoleon III took the hint and the French withdrew in 1866. The Mexicans under Juarez triumphed in 1867.  Maximilian died bravely on June 19, 1867 before a Mexican firing squad, and a very odd interlude in Mexican history was at an end.



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  1. From my admittedly informal knowledge of the time, the anti-clericalism/Catholic hate would’ve been a bit too complicating of a factor. Weren’t they still doing the penny dreadful “educational” dirty novels that were supposedly tell-alls of nuns who escaped nunneries, and former priests/monks? (It can’t be a dirty novel, it’s EDUCATION! /sarc)

  2. On the subject of Napoléon III, in June 1956, we were staying in Farnborough on the south coast of England with an old school-friend of my mother’s.

    At mass that Sunday, at Farnborough Abbey, our charitable prayers were requested “for those whose anniversaries occur about this time.” These included “His Imperial Highness, Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial.” We spoke to an elderly woman after mass and my mother remarked on this. The old lady told us that she well remembered the ci-devant Empress Eugénie, the Prince’s mother, when she was living in exile in Farnborough. She was very devout and the foundress of the abbey, where she was a regular worshipper. She died in 1920.

    I subsequently learned that His Imperial Highness had been killed on 1 June 1879, serving with the Royal Engineers in the Zulu War. He was 23 and his death is said to have affected Her Imperial Majesty deeply. They are buried, together with her husband in the Imperial Crypt in the Abbey.

  3. Eugenie was the best thing about the comic opera Napoleon III, and, in contrast to him, her faith was indeed deep and vibrant. The death of their son at such a young age, as in the case of the only legitimate son of Napoleon, may have been good for the stability of France, but was a devastating personal tragedy.

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