By People Staff
February 09, 1981 12:00 PM

Bonaparte might have beat an ignominious retreat from Moscow, but he took New York by storm. A throng of 6,000 film buffs, famous faces and stargazers crushed into Radio City Music Hall for a showing of Napoleon, a silent screen masterwork shot in 1927 by France’s Abel Gance. The epic, which requires three screens and three projectors, originally ran six hours. It was subsequently shortened, and various reels disappeared into archives and junk shops around the world before being retrieved by British film historian Kevin Brownlow. Francis Coppola financed the New York showing and commissioned his Oscar-winning father, Carmine, to score Brownlow’s 4¼-hour reconstruction. “I had a love affair with this film,” said the 68-year-old composer.

Following the Manhattan screening, Gance, 91, was awakened at 6 a.m. in his Paris apartment to hear by phone a six-minute ovation. The crowd attending the post-premiere party at Sardi’s was equally reverential. Gushed Leonard Bernstein, after making an entrance worthy of Loretta Young: “The film was staggering! Heroic!”

The occasion was a family affair, with Francis alternately scoffing rolls from empty tables and toasting his musician dad. Burbled his actress sister, Talia Shire: “I was knocked out. It was wonderful.” The tribute to Gance, which cost Francis Coppola $330,000 to mount, opens next in Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Boasted Carmine: “We’re going all the way to the Oscars with this one.”