During a tennis match in Paris between Ferdinand de Lesseps (Tyrone Power) and his friend Vicomte Rene de Latour (Joseph Schildkraut), the enthusiastic admiration of Countess Eugenie de Montijo (Loretta Young) for de Lesseps attracts the attention of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Leon Ames). Bonaparte sees to it that both she and de Lesseps are invited to his reception. At the party, a fortuneteller predicts that Eugenie will have a troubled life, but also wear a crown, and that de Lesseps will dig a ditch. Entranced by Eugenie's beauty, Bonaparte arranges for his romantic rival to be assigned to a diplomatic post in Egypt, joining his father, Count Mathieu de Lesseps (Henry Stephenson), the Consul-General. De Lesseps impulsively asks Eugenie to marry him immediately, but she turns him down.
In Egypt, de Lesseps befriends two people who will have a great influence on his life: Toni Pellerin (Annabella), a tomboy being raised by her grandfather, French Sergeant Pellerin (Sig Rumann); and Prince Said (J. Edward Bromberg), the indolent heir of his father, Mohammed Ali (Maurice Moskovitch), the Viceroy (ruler) of Egypt. Toni makes it clear that she has fallen in love with him, but de Lesseps still pines for Eugenie. Count de Lesseps leaves for France, leaving his son to take his place.
One day, after a brief rainstorm in the desert, de Lesseps sees the water draining into the sea and comes up with the idea for the Suez Canal. He departs for Paris to raise the necessary funding; Toni goes along as well. He presents his proposal to Bonaparte, but is rejected. He is also disheartened to learn that Eugenie is now very close to Bonaparte.
France is on the verge of civil war between Bonaparte and the French Assembly, led by Count de Lesseps and others. Eugenie persuades Ferdinand de Lesseps to pass along Bonaparte's proposal asking the Assembly to disband, giving Bonaparte's promise to reconvene it once the civil unrest has been defused. Despite their misgivings, the members of the Assembly agree, only to be betrayed and arrested. Bonaparte assumes the throne of the revived French Empire, just as Count de Lesseps had feared. The news causes the count to suffer a fatal stroke. Ferdinand de Lesseps is outraged, but Toni persuades him to do nothing. In return for de Lesseps' help, Bonaparte (now Emperor Napoleon III), withdraws his objections to the canal, and construction commences under de Lesseps' direction.
The building of the canal progresses despite Turkish sabotage. However, Napoleon unexpectedly withdraws his support out of political necessity; he needs to appease Great Britain, and the British Prime Minister (George Zucco) is firmly opposed to the project. Prince Said bankrupts himself to keep the venture going, but it is not enough. De Lesseps goes to England to plead his case. The Prime Minister is unmoved, but the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Disraeli (Miles Mander), is enthusiastic about the project. Disraeli tells him to return to Egypt and pray that Disraeli wins the upcoming general election. He does, and funding is assured.
As the canal nears completion, an enormous sandstorm threatens everything. When de Lesseps is knocked unconscious by flying debris, Toni rescues him by tying him to a wooden post, but is herself swept away and killed. De Lesseps finishes the canal and is honored by Eugenie, now Empress of France after her marriage to Napoleon III.
Read more about this topic: Suez (film)
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Famous quotes containing the word plot:
“The westward march has stopped, upon the final plains of the Pacific; and now the plot thickens ... with the change, the pause, the settlement, our people draw into closer groups, stand face to face, to know each other and be known.”
—Woodrow Wilson (18561924)
“The plot thickens, he said, as I entered.”
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930)
“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
—Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (18351910)