Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

JOAN OF ARC

A captive Joan prays: Ingrid Bergman
JOAN OF ARC (1948). Director: Victor Fleming.

"We can win only if we become God's army."

Joan (Ingrid Bergman), a young farm girl in France, claims to hear voices from God, telling her to speak to the Dauphin (Jose Ferrer) -- who would become King of France -- and to rally the French troops to force the British interlopers out of the country. She is on a mission from God to save France. Initially people are skeptical --  she is eventually seen as a witch by some, and a saint by others, and she marches into battle as a kind of unarmed mascot. But Joan's admirers are growing in number, and the French powers-that-be are disturbed ... Joan of Arc was excoriated when it was first released, primarily because it cost more than Gone with the Wind but was a financial bust. It's hard to understand why contemporary critics found the film boring and almost worthless. I am not at all religious, but I was impressed by the film's performances --virtually every well-known character actor working in pictures at the time -- the score (Hugo Friedhofer), and the beautiful color cinematography (Joseph Valentine) which often makes each shot look like a painting. The movie moves quite quickly as well. Bergman gives an Oscar-winning performance, and is wonderful. The only quibble I might have is that in scenes when she is supposed to be utterly exhausted due to no sleep she merely seems mildly fatigued -- even make up would have helped, but one supposes no one wanted to mar her features. Bergman was 33 at the time of filming (Joan was put to the stake at 19) and always wanted to play the role; a younger actress might have lacked the ability and strength the part required. Jose Ferrer, who was introduced in this picture,  also won a Best Actor Oscar, and while he's not on Bergman's level, he is quite good as the rather foppish Dauphin. Of the huge supporting cast there is notable work from Richard Derr as a knight and Joan's first follower; John Emery [Kronos] as the sympathetic Duke d'Alencon; and Jeff Corey [Seconds] as a jailer intent on Joan's rape. There are also appearances by Jimmy Lydon (!) as Joan's brother; Alan Napier (Batman's butler) as the Earl of Warwick; Hurd Hatfield as Father Pasquerel; and brief bits with Henry Brandon, Thomas Brown Henry, George Coulouris, and many others. The worst performance is by Francis L. Sullivan [Hell's Island], who plays Pierre Cauchon, Joan's chief accuser, almost as if he were a villain in a cliffhanger serial. The movie employs a lot of dramatic license, as a great deal is not known about Joan, and the picture simply takes her at face value, with no indication (from the movie's point of view) that she may be either demented, opportunistic or both. Her horrible death is depicted but rather glossed over -- she doesn't even break out into a sweat as the flames supposedly consume her.

Verdict: At times the movie seems to exist in a vacuum, but it is beautiful to look at, well-paced, and features some marvelous performances. ***.

4 comments:

angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - Hollywood seems so enamored of the Joan of Arc story...they tried so many times but no version ever made a great film...not even the French versions...

I do like a film that uses the making of a Joan of Arc film as its backdrop...a film called The Miracle of the Bells with Frank Sinatra as a priest and Valli as the actress who dies after playing Joan of Arc. Have you ever seen it? A good Christmas film...

I have never seen Ingrid and Victor Fleming's version...it doesn't come on TV very often.
-C

William said...

I've seen "Miracle of the Bells" and found it hard to swallow Sinatra as a priest. No matter what they put Valli in she failed to become a major American star, the under-rated "Paradine Case" notwithstanding. I don't think either film did well at the box office or with critics.

Harry Heuser said...

Great catching up, Bill. Just watched Bergman avoiding a horrible death in "Fear" ("La paura") last night. Will look for your review of "Dial 1119" now.

William said...

Thank you, Marry. I've seen "fear" as well. The passionate collaboration of Bergman and Rossellini didn't quite amount to many great pictures.