|A captive Joan prays: Ingrid Bergman|
"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. ***.