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

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Helen Hayes, Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman
ANASTASIA (1956). Director: Anatole Litvak. Screenplay by Arthur Laurents.

In Europe in the 1920's rumors are circulating that Anastasia (Ingrid Bergman), the youngest daughter of the Tsar Nicholas, may have survived the purge that killed the rest of her family. General Bounine (Yul Brynner) finds a woman, fresh out of mental hospitals and contemplating suicide, whom he thinks resembles Anastasia, and guides her -- like Henry Higgins -- to act more like royalty. But as she is about to meet the Dowager Empress (Helen Hayes) and seal her fate, she wonders if she could really be who everyone says she is. Anastasia is a wonderful, absorbing film that is not true to historical facts but to their spirit, and works beautifully as a kind of fairy tale. Bergman deservedly won a Best Actress Oscar for this, and she is matched in excellence by a powerful Hayes, and a rather sexy and dynamic Brynner. There is also fine work from Martita Hunt [Becket] as the Empress' peppery lady-in-waiting [to whom the Empress says "to a woman of your age, sex should mean nothing but gender"]; Ivan Desny as her nephew, Paul; Akim Tamiroff [The Vulture] as Boris Chernov, one of the co-conspirators in this matter of the "phony" Anastasia; and Natalie Schafer [The Other Love] as one of the group of Russian exiles who embraces Anastasia as their own; among others. The ending is contrived but effective, and the movie still manages to maintain an air of ambiguity. In real life, the Empress completely rejected "Anastasia's" claim, and the woman lived her life as Ana Anderson, protesting all along that she was the real daughter of the Tsar. Decades later, DNA proved conclusively that Anderson was lying. Filmed in stunning DeLuxe color and with a nice score by Alfred Newman.

Verdict: A true classic with superb performances. ****.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - this is a great one, I absolutely love Yul Brynner and this is one of his best, and one of Ingrid's very best as well. Arthur Laurents was a brilliant writer...two of my favorite film he wrote were Hitchcock's Rope and the Shirley MacLaine/Anne Bancroft ballet film, The Turning Point.

William said...

I haven't seen the Turning Point in many years, but while Rope has its dated aspects, it's still quite a good movie with a very affecting conclusion.

Wasn't Brynner a striking and dynamic figure? I think if he had hair his career might have suffered, ha! And Ingrid is superb as Anastasia. Truly the kind of movie "they don't make anymore."

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