Film review by Jason Day of Joan of Arc, the 1948 epic about the titular French heroine, a good luck omen for 15th century soldiers fighting the English. Directed by Victor Fleming.
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Review, by @Reelreviewer
“What stupidity! Can’t you just see Garbo – hearing voices? Being ever so religious, á la Swede?”Actress Marlene Dietrich on a failed film project that was to star movie legend Greta Garbo as Joan of Arc.
Director Fleming’s (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz – both 1939) lumpy, leaden love letter to his paramour, Swedish sensation Ingrid Bergman turned out to be the movie project that killed him.
It seems the two – who had previously worked on a ropy adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941) – indulged in a brief affair around the time of making this version of the Maxwell Anderson play.
Well, it was all going on, even back in the day and even with star Bergman, who was then the totem of fresh-faced, Scandi-purity.
Famously, that image would go tits up in 1950 when Bergman’s affair with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini became public, rocking the cinema establishment and Ingrid’s career to the core.
With this movie, we are a few months away from that cataclysm but Bergman still makes sexually unlikely casting as the lead playing, at the age of 33, a teenage virgin peasant who is too articulate to be believed.
But then, this is a film of quite literal ‘unbelievability’. Verisimilitude plays no part in the proceedings here. For a film almost entirely concerned with French people, their liberty and rights, there isn’t even a waft of ‘Frenchness’. With no French actors – most are Brits – not one attempts a continental accent, apart from Bergman (who, of course, is Swedish).
Anderson’s dialogue is fussy and musty and lends the film a dull and ponderous pace (he is co-screenwriter, adapting his own play) and presents the serious topic of religious conviction leading people from tyranny as romantic, Gone With the Wind-esque piffle.
Still, the gorgeous 40’s technicolour captures the lush reds, purples, blues and golds of a Hollywood fantastical medieval France, replete with wobbly cardboard castle sets.
There’s nothing epic about the economical battle sequences. They are small, neat, clean (no blood or mud) and quickly done with. In short, nothing like what would have occurred in real life.
Bergman, captured in tear-stained close-up near to her execution, manages to just about be soulful but never quite convinces as the legendary Maid of Orleans.
But with Milla Jovovich and Leelee Sobieski to come (and miles behind her) and Rene Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc still an act to follow, she’s a distinguished second place for cinema’s finest Joan.
Cast & credits
Director: Victor Fleming. 2hr 25 mins/145 mins. Walter Wanger Productions/RKO. (PG).
Producer: Walter Wanger.
Writers: Maxwell Anderson, Andrew Solt.
Camera: Winton C. Hoch, William V. Skall, Joseph A. Valentine.
Music: Hugo Friedhofer.
Sets: Richard Day.
Ingrid Bergman, Jose Ferrer, Francis L. Sullivan, J. Carrol Naish, Ward Bond, Shepperd Strudwick, Gene Lockhart, John Emery, Leif Erickson, Cecil Kellaway, Selena Royal, Robert Barrat, Rand Brooks, George Coulouris, George Zucco, John Ireland, Hurd Hatfield.