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Joan of Arc

"I've gone from saint to whore and back to saint again, all in one lifetime." So noted Ingrid Bergman later in life, recalling her affair with director Roberto Rossellini — an affair that caused her to abandon her first husband and child in 1949, after which she was driven by moral outrage from Hollywood and blacklisted. Her restoration would not happen until 1956, when she won an Oscar for her role in Anastasia (shot in England), but even then she remained on the continent for many years. And yet it's not hard to see the same quote as a reference to Bergman's film career itself, playing nobles such as Anastasia, a torn woman like Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942), and the boozy, sexually loose Alicia Huberman in Notorious (1947). Still, for all of her memorable screen roles, it's not hard to figure that Bergman would want to be remembered above all as Joan of Arc. It's a part she took on three times — on stage in 1946, in Rossellini's 1954 Giovanna d'Arco al rogo, and in Victor Fleming's 1948 Joan of Arc. Bergman stars in this Technicolor epic as the French maiden who believes that she hears higher voices, both of saints and of God Himself. It's the 15th century, and France is on the losing end of the Hundred Years War, suffering military defeats at the hands of the English while the nobility remains in disarray. The ostensible heir to the throne, the Dauphin (José Ferrer), cannot become crowned as Charles VII without greater wealth and popular support — his father is dead, and his own mother has declared him illegitimate. But the maiden Joan insists she be granted an audience with a local potentate. She's dismissed as insane, but after it's realized she accurately predicted the end of a battle that had yet to take place, she's taken to the Dauphin's palace. Once there, revelers decide to play a game by placing an impostor on the throne for Joan to meet, but she senses something is amiss and carefully finds the real Dauphin among the crowd, kneeling to his feet. The debate over Joan's authenticity grows, but the Dauphin accepts her as genuine, and before long the teenage girl finds herself leading Gallic troops into deadly battle for the heart and sovereignty of France.

*          *          *

Did it make much sense for the 32-year-old Bergman to be playing a French teenager in Joan of Arc? Perhaps not, but it wasn't her most egregious bit of age-warping on screen — she would play the 25-year-old Anastasia when she was 40. But interestingly enough here, one isn't as much struck by Bergman's age (she looks perfectly radiant), but instead her physical size. When one considers Joan of Arc — the virgin warrior of France — someone essentially small but of great spirit comes to mind. At 5' 10", Ingrid Bergman spent a great deal of her career opposite much shorter actors, many of whom had to wear lifts in order to conceal her height (or rather, their lack of it). With plenty of action scenes, as well as generous head-to-toe framing, one gets a sense from Joan of Arc that Bergman was, in fact, a tall, fit, athletic woman — and it's this fact, not her age, that makes her a less-than-ideal choice for the historical role she loved so much. ("You look good as a boy!" one of the villagers exclaims after Bergman adopts a commoner's wardrobe that does little more than flatter her legs, hips, and bust, making one wonder if '40s audiences all had glaucoma.) And yet, even as something of a vanity project, Joan of Arc is an entertaining film of its period and genre. The final picture by Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind), who would die the following year, it displays his penchant for epic, cinematic melodrama with fiery battle scenes and rich, colorful art direction. In fact, had CinemaScope arrived just a few years earlier, there's little doubt that this title would have been slated for the widescreen process — at times, the compositions simply cry out for something more dynamic than Academy ratio framing. Adapted by Maxwell Anderson (from his own stage play), the political intrigue is equally important, and the story gains an additional texture once the issues of statecraft are underway, leading to Joan's final, inevitable betrayal. Image Entertainment's DVD release of Joan of Arc features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from an impeccable source-print that contains virtually no collateral wear and stable, fully saturated Technicolor. Restored and maintained by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 1998, this home-video release also marks the first time the film has been seen in its entirely since its theatrical debut. When originally released it clocked in at 2:25, but upon re-release it was trimmed down to 1:40. The full, uncut version is on board here, although no extra features are included. Chapter selection, keep-case.
—JJB



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