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What historical role for a woman could be grander than Joan Of Arc? The story of the young French maid who would rise to lead France's army during the Hundred Years' War, burned at the stake as a heretic, then canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church would seem to lend itself to the epic nature of the movies. However, of the many movie versions of Joan's story, only one, Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928) is considered a classic and all of them failed at the box office. Bergman's Joan would be no exception.
The picture was based on Maxwell Anderson's play Joan of Lorraine in which Bergman, taking a break from Hollywood, had starred in on Broadway during the 1946-1947 season. Victor Fleming, director of two of 1939's greatest movies, Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, attended one of the shows. At the time he was looking for an epic to rival his previous classics and decided to immortalize Bergman's performance in a film version.
With the help of independent producer Walter Wanger, Fleming produced a two-and-a-half hour Technicolor epic covering the life of the French teenager from her first calling to her death. The color was gorgeous, the cast large and beautifully attired and the subject approached with great solemnity. Audiences, however, were not impressed.
For one, although Ingrid Bergman was acceptable as Joan on stage, on screen and in close up the 33-year old actress seemed a bit too mature to play a girl almost half her age. Also, although the costumes were expensive, the sets were not. Scenes of the French Army in camp and a major battle scene were all shot on soundstages giving the production the cramped look of a B-movie. The pacing as well left audiences bored. Despite winning Oscars® for color cinematography and costume design, Joan Of Arc received a second roasting from the critics with the Harvard Lampoon, in their yearly bad movie awards, giving the film a special award for Worst Picture of the Century.
Time has only partially improved on the low opinion of this movie reviewers had upon its release. Joan of Arc may not be a riveting presentation of the saint's life, but it is a gorgeous film, shot in the ultra-color saturation that could only be achieved with three-strip Technicolor. Jewelry, sunsets and armor leap from the screen in their intensity. Plus, in addition to the color, there is the face of Ingrid Bergman, a great beauty then at her height of loveliness.
Image Entertainment's DVD presents Joan of Arc in its original 146 road show length restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. They have done a marvelous job of re-aligning the original three pieces of film that made up the movie's negative. Just as an example of how gorgeous Hollywood color film could look in the 1940's, Joan of Arc deserves a look.
For more information about Joan of Arc, visit Image Entertainment. To order Joan of Arc, go to TCM Shopping.
by Brian Cady