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The working titles of this film were The Life of Joan of Arc, Joan of Lorraine and Joan. For its general release in September 1950, Joan of Arc was cut from 145 minutes to 100 minutes. Although a print of the shortened version was viewed, the above summary includes scenes from the longer version, as described in the film's cutting continuity, which was deposited with copyright records in October 1948. [The long version was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archives in 1998.] In the onscreen credits, actor Ethan Laidlaw's name is misspelled "Laidlow." The picture opens with a brief prologue depicting Joan of Arc's canonization in 1920. A voice-over narration then introduces Joan as an historical figure and provides other historical background information. The voice-over narration is used sporadically throughout the film.
As depicted in the film, Joan of Arc, a farmer's daughter, was born in Domremy, Lorraine, France, in 1412. She first described hearing "voices" when she was twelve years old and, by the time she was sixteen, appeared before the military commandant at Vaucouleurs and persuaded him to guide her to the Dauphin in Bourges. In May 1429, Joan led an army to Orleans and forced the English to withdraw their troops. Two months later, Joan convinced the Dauphin to be crowned king in Rheims. Joan was captured on May 23, 1430 and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. In 1456, she was officially proclaimed innocent, and in 1909, she was beatified under Pope Piux X. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920, during the papacy of Benedict XV.
Contemporary news items and press releases add the following information about the production: As early as January 1940, David O. Selznick announced plans to produce a "Joan of Arc" picture starring Ingrid Bergman. By January 1946, however, Jennifer Jones was being considered for the role, and Selznick eventually abandoned all plans to make the picture. A Technicolor biography, titled St. Joan and starring Kit Cornell, was being considered in August 1944 by Gabriel Pascal. In April 1947, as a result of her highly touted performance in Maxwell Anderson's successful play, Joan of Lorraine, Bergman, along with producer Walter Wanger and director Victor Fleming, formed Sierra Pictures, Inc. to make a screen version of the saint's life. Although the filmmakers announced that the film would not be an adaptation of the play, which focused on a troupe of actors putting on a production of Joan of Arc, Anderson was hired to write the script, and his play is listed as a source in the onscreen credits. The Technicolor picture was budgeted at four million dollars and was to be released by M-G-M. Charles Bickford was announced as a possible male lead in July 1947. (In May 1947, Alexander Korda announced that he was dropping plans to make a dual-language version of Joan of Arc because of competition from the Sierra production. Korda's French language version was to have starred Michele Morgan.)
In mid-September 1947, after two months of delay for script revisions on the Sierra project, M-G-M bowed out because it could not come to an agreement with Sierra concerning profit sharing. According to the doomed 166-page deal between Sierra and M-G-M, Bergman was to have gotten the biggest share of the film's profits, with Fleming second and Wanger third. RKO took over as the film's distributor and secondary backer in September 1947, refunding M-G-M $200,000 for costs already incurred. The principal backer was Bankers Trust Company of New York, which gave Sierra a 3.5 million dollar loan. RKO assumed the negative completion cost of approximately $1,100,000.
Jos Ferrer made his screen acting debut in Joan of Arc, which also marked the last feature film appearance of longtime actress Irene Rich (1891-1988). The production, which included a seven-month research period, was shot primarily at the Hal Roach Studios. It was touted as the biggest "costume show" since Selznick's 1939 epic Gone With the Wind, and reportedly required the biggest casting call in ten years. (Press releases claim that 4,300 extras were used.) A pre-production news item noted that the Library of Congress and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York "cooperated" on the film's research. Technical advisor Father Paul Doncoeur was a French priest, editor of the Jesuit weekly tude and a leading expert on the life of Joan of Arc, while Henry Noerdlinger, who advised on costumes and customs, was a medieval expert. Ruth Roberts, who is credited on screen as a researcher, was Bergman's language coach.
To construct 150 custom-made aluminum suits of armor, each of which weighed approximately ten pounds, artist Noel Howard collaborated with boat builder Fred Wilken. Howard also worked with Leonard Heinrich, armorer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to build Bergman's white armor, which weighed fifteen pounds and required 500 hours of construction time. Because California horses were deemed too small for the battle sequences, horses were shipped from Iowa for the production. Second-unit director Richard Rosson oversaw the battle and palace-storming scenes, most of which were shot in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. In Balboa, CA, 150 acres of land were drained to reproduce the marshland battlefield of Compiegne. The stake-burning scene was shot at the RKO Ranch in Encino, CA, and used the same "Old Market Square at Rouen" set seen in RKO's 1947 picture Miracle of the Bells, which featured film-within-a-film "Joan of Arc" scenes . The imitation stone cathedral front used in RKO's 1940 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was also employed for this picture. In late October 1947, production was shut down for ten days due to Fleming's bout with the flu. Added scenes were shot in mid-February 1948. Shortly after the film's premiere in November 1948, Fleming died of a heart attack. Joan of Arc was his last picture.
After a test audience reacted negatively to the title Joan of Lorraine, RKO decided to change the title, but had to negotiate for rights to Joan of Arc, as several studios, including Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox, as well as Selznick, had prior claims to it. In addition to the generous budget, which eventually topped $4,600,000, the film was awarded over one million dollars for advertising. Bergman participated in a publicity tour for the picture that followed the journey Joan of Arc made through France. The "star-studded" Los Angeles opening of the picture was a benefit for the Marion Davies Foundation Clinic, while proceeds from the October 1949 Parisian opening went toward the rebuilding of the Jeanne d'Arc Museum in Orleans, which was destroyed during World War II. For the film's general release, Joan's saintly voices were dubbed into the sound track. Although Joan of Arc enjoyed an extensive roadshow run, playing some 3,000 engagements, and performed well in some cities and overseas, it was not a box office success in the U.S. As of December 1951, the film had grossed six million dollars, three million less than was needed to cover production and distribution costs.
In her autobiography, Ingrid Bergman relates the following information about the production: During rehearsals of the Broadway production of Joan of Lorraine, Bergman persuaded Anderson to add details about Joan of Arc's life, some of which were taken from the original transcripts of the Rouen trial. For the film, Bergman and her collaborators continued to strive for historical accuracy: "What we tried to do in the movie was the real Joan, from the documents and the trial, the girl who went out onto the battlefield and cried when she saw the terrible horror of medieval battle." In addition to Father Doncoeur, Bergman recalls that American priest Father J. J. Devlin worked as a technical advisor on the film.
Joan of Arc received many Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor (Ferrer); Best Actress, Best Art Direction; Best Editing; and Best Musical Score. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design (Color). Although Wanger was awarded a special statuette for "distinguished service to the industry in adding to its moral stature in the world community by his production of the picture Joan of Arc," he refused to accept the honor in protest of the film's absence in the Best Picture category. The film also won awards in France, Belgium and Spain. Harvard Lampoon, however, singled out Joan of Arc as the "worst film of the century" on their 1949 "worst film" list. In February 1950, New York Times reported that because of Bergman's much-publicized romantic relationship with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, the MPAA deleted her Joan of Arc death scene from an "all-industry" compilation film, which was made to highlight Hollywood's historical pictures. In 1953, Bergman appeared in Joan of Arc at the Stake, an oratorio by Paul Claudel and Arthur Honegger, directed in Italy by Rossellini.
Many films featuring Joan of Arc have been made, including a 1913 Italian film directed by Nino Oxilia, starring Maria Jacobini Savoia; Joan the Woman, a 1916 Cardinal Film Corp. release, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Geraldine Farrar (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2284); a 1928 French film entitled La passion de Jeanne d'Arc, directed by Carl Dreyer, starring Renee Falconetti; a 1957 United Artists release entitled Saint Joan, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jean Seberg; and a 1962 French film entitled Le proces de Jeanne d'Arc, directed by Robert Bresson, starring Florence Carrez (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1960-70; F6.5170). Joan of Arc, a Canadian television production directed by Christian Duguay and starring Leelee Sobieski, was broadcast on CBS in May 1999; that same year, Columbia Pictures released the French-made film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, directed by Luc Besson and starring Milla Jovovich.