Ingrid Thursdays: Joan of Arc (1948)

The Film: Historical films from the Golden Age of Hollywood were somewhat of a new genre in the context of the era. Aside from the necessary financial backing needing to make such films, the production companies also needed the films to be crafted in such a manner to appeal to its target audience. Gone With The Wind set the bar with the historical genre in 1939 Joan of Arc movie posterand many attempts to mirror the glory of the historical film afterwards paled in comparison. Joan of Arc is a unique case study in regards to this perception in that the film was adapted from a Maxwell Anderson play that was hardly utilized. The film was based upon the 1946 play, Joan of Lorraine, which revolved around a theater company of actors performing a dramatization of Joan of Arc’s life. The play had starred Ingrid Bergman in a dual performance as Joan of Arc and as an actress who is attempting to portray Joan on the stage. This performance won her a Tony award and also incited her to campaign vigorously to play the role in a film adaption. While the play was adapted, and written by Anderson himself for the silver screen, the majority of the play’s content was stripped away and the film solely utilized the historical elements and embellished the details of certain scenes to craft a complete film. Victor Fleming, who incidentally directed Gone With The Wind, was at the helm of the project with the goal of providing a compelling biopic of the female warrior. What he achieved instead was a film that failed to meet the standards set for it and, by contemporary standards, was a box-office failure.

Despite critic complaints that the film was “too talky,” Joan of Arc was still able to garner a handful of Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Ingrid Bergman. Yet what sealed the film’s fate of failure was the revelation of Bergman’s affair with Roberto Rossellini. Film viewers were turned off by the concept of watching a film to which Bergman Ingrid Bergman 01was portraying a virtuous woman when they deemed her as an “immoral person.” Despite such issues, the contemporary issue with Joan of Arc is its blatant historical inaccuracies. It is evident the film placed its script-writing focus upon the trial sequences and the majority of the film’s budget went towards the battle sequences, yet neither of these focuses have any historical legitimacy. The film crafts the notion that Joan of Arc was hesitantly accepted by the future King Charles VII, to which her conquests were brief and swift to have him be crowned. The film further portrays Charles VII accepting a corrupt deal with England and betraying Joan of Arc, to which she was ultimately tried for heresy and burned at the stake. While the film’s trial sequences and the her execution hold the most accuracy, a large portion of the film’s buildup is inaccurate. Joan of Arc won a series of victories and the truce between the French and England was a temporary deal, to which it concluded after a handful of months. Joan of Arc was, in fact, captured by English troops after the truce had ended, opposed to being betrayed by Charles VII, as the film depicts. By contemporary standards, such inaccuracies diminish the efforts of the film, to which it presents itself as amateur filmmaking in comparison to other films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Even when avoiding the issue of historical inaccuracy, the film’s poor construction is glaring and further minimizes the intended effect it was supposed to have with viewers. It is evident that the film was made to showcase Ingrid Bergman and the film was crafted around her. Yet whenever she had a pivotal scene, such as the many she has with her army, the element of realism is nonexistent due to the fact that the sets were obviously filmed on a sound stage with a blue screen. This issue should not be chalked down to “that’s how films were made then” due to Fleming’s experience in the past with Ingrid 02Gone With the Wind and how he was able to manipulate the entirety of the environment to make the scenes appear “real.” Instead, Joan of Arc comes off as lazy filmmaking with its sets and especially with its actors who all speak in monotone voices. The dialogue of the film is uttered so matter-of-factly that it lacks any integrity behind its meaning, with the exception to this being Ingrid Bergman and Jose Ferrer (in his first role). However, the true star of the film was Francis L. Sullivan, who starred as the Bishop Pierre Cauchon who presides over Joan of Arc’s trial. The entirety of his performance was astounding, to which he exhibited corruption not only in his actions, but his verbal interactions as well. He was able to convey an aura of distrust and implicate the then-establishment’s penchant for slimy backdoor dealings. Furthermore, Sullivan was further able to subtly imply, through his performance, his internalized fear of Joan of Arc’s political power, to which his motivation is to extinguish it to preserve his own power. When assessing Sullivan’s performance, it is unfair he failed to gain an Oscar nomination when both Bergman and Ferrer were awarded nominations themselves.

The Performance: Given the role of Joan of Arc was Ingrid Bergman’s “dream project,” one would presume this would be the performance of her career, especially with rumors that continue to circulate today that Bergman slept with Victor Fleming Ingrid 04to have the film produced. Yet this is quite the contrary. The fundamental flaw of her performance is that it is within a poorly constructed film, thus the power of her performance was diminished. The film’s determination to showcase Bergman put too much of an emphasis upon her, to which the scenes that are critical to her performance come off as flat and lacking any real authority. This is not the fault of Bergman, but rather the indirect effect of how the film represents her performance. However, what can be attributed to Bergman is her inability to ever truly convince the film viewer that she is Joan of Arc. She plays the majority of her role as if she were in a trace, and rarely conveys any range that would imply the possibility that she could lead an army. Bergman’s performance lacks any authority to it, to which it evident that she is acting within a film.

It is with the film’s second half, her trial scenes, that Bergman showed some range with her performance. In many of these scenes she is tearful yet defiant, which inadvertently is how she portrayed her character in the first half of the film. While she come off as clearly acting in the film’s first half, her acting functions better within the environment established in Ingrid 03the film’s second half. Bergman’s character represents virtue and integrity, which are characteristics she is able to successfully contrast with the corrupt court proceedings. She is sure to give the character strength, but also is sure to emphasize the internal struggle of knowing that she is to be a martyr. Yet even these scenes are minimized, mostly due to the film’s choppy editing, that portrays her character experiencing one emotion and the next scene she is drastically experiencing another. It is not Bergman’s fault for this, but rather the blame goes to the film’s continual usage of fade-outs, which took away any possibility for her performance to have an organic progression. Instead, her performance is precisely like the film; choppy and glaringly disjointed.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
Casablanca
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Gaslight
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Anastasia
Cactus Flower
Notorious
Spellbound
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s

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