Joan of Arc (1948): Victor Fleming’s Last, Semi-Epic Film, Starring Ingrid Bergman

It’s too bad that director Victor Fleming, best known for Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both in 1939), ended his career with Joan of Arc, a presumably passion project that is a lavish but static version of the life and times of the legendary French heroine.

Grade: C+ (*1/2* out of *****)

Joan of Arc
Joan of arc (1948 film poster).jpg

Original theatrical release poster

The movie, a big-budget, opulent production of Walter Wanger, is nice to look at, though its most important merit is Ingrid Bergman’s vivid, compelling, Oscar nominated performance in the titular role, the 15th-century French peasant girl, the Maid of Orleans.

Maxwell Anderson’s and Andrew Salt’s screenplay is an adaptation of Anderson’s play, “Joan of Lorraine,” in which Ingrid Bergman had appeared on Broadway.  The text is still to theatrical, containing long monologues and speeches about God, country, and patriotism, lacking the dynamic strategy that had marked most of Fleming’s movies.

The tale relates how Joan led he French in battle against the invading English, becoming a national hero and icon—at a price. When Joan was captured, tortured, and ultimately executed by the English, she was made a Catholic saint.

Ingrid Bergman, then at the height of her Hollywood popularity, turns the character into a strong and spiritual figure who proves her devotion to the Dauphin (Jose Ferrer), who later became the King of France.

Joan wins an alliance with the Governor of Vaucouleurs and the courtiers at Chinon, leads her army in the Battle of Orleans. When she is later betrayed by the Burgundians, she proudly proclaims, “Our strength is in our faith.”

Wanger was quite upset with the Academy voters when “Joan of Arc” garnered 7 Oscar nominationsm but failed to make the cut as Best Picture contender.  It was the first time in the Academy’s history that a movie received so many nominations without a nod for the top award.

Otto Preminger made his version of “Joan of Arc” in 1957, with his discovery, the then young and unknown Jean Seberg.

The most effective version of “Joan of Arc” is still the silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” directed in a series of cose-ups by the brilliant Carl Theodor Dreiser in 1928 with a luminous Maria Falconetti in the lead.

It is ironic that Bergman and Wanger lost their reputation and credibility in the industry within a short period of time after the film was made.  Bergman, who always benefited from a wholesome screen image (she played a nun in “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” would desert her husband and daughter to join director Roberto Rosellini in Italy (after which she was blacklisted).

Wanger would be trialed and imprisoned two years later for shooting Jannings Lang, the noted agent and notorious lover of Wanger’s wife, actress Joan Bennett.

“Joan of Arc” was not a huge commercial success, throwing notable producer Wanger into bankruptcy.

The movie followed Ingrid Bergman’s failure “Arch of Triumph” and was succeeded by another Bergman disappointment, Hitchcock’s “Under Capricorn,”  No wonder she wanted a change of pace and doing other kinds of films in Italy.

The movie was a commercial failure vis a vis its large budget.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Actress: Ingrid Bergman

Supporting Actor: Jose Ferrer

Cinematography (Color): Joseph Valentine

Costume Design (Color): Dorothy Jeakins and Karinska

Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color): Richard Day; Edwin Casey Roberts, and Joseph Kish

Scoring (Drama or Comedy): Hugo Friedhofer

Film Editing: Frank Sullivan

Oscar Awards: 3


Costume Design

Special Award for Walter Wanger for distinguished service to the industry in adding to its moral stature by his production.

Quote to remember:

Upon losing the Costume Design Oscar for “The Emperor Waltz,” the famous Edith Head noted: “To my mind, there was no way Ingrid Bergman’s sackcloths and suits of armor could win over my Vienese finery.”

Oscar Context

The most nominated picture, and thus the biggest loser, was “Johnny Belinda,” receiving 12 nominations, but winning only one Oscar, Best Actress for Jane Wyman as the deaf-mute girl Belinda McDonald.  Olivia de Havilland won her second Best Actress Oscar the following year, for “The Heiress.”

In 1948, the winners of the Best Actress were Jane Wyman for “Johnny Belinda,” and the Supporting Actor Walter Huston for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “The Red Shoes” deservedly won the Color Art Direction and the Score Oscar for Brian Easdale.  The Editing Oscar went to Paul Weatherwax for the noir drama, “The Naked City.”


RKO Radio (Sierra Pictures)

Directed by Victor Fleming
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Maxwell Anderson, Andrew Solt, based on “Joan of Lorraine” by Maxwell Anderson
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Joseph Valentine
Edited by Frank Sullivan
Color process Technicolor

Production company: Sierra Pictures

Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: November 11, 1948 (Premiere-NYC); September 2, 1950 (US)

Running time: 145 minutes
Budget $4,650,506
Box office $5,768,142