2 Down, 8 to Go: Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc

(the 416th of the 424 Best Actress nominees!)



The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda

Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama

Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit

Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number

Joan of Arc is the typical Hollywood historical epic, with the same virtues and faults.  It’s an ideal, though unintentional, swan song for Victor Fleming, combining his muscular adventure stories (Treasure Island, Captains Courageous) with his gift for sensitively directed, female-centric epics (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz).  He directs the battle scenes with kinetic glee, particularly when staging a brilliant rally at Orleans against the backdrop of a blazing turret.  However, he also knows to place Ingrid firmly at the center of the saga, keeping her anchored in the midst of any number of dolly shots and action montages.  The film removes the more interesting frame story of the play, in which a troupe staging a performance of Joan of Arc is apparently affected by the characters they perform.  It can’t help but plod in places, and all the performances, including an excellent Donald Sutherland-esque Jose Ferrer as the Dauphin, are hindered by some of Maxwell Anderson’s stuffier dialogue.  Still, the film serves as a great showpiece for Ingrid’s predilection for Important Roles, and here (unlike in For Whom the Bell Tolls) I think she delivers nicely.

Ingrid approaches the role of Joan of Arc in the shadow of one of the greatest film performances of all time: Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s intimate epic, The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Ingrid’s goal is to present the clear, divine inspiration of a saint, and while she doesn’t turn in the virtuoso performance that Maria does, I think that in many ways she has the tougher challenge, not just because of the fortuitous issue of precedent, but because of the parameters of the role.  Where Maria famously appeared before the camera stripped of makeup, lighting, and all other trickery (instantly becoming metonymous with cinematic truth), Ingrid appears cloaked in the lush artifice of Technicolor Hollywood.   Where Maria’s Joan existed only on trial, Ingrid journeys through a full two acts before indictment for heresy.  Ingrid does an excellent job of conveying sincerity, her naturally furrowed brow and soft attacks of her lines of dialogue conveying a serene confidence behind her pleas.  She truly comes into her own during the trial, when she makes Joan craftily parrying the church’s leading questions seem like a character arriving at the truth like a natural consequence.  And of course, at the end, nobody suffers more gorgeously (immaculately, even) on the cross than she.  My vote for 1948 goes to Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit for a bold and still-impressive examination of mental illness, but Ingrid makes a worthy contender.


One thought on “2 Down, 8 to Go: Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc

  1. Mr Jerome says:

    Irene Dunne makes I Remember Mama less bathetic than otherwise. The scene of “chloroforming the cat,” or the scene with the imperiously wonderful Florence Bates (Rebecca’s compnanion in Rebecca, Mrs Edna Craig at the beginning of Heaven Can Wait/Lubitsch, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0060904/bio) are fantastic.
    Irene DUnne can do (done?) no wrong.

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