'Joan of Arc': THR's 1948 Review
On Nov. 11, 1948, Sierra-RKO premiered the historical epic Joan of Arc in New York. The film went on to nab three Oscars at the 21st Academy Awards ceremony, including cinematography and costume design. The Hollywood Reporter's original review, headlined "'Joan of Arc' Magnificent Panorama of Maid's Life," is below:
The story of Joan of Arc is one that has challenged the imagination of great writers and the talent of great actresses through the centuries. Now in the Sierra production of Walter Wanger for the RKO release comes the most glorious fulfillment of the Joan legend — a magnificently staged panoramic insight into the life and times of the simple French peasant girl who left such a controversial impact on history.
Maxwell Anderson, whose play last season gave himself and Ingrid Bergman an extraordinary opportunity to familiarize themselves with Joan, is the co-author of the screenplay. His script is a beautiful writing job — literate, wise, understanding, and sympathetic. Always it is mindful of the dramatic and action requisites of the screen. It has vigor and movement which blend into impressive medieval pageantry as the drama turns to the famous battles in which the Maid led her army against the English conquerer. In these sequences Wanger's production becomes a marvel of motion picture skill. They are notable for their realism and vivid authenticity.
A wiser choice than Victor Fleming for the directorial assignment is impossible to imagine. Fleming is at home in the atmosphere of Joan with its mob scenes and spectacle elements. But more than this, he is a director whose sensitivity can merge subtle characterization and human emotions into the pageantry. It is a tribute to his own finesse and the writing that not one of the many, many characters ever comes into focus whose identity and his purpose are not perfectly clear.
As a box office attraction, Joan of Arc comes at a time when there are no spectacles to equal it in the motion picture market. This is but one sizable advantage of a motion picture laden with popular and exploitation appeal. It is a hit in every sense of that much abused word.
The Bergman Joan is a performance that audiences will long remember. It is a tour de force, but Bergman is ever its mistress. Simplicity is its keynote as the magnificently gifted actress first fumbles and then knows the words that inspire her countrymen to battle and to victory.
Francis L. Sullivan, in the role of her inquisitor, the Bishop of Beauvais, deftly phrases his villainy. J. Carrol Naish, the one-eyed Count of Luxembourg, who captures Joan, gives another of his distinguished character portrayals, while Ward Bond scores decisively as a rough, plain-spoken soldier who succumbs to Joan's charms. Shepperd Strudwick is appealing as the humble priest who befriends her in her final moments. Gene Lockhart is the wily advisor to the Dauphin. Cecil Kellaway and Leif Erickson are excellent.
In a picture of many striking performances the most notable is that of Jose Ferrer, the New York stage actor who makes his film debut as the Dauphin. His flexible voice and understanding of the capricious French king etch a completely fascinating character. Ferrer makes him a real person. The cast above gives an idea of acting talent assembled for Joan of Arc and to do each actor justice would require an enormous amount of space. Write "superb" next to each name and you have an impression of their style of histrionics.
Technically Joan of Arc is a masterpiece — a film made possible only by the unerring craftsmanship of the men involved. There is Joseph Valentine's camera work providing a photographic feat for the eye. Richard Day is credited with the authentic and exciting art direction. William V. Skall and Winton Hoch serve expertly as Technicolor photographers, assisted by Technicolor associate director Rich Mueller. Hugo Friedhofer's brilliant musical score is given colorful arrangement by Jerome Moross and splendid direction by Emil Newman. Frank Sullivan's editing of the big attraction is a major contribution. — Staff review, originally published Oct. 20, 1948.