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Saint Joan
Alternate Title: Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1957
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Paris, France: 12 May 1957; London, England opening: 20 Jun 1957; New York and Los Angeles openings: 26 Jun 1957
Production Date:   early Jan 1957--mid-Mar 1957 at Shepperton Studios, London
Duration (in mins):   110
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Cast:   Richard Widmark (The Dauphin, later King Charles VII)  
    Richard Todd (Dunois)  
    Anton Walbrook (Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais)  
    John Gielgud (Earl of Warwick)  
    Felix Aylmer (The Inquisitor)  
    Harry Andrews (John de Stogumber)  
    Barry Jones (de Courcelles)  
    Finlay Currie (Archbishop of Rheims)  
    Bernard Miles (Master Executioner)  
    Patrick Barr (Captain la Hire)  
    Kenneth Haigh (Brother Martin Ladvenu)  
    Archie Duncan (Robert de Beaudricourt)  
    Margot Grahame (Duchesse de la Tremouille)  
    Francis de Wolff (La Tremouille, the Lord Chamberlain)  
    Victor Maddern (English soldier with cross)  
    David Oxley ("Bluebeard," Gilles de Rais)  
    Sydney Bromley (Steward)  
    David Langton (Warwick's officer)  
  and Jean Seberg (Saint Joan)  
    Norman Rossington (English soldier at burning)  

Summary: In 1456, Charles VII, King of France experiences a troubled sleep and dreams that he is visited by Joan, the former commander of his army, who was burned at the stake as a heretic twenty-five years earlier. After Charles tells Joan that her case was retried and her sentence annulled because the original judges acted out of corruption and malice, he remembers how she entered his life when he was the Dauphin of France: Joan, a simple, seventeen-year-old peasant girl, has heard the voices of Saints Catherine and Margaret telling her that she will lead the French army against the English at the siege of Orleans and be responsible for having the Dauphin crowned king at Rheims cathedral. After Joan manages to convince her local squire, Captain Robert de Beaudricourt, that she has received these orders from God, de Beaudricourt provides her with a letter of introduction to the Dauphin. When Joan arrives at the Dauphin’s palace at Chinon she discovers that he is a childish weakling with no interest in fighting. After being tested by the members of the court, who conclude that she is mad, Joan imbues the Dauphin with her belief and fervor and he gives her command of the army. With the help of Captain Dunois, Joan leads the army to retake Orleans. Shortly thereafter, Joan witnesses the coronation of Charles by the Archbishop of Rheims in a lavish ceremony at the cathedral. Although her triumphs have made Joan popular with the masses, her voices, beliefs, self-confidence and apparent supernatural powers have made her enemies in high places. Charles, who has no further use for her services, expects her to return to her father’s farm. When Joan challenges Charles to retake Paris from the English, the king informs her that he would rather make a peace treaty than fight. After Dunois refuses Joan’s plea to march on Paris, the archbishop warns her that if she sets her private judgment above the instructions of her spiritual directors, the church will disown her. Nevertheless, Joan, who believes that God will not fail her, appeals to the common people and marches on Paris, but is captured by dukes from the state of Burgundy who are waging their own civil war. To assure that Joan will never again become a threat to England, the English commander, the Earl of Warwick, buys her from the Burgundians and hands her over to the Catholic Church to be tried for heresy. Joan spends four months in a cell and is visited frequently by the Inquisitor and his colleagues, Master de Courcelles and Brother Martin Ladvenu, in preparation for her trial. Warwick and his chaplain, John de Stogumber, become impatient with the delay and Warwick summons Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, to ask him to begin the trial. De Stogumber, a religious fanatic, hates the French and fears that Joan will not be executed. When the trial begins, Joan refuses to deny that the church is wiser than she is. Later, in a moment of panic and despair, Joan is persuaded that her voices have deceived her. Brother Martin reads to her from a document of recantation she is to sign in which she confesses that she pretended to hear revelations from God and saints and is guilty of the sins of sedition, idolatry, disobedience, pride and heresy. Joan signs the document, believing that she will go free, but when she learns that the sentence of the Bishops’ Court and Holy Inquisition is perpetual, solitary imprisonment, Joan destroys the document, as she cannot face a life bereft of the elements of nature and life she holds dear, and now believes that God wants her to come to him through the ordeal of being burned at the stake. After Joan is excommunicated, Warwick, weary of the Church’s endless ritual and aware that Joan can be executed long before the Vatican learns about it, orders his soldiers to drag Joan to the square to be burned. The Inquisitor cynically tells Beauvais that if the English choose to put themselves in the wrong, it is not the judges' business to rectify their wrongs and that this flaw in procedure may be useful later on. As the flames begin to lick around Joan, a compassionate English soldier hands her a cross, fashioned from two sticks. De Stogumber witnesses Joan’s death and, traumatized, is stricken with remorse. The King's dream continues as he and Joan are visited by other significant figures from her life including the dishonored Cauchon, who was excommunicated after his death for having participated in what was intended to have been an ecclesiastical process, but became a political trial. Growing weary of all the spirit visitors, Charles tells Joan he has dreamed of her long enough and returns to his bed and his troubled sleep.
 

Production Company: Wheel Productions, Ltd.  
Production Text: A Wheel Production
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
  Peter Bolton (Asst dir)
Producer: Otto Preminger (Pres)
  Otto Preminger (Prod)
  Douglas Peirce (Assoc prod)
Writer: Graham Greene (Scr)
Photography: Georges Perinal (Photog)
  Denys Coop (Cam op)
  Bob Willoughby (Stills)
Art Direction: Roger Furse (Prod des)
  Ray Simm (Art dir)
  Alexander Bilibin (Scenic artist)
Film Editor: Helga Cranston (Ed)
Costumes: John McCorry (Ward)
Music: Mischa Spoliansky (Mus)
Sound: Peter Hanford (Sd)
  Red Law (Sd)
Special Effects: Saul Bass (Titles)
Make Up: Tony Sforzini (Makeup)
  Gordon Bond (Hairdressing)
Production Misc: Charles R. Beard (Tech adv)
  Lionel Larner (Casting dir)
  Laurie Laurence (Prod mgr)
  Doreen Francis (Scr supv)
  Father Burke (Advisor on Catholic ritual)
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw (New York, 28 Dec 1923).
Authors: George Bernard Shaw

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Wheel Productions, Ltd. 17/5/1957 dd/mm/yyyy LP9011

PCA NO: 18409
Physical Properties: Sd:
  b&w:

 
Genre: Biography
  Biography
Sub-Genre: Historical
  Religious
 
Subjects (Major): Catholic Church
  Christianity
  Faith
  France--History--15th century
  Hypocrisy
  Joan of Arc, Saint
  Revelation (Theology, inspiration)
  Trials
 
Subjects (Minor): Barges
  Bishops
  Burning at the stake
  Castles
  Cathedrals
  Charles VII, King of France, 1403-1461
  Chinon (France)
  Coronations
  Courts and courtiers
  Dreams
  Duplicity
  English in foreign countries
  Excommunication
  Executioners
  French
  Heresy
  Loneliness
  Nobility
  Orleans (France)
  Palaces
  Piety
  Peasantry
  Priests
  Prisons
  Prophets
  Religiosity
  Religious articles
  Religious persecution
  Rheims (France)
  Rites and ceremonies
  Rouen (France)
  Sieges
  Soldiers
  Women soldiers
  Xenophobia

Note: The film's opening title cards read: "Otto Preminger presents Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan ". A 23 Jul 1956 DV news item reported that producer-director Otto Preminger had paid the estate of George Bernard Shaw (1856--1950) $100,000, plus 5% of the world gross, for the screen rights to Shaw's play Saint Joan . Preminger then contracted Graham Greene, the distinguished novelist, to reduce and adapt the play, which ran three-and-a-half hours, into a film that would run less than two hours. The film's pressbook claimed that 95% of the resultant film's dialogue was Shaw's. Both Preminger and Greene later claimed to have been unaware that Shaw had written a screen adaptation of the play between 1934 and 1936. That adaptation was published in 1968.
       Preminger also initiated a worldwide search, rivaling that of David O. Selznick's for an actress to play "Scarlett O'Hara" in Gone With the Wind , for an unknown girl to play Joan. In a 17 Feb 1957 NYT interview, Preminger claimed that his company received "18,000 applications, which were carefully processed, and then I saw 3,000 applicants in twenty-three cities." Eventually Preminger selected 18-year-old Jean Seberg of Marshalltown, IA for the arduous role, noting that "She has the looks, intelligence, feeling and just the right innocence. She has shaped very well under instruction...though...she has never been near a film studio before." In the same interview, Preminger mentioned that he had earlier hoped to cast Richard Burton as "Warwick" and Paul Scofield as "Brother Martin," and a 9 Oct 1956 HR news item confirms that Burton was originally cast as Warwick.
       French cameraman Georges Perinal replaced Desmond Dickinson before shooting began, as Dickinson and Preminger disagreed about the film's visual style. Before filming started, Preminger made the decision to announce that the film would have its premiere in Paris on 12 May 1957, on the day the French nation annually honors its warrior saint. The interval between the first day of shooting in early Jan 1957 (full-scale rehearsals had begun at Shepperton Studios in mid-Dec 1956) and the premiere was sixteen weeks. As noted in various contemporary news reports, during the filming of the scene in which "Joan" is burned at the stake, an accident occurred and Seberg was burned slightly on her right hand and stomach. A section of that shot is used in the completed film. Although a Jan 1957 HR news item includes Thomas Gallagher in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Some contemporary sources list sound technician Peter Hanford as Peter Hammond.
       The world premiere took place as scheduled at the Paris Opéra as part of a gala benefit for French polio victims. The audience was also entertained by Bob Hope and French comedian Fernandel, who were filming Paris Holiday at that time.
       Several reviews, including two in the London Times , noted that Greene's condensation of the play resulted in "some odd omissions, interpolations and additions" and that "the result is a certain scrappiness and confusion in the first half of the film in place of Shaw's slow and careful build-up." Other reviewers complained that an epilogue Shaw wrote was used as a prologue and recurring scene throughout the film. The released film lacks any foreword or historical introduction. Greene, a convert to Catholicism, was also criticized for changing Shaw's view that the entire church was responsible for "Joan's" execution. The film places the blame on individual judges. The film does not mention that "Joan" was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1909 and canonized in 1920.
       In his autobiography, published in 1977, Preminger, who had directed Shaw's play early in his career in Vienna, wrote that during the premiere he "started to realize that my film Saint Joan was a failure. Many people blamed Jean Seberg and her inexperience. That is unfair. I alone am to blame because...I misunderstood something fundamental about Shaw's play. It is not a dramatization of the legend of Joan of Arc which is filled with emotion and religious passion. It is a deep but cool intellectual examination of the role religion plays in the history of man."
       Seberg, whose personal life and political stances were often controversial, appeared in more than thirty films before her death, under mysterious circumstances, in Paris in 1979. In 1927, Sybil Thorndike, who had portrayed Joan in the play's first London production, also appeared in a short sound film, made by the DeForest Phonofilm Company, of the Cathedral scene. For more information on films about the life of Saint Joan, please see the entry for Joan of Arc in AFI Catalog of Feature Films; 1941-50

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Aug 1957   pp. 510-11, 526-27.
American Cinematographer   Aug 1960   pp. 476-78.
Box Office   11 May 1957   p. 22.
Box Office   18 May 1957.   
Daily Variety   23 Jul 1956.   
Daily Variety   8 May 1957   p. 3.
Film Daily   8 May 1957   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Aug 1956   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Sep 1956   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Oct 1956   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Oct 1956   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jan 1957   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Jan 1957   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jan 1957   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   8 May 1957   p. 3.
Life   29 Oct 1956   pp. 119-120.
Life   11 Mar 1957.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   11 May 1957   p. 369.
New York Times   2 Sep 1956.   
New York Times   17 Feb 1957.   
New York Times   27 Jun 1957   p. 21.
The Times (London)   13 May 1957   p. 14.
The Times (London)   20 Jun 1957   p. 3.
Variety   8 May 1957   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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