Saint Joan (1957)

Saint Joan (1957)

“They did not stop me — nor will anybody.”

In 15th century France, King Charles VII (Richard Widmark) is visited in his dreams by Joan of Arc (Jean Seberg), who burned at the stake for heresy after leading the French army against the English in the siege at Orléans, and then refusing to denounce the voices she heard.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anton Walbrook Films
  • Biopics
  • Christianity
  • Harry Andrews Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Seberg Films
  • John Gielgud Films
  • Non-Conformists
  • Otto Preminger Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Strong Females

Otto Preminger purportedly screened 18,000 young women for the central role in his adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play, and landed on Iowan would-be starlet Jean Seberg. Unfortunately, Seberg was (unfairly) lambasted for her performance here, though Preminger immediately cast her in his next film, Bonjour Tristesse (1958) — and of course she went on to New Wave stardom in Godard’s Breathless (1960). I haven’t seen or read Shaw’s original play, so can’t comment on its truncation and alteration here, but Grahame Greene’s screenplay flowed just fine for me. Seberg is appropriately earnest as the strong-willed Joan, never letting up on her insistence that she’s being guided by God:

… and she’s surrounded by top-class talent, including John Gielgud as the Earl of Warwick, Felix Aylmer as the Inquisitor, and Anton Walbrook as the Bishop of Beauvais.

The final stake-burning sequence (which apparently accidentally involved real risk) is authentically frightening:

… and the sets and costumes effectively evoke an entirely different time and place. This one isn’t as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jean Seberg as Joan
  • Fine supporting performances across the cast
  • Georges Périnal’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Saint Joan (1957)

  1. I’m going to ‘once-must’ this simply for the performances – as mentioned at the end of my 12/7/14 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “They told me you were fools.”

    ‘Saint Joan’ (1957): I’d not seen this before. Word was that the film is an almost-complete misfire, mainly since it’s led by Jean Seberg in a roundly panned performance. This was Seberg’s film debut and she won a talent search that resulted in the collection of 18,000 young girls (18,000? Seriously?). Now that I’ve finally seen the film myself, I find Seberg is not at all bad in the role. I especially like her in her long scene of introduction to Richard Widmark. In fact, the untried actress holds up well against the sturdy likes of Richard Todd, Anton Walbrook, Harry Andrews and John Gielgud (who stands out in his wickedly pragmatic turn).

    The critics also apparently took issue with the way Graham Greene condensed, restructured and ‘adapted’ Shaw’s play. In particular, it did not go unnoticed that Greene, a convert to Catholicism, eased up on the Catholic characters responsible for Joan’s fate.

    I went into the film open-minded but, based on what I’d heard, I still thought I’d be seeing a bit of a slog – which isn’t the case. The story of Joan of Arc remains an enigmatic one in some ways, but the basics of it (certain details notwithstanding) are nevertheless granted what seems a reasonable summary in Preminger’s film.

    If nothing else, I can certainly recommend it for the performances.

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