Thanks to Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc

Cradle Catholics who grew up in the tumultuous years following Vatican II, my husband and I as children learned virtually nothing about saints. Greg told me yesterday morning he first heard of Joan of Arc from a Brady Bunch episode; I learned a bit about her in my high school church youth group, but dismissed her as a nut case.

I’ve been curious about Joan of Arc ever since I read about her in Father James Martin’s My Life with the Saints earlier this year. So I rented Victor Fleming’s 1948 movie on Netflix. I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to learn some basics about this remarkable saint. Older children and teens can also learn a lot about St. Joan by watching this movie.

When this movie came out, Fleming (at left)  already was well known for directing the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. He was a sought-after director during Hollywood’s Golden Age. His Joan of Arc, which garnered seven Academy Award nominations and two Academy Awards, stars Ingrid Bergman as Saint Joan and José  Ferrer as the beleaguered King Charles VII of  France. While Joan of Arc marked Ferrer’s Hollywood debut, the film turned out to be Fleming’s last. He died at age 59 of a heart attack shortly after Joan of Arc’s release.

Over the course of several days, Greg and I and our 10-year-old son have been watching Joan of Arc on our wide-screen TV. We finished it up yesterday. To be sure, the Technicolor movie is pure Hollywood – obviously painted backdrops, heavy use of dramatic lighting and an emotional musical score to underline key moments in St. Joan’s life and martyrdom. Nonetheless, the movie is a good introduction to this remarkable saint and I am grateful we’ve been able have our son meet her. 
The movie makes it clear the illiterate peasant girl’s motivations to overcome English occupation of French soil were purely spiritual. I hungered for still more information about this holy woman and military leader.  I’ve ordered Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, based on the recommendation of  blog reader Anujeet. Mark Twain, a devout unbeliever, spent 12 years researching Joan of Arc and another two years writing about her.  His conclusion? “She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.” 

Dear readers, I will keep you posted as I make my way through Twain’s book. In the meantime, I wanted to share a wonderful prayer to St. Joan of Arc. 

In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.

  • Sandy C.

    Thank you for that prayer! It speaks to me today. I am interested in your thoughts on the Twain book. I've listened to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on my iPod while mowing this summer and your description of him as a "devout unbeliever" is good. I'm intrigued by his interest and assessment of St. Joan of Arc.

  • Shannon

    You might also enjoy the 1999 movie, "The Messenger."

  • poetbdk

    Glad to hear you found this classic Joan of Arc film as it is my persoanl favorite. It would have probably received a lot more acclaim except for an affair by Ingrid Bergman that killed it at the box office and in the Academy Awards. I give more details about all this at: you enjoy Twain's biography as it is very good.

  • Allison

    @Sandy: I adore Tom Sawyer especially. The writing toward the end is so luminous. I will keep you posted on my thoughts on his Joan of Arc book. @Shannon: I have read reviews of that 1999 film and talked with a priest friend about it. My understanding is they invented some episodes to show she was motivated b y revenge, not religion..I have not seen the movie myself. Here is one review: "both the director and scriptwriter have confirmed that the film's intent was to show, in essence, that Joan allegedly betrayed her religion by leading an army."What did you think of the movie, Shannon?

  • Allison

    @poetbdk: Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your great website, which is a terrific resource on St. Joan of Arc!

  • Shannon

    @Allison: as with all stories about saints (and non-saints), it's always good to examine several perspectives. It's a film, which means it is someone's interpretation of another person's life, as was the Bergman film. Be open to possibilities.

  • Allison

    @Shannon: I walked out of Oliver Stone's Nixon because the director invented stories and appropriated them to the former President. My understanding is that the director of this 1999 movie did the same, which made it look as if she was motivated by revenge and not religion. I am a huge fan of fiction, but when folks write about historic figures, I feel they are obligated to speak truthfully. So many people, including me, are so ignorant of history that to start conflating history and invented stories feels wrong to me.

  • Kristin

    Thank you for that prayer. It helps.I saw "The Messenger" a couple of times when it first came out, and enjoyed it on the level of entertainment. Then years later, I became interested in Joan and read a scholarly biography and her trial transcripts, and realized that "The Messenger" was not so much an imaginative interpretation as outright slander. Kind of ruins the whole thing.I enjoyed the Bergman film, but "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is my favorite, when I have the patience for a silent film. The acting is incredibly moving, and it's extremely historically accurate as well. The dialogue is lifted straight from her trial transcripts.