Saint Joan (1957)





Director:    Otto Preminger. 

Starring:     Jean Seberg (Saint Joan),  Richard Widmark (The Dauphin, Charles VII), Richard Todd (Dunois, Bastard of Orleans), Anton Walbrook (Cauchon - Bishop of Beauvais), John Gielgud (Earl of Warwick), Felix Aylmer (Inquisitor), Archie Duncan (Robert de Baudricourt), Harry Andrews (John de Stogumber), Margot Grahame (Duchesse de la Tremouille), Barry Jones (De Courcelles), Francis De Wolff (La Tremouille), Finlay Currie (Archbishop of Rheims), Victor Maddern (English Soldier), Bernard Miles (Master Executioner), David Oxley ('Bluebeard',- Gilles de Rais), Patrick Barr (Captain La Hire).

by George Bernard Shaw;  with Jean Seberg


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


The present.  The spirit of the one-time King of France awakens in bed from a deep slumber.  He calls for his servants but no one comes.  He finds his servants sleeping soundly.  And they stay asleep.  So he goes back to bed.  He starts talking in his sleep:  "The English are coming!"  The spirit of Saint Joan tells Charlie to take it easy.  The king at first finds it hard to believe that he is talking to Saint Joan.  He asks her if it hurt?  She says at first it hurt but then "it got all mixed up".  Charlie gives her the good news that her trial was reopened and the judges were found to be tainted by corruption, fraud and malice.  The sentence on her was annulled. 

Flashback.  Robert de Baudricourt is angry when he is told that there are no eggs or milk.  Robert grabs the messenger demanding an explanation for this.  The man says it's a curse on them because of the young girl who sits over there.  Robert tells her to come over to him.  She walks over and tells the captain that he must give her a horse and armor and some soldiers so that she can go to the dauphin (the future king of France)  "Those are your orders from our Lord."  She says God has told her that she will raise the siege of Orleans.  Joan also says that Saints Katherine and Margaret talk to her every day.  She hears voices that tell her what to do.  Robert thinks she's a bit nutty.  She says about the soldiers:  "But I will teach them all to fight that the will of God may be done in France.  And you will live to see the day when there will not be an English soldier on the soil of France. And there will be but one king here --  not the English king, but God's French one."

Robert tells himself that if the troops believe it, then the Dauphin might believe it too.  He grabs three soldiers and tells them to go with Joan to see the Dauphin.  And now the hens start laying eggs again. 

Jean and her three soldiers ride to a small village where they see burned out houses and a man hanging by the neck from a tree limb.  They reach the castle and the guards and some soldiers there give her a hard time, referring to her as a nun on horseback.  The officer comes out and takes the message to the Dauphin from Joan. He gives it to a small boy who is told to go give it to the
Dauphin.  A man tries to pull Joan off her horse but as he reaches for her, he mysteriously is bend over and then thrown to the ground.  The officer goes to check on the soldier and finds that he is dead. 

The boy gives the Dauphin the message.  The commander of the army grabs the rolled up piece of paper from the boy.  He explains to the Dauphin that it's his duty to read every dispatch to the Dauphin coming from the army from different stations.  The Dauphin says the commander is a bully.  He says all his officials treat him badly because he owes all of them a lot of money.  The Dauphin is the grandson of King Charles the Wise. 

The officer who met Joan comes in to the the Dauphin's staff that a remarkable girl has come to them.  He says he just saw her strike a man dead because he cursed at and tried to put his hands on the girl.  The staff decides to have one of their members pretend to be the Dauphin and see if she can discover the ruse.   The Dauphin says she must also find the true blood royal. 

Joan comes into the room.   Blue Beard plays the part of the Dauphin.  Joan recognizes him as Blue Beard.  Now she asks:  "Where be Dauphin?"  She walks around the room searching for him.  She goes over to the Dauphin and picks him out.  She tells him that God sent her to end the siege of Orleans.  And she is to see to it that the Dauphin is crowned the King of France. 

Joan wants to be alone with the Dauphin, so the archbishop chases everyone out of the room.  The Dauphin is very unhappy.  He says about the commander of the army:  "He bullies me.  They all bully me."  Joan asks:  "Are you afraid?"  Yes, says the Dauphin.  He says he only wants to be left alone.  Joan tells him:  "I will put courage into you."  He tells her to put courage into all the others, but leave him alone.  Joan responds:  "You must face what God puts on you."

Joan asks him to sit on the throne to see how he looks there.  The Dauphin obliges her.  She wants to give the fellow a complete makeover.   At the least, she will make him look like a king.  She even insists that Charlie must fight for France.  Charlie walks away from her.  He tells her that she can mind her own business and he will mind his own business.  She, however, is relentless.  "I tell you it is God's business we are here to do, not our own."  She just keeps working and working on the Dauphin until he gives in to her.  He tells her:  "I'll risk it."  Then he adds:  "Stay with me.  Don't let me be bullied."   

Joan tells the court to be silent.  The Dauphin says he has given the army to Joan the Maid.  Joan pulls out her sword, raises it up and shouts:  "Who is for Orleans with me?"  The captain follows her out. 

Near the fort at Orleans, the commander wishes for a west wind to help blow their boats across the river.  The commander, Dunois, says that the Dauphin is sending them some help.  Joan rides into the camp of the French Army to want to lift the Siege of Orleans.  With her are four soldiers. 

She  looks around the place and complains that she sees no preparations being made to attack.  Dunois takes her into his tent so she may greet his staff.  She tells Dunois:  "There is only the Loire [River] between you and the English."  And there is a bridge over the Loire.  "In God's name, let us cross and fall on them."  Dunois says it can't be done.   But Joan says that Dunois does not fully realize that she brings "the help and counsel of the King of Heaven" to the French.  She tells Dunois to show her the way to the bridge because she will be the first to cross over it. 

Dunois takes her over to the bridge.  He tries to explain to Joan that they can't just cross the bridge and attack.  The English hold the fort and can fend off many an attack.  Joan tells him:  "They cannot hold it against God.  God did not give them the land under the fort.  They stole it from Him.  He gave it to us.  I will take the fort."  Dunois says Joan has the military spirit, but he has more to tell her.  The French can't just go four abreast over the bridge to the fort. Rather they have to cross with many boats and for the boats, God must give them a strong west wind.  Joan starts praying for a west wind.

French soldiers come running over to Dunois and Joan saying that the wind direction has changed.  They have a west wind.  Dunois is in shock and says:  "So God does speak." He tells Joan:  "You command the King's army.  I'm your soldier."

The boats filled with soldiers head over the Loire River. 

The Dauphin is crowned the King of France.  Joan is right there with Dunois and other military men.  The Dauphin goes to say hello to the people, who give him a good reception.  Joan does not go out to the crowd.  She tells Dunois to let the king have all the glory.    The king, however, doesn't like the roar of the crowd.  He soon turns around and goes back into the cathedral.  He wants to get his costume off him as soon as possible, complaining that it's too heavy. 

Jean comes in to tell the king that her work here is finished.  She raised the siege of Orleans and now he is the King of France.  It seems to Joan that most of the men in the room would like to see her leave.  The king says it's better to let her go back home, if she so wishes, rather than to make her stay here.  Joan feels upset that it is all over and she is dismissed so easily.  Dunois follows her out of the room.  She starts crying. 

Joan tells him that she was terribly frightened before the battle.  But now everything else seems so dull to her. 

Joan wants to know why all these courtiers, knights and clergymen hate her?  Dunois asks her:  "Do you expect people to love you for showing them up?" 

She confides to Dunois that she hears her voices in the bells.  Dunois says she worries him when she talks about her voices.  He worries that she might be going crazy.  This upsets Joan somewhat because Dunois does not believe in her voices. 

Joan asks Dunois if he will go on to take Paris from the English?  Dunois says they may not let him even try to take Paris. 

Joan goes to see the king.  He tells her that he had thought Joan was on her way home already.  Joan says she thought the king would be on the road to Paris. The king tells her that they might lose all that they have gained if they attack Paris.  He wants to make a good peace treaty now with the English.  Joan tells him:  "But you are no king of France until you hold Paris."  The king replies that Joan only thins of fighting, fighting, fighting.  The archbishop agrees with the king and tells Joan:  "You have stained yourself with the sin of pride."

Joan defends herself by saying she only brings the messages of God through hearing the bells and understanding the voices.  She says France must relieve Compiègne and when that's accomplished Paris will open her gates to the French.  The king says he has no money in the budget for more battles.  The archbishop flat-out tells Joan:  "The voice of God on earth is the voice of the church.  And all the voices that come to you are the echoes of your own willfulness."  He then threatens her with the possibility that the church could "disown" Joan and her voices.  The king tells her to go home.  "Be good and don't bother us anymore."

Joan turns to Dunois for support.  He tells her that God was on her side at Orleans, but "God is no man's daily drudge".  He adds:  "Your little hour of miracles is over."  Dunois tells her that she never calculates the costs of battle in money and men.  "You think you've got God in your pocket."  Joan reacts as if Dunois has betrayed her voices and herself personally.   He warns her:  "If you play the fool before Paris and get caught, I must leave you to your doom."  The archbishops adds:  "And if they capture you, they will drag you through the streets and burn you as a witch."

Joan gets great advice, but just cannot believe that her saints and God would abandon her now.  And what if she had dismissed those voices she heard?  Orleans would still be in the hands of the English.  She just can't listen to reason, believing only in the word of God.  She says she is willing to face the fires of the English. 

The Earl of Warwick comes to speak to Joan.  He tells her that he is the one who paid the 16,000 pounds ransom to the Burgundians for the return of Joan after she was knocked off her horse and captured.  He says he has come to apologize to her.  "Your burning was purely political."  Joan can't accept that, saying it was God's will.  He strikes back with the remark that burning Joan was a "political necessity".   At the time he thought that would put an end to the legend of Joan, but it didn't.  He wishes now that he had just let Joan die of old age in her cell. 

Joan is in her cell with her feet chained to a log of wood.   The French clergy delegation visits her in her cell.  She asks them:  "Why do you leave me in the hands of the English?"  The clergymen are shocked by Joan's stance that she will not obey the church if it conflicts with the words of God.  They say it's heresy.  One of the three clergymen, named Brother Martin, is very supportive of Joan and tells her that she must take back her words.  All she has to do is nod her head.  She will not. 

The bishop tells the harshest of the three clergymen to go get the executioner.  When the executioner comes in, the bishop tells him to let Joan see the instruments of torture to which she will be subjected to, if she does not recant her heresy. 

The Earl of Warwick does not want to see the instruments of torture.  He tells a young lad to go get Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. and tell him to come here. 

Master John de Stogumber, the Earl of Warwick's chaplain, tells the Earl of Warwick that he is taking all this very calmly, indeed.  He says that the Bishop of Beauvais is nothing more than a Frenchman.  The Earl of Warwick scolds the monk for calling all the different groups here "Frenchmen" for they are not united and they do not necessarily see themselves as French.  And he adds that the English do not want to help forge Frenchmen out of the disparate peoples. 

The French Bishop of Beauvais arrives.  The Earl of Warwick complains about the slow rate of the judicial system as regards the prisoner Joan.  It's been nine months since she was captured by the Burgundians.  And it's been four months since the Earl of Warwick bought Joan for the Bishop of Beauvais.  The bishop says they have questioned Joan 15 times, but only recently have the members of the Inquisition been present. 

The chaplain says it's obvious that Joan is a witch and should be treated like one.  The bishop doesn't like the idea of trying Joan for witchcraft. 

Joan screams out and the three clergymen demand to know from the executioner if he has touched Joan?  No, he has not.  He had a man sit in a torture chair for a demonstration of how the instrument of torture is applied, she got frightened and cried out.  Joan says the man is telling the truth.  After some thinking, the bishop announces that he has made his decision.

The bishop goes to see Warwick and tells him that Warwick has a staunch supporter who is even more determined to see Joan be executed than is Warwick.  Who's that?  Joan herself.  Every time the girl opens her mouth, she brings herself closer to execution. 

Brother Martin comes to see Joan.  He leaves some clothes for her.  

The English have 800 troops in the courtyard.  The trial begins.  The prosecution objects from the start that they had prepared 64 indictments for the defendant.   The bishop tells him that he himself has cut the number of indictments down to 12.  The prosecution looks scandalized.  The bishop tells the prosecutors to stick to the main charge of heresy and drop the many petty charges against the defendant. 

Brother Martin suggests that Joan is not so much a heretic as a simple country girl that got carried away with a religious experience.  The bishop tells Brother Martin not to take heresy so lightly as it is a serious matter that can potentially bring down king and clergy. 

Joan is brought to the trial.  When she comes in she sits on a small stool.  The bishop asks if Joan will tell them the truth?  She says she will, except certain things God does not wish her to speak of  so she won't speak on this part.  One of the three clergymen says that Joan should be put to the torture.   Brother Martin calls for proceeding ahead with mercy and not torture. 

The bishop tells Joan that the church is telling her that her voices came not from God, but from the devil.  Will she accept this?  Basically she says no.  Okay.  So will she accept that the church is wiser than is Joan?  Joan says she will mind God alone.  Heresy is the accusation against Joan.  The Bishop of Beauvais has the executioner come before Joan.  Is the executioner ready today to burn the accused if convicted?  Yes is the answer.  This thought frightens her.  She says that her voices told her she would not burn.  The others around her say that her voices have failed her.  Joan says yes, her voices have deceived her. 

Now Joan signs a paper recanting her position.  Stogumber rushes over to see Warwick and telsl him that the French clergy has let Joan recant.  Warwick says he thought that might happen.  The court sentences Joan to life in prison.  Joan thought she would be set free.  No.  She gets upset, rushes up to the bishop and tears up her signed recantation.  Joan says that the clergy had deceived her.  She also says by their wanting to put her away for life:  "I know that your counsel is of the devil.  And that mine is of God."  She says God wants her to go through the fire to Him.  "And you are not fit that I should live among you." 

Joan is excommunicated and the English soldiers rush in and grab her.   Beauvais objects to the bishop about the English grabbing her.  The French bishop tells him that if the English want to commit the innocent child to the torch and take the blame, then let them.

The English tie her to the stake and light the fire under her.  Stogumber can't stand watching the girl burn to death.  He pushes through the crowd and rushes up to tell Warwick that he didn't know the death would be so horrible.   He feels as though he killed the girl and says he will be damned for it.  Warwick tells him that he did not kill the girl.  Stogumber says he pushed and pulled in behalf of the girl's execution.  He tells Warwick that Joan asked for a cross.  A soldier made her one out of two sticks tied together.  Warwick tells Stogumber to control himself. 

Back to the present.  Joan tells Warwick that she can't truck with people like him.  Warwick objects that the French clergy were just as culpable as he was.  The king tells the two that he got vengeance on that fellow Beauvais.  Now Beauvais appears and calls the king a liar.  He says his body was excommunicated.  Then his dead body was dug up and flung into the sewer. 

Joan wonders if the English are now gone from France.  Dunois now appears to say that the English now are gone.  Dunois tells her that he is still alive, but sleeping.  Now appearing is the spirit of the soldier who made the stick cross for Joan. 

Each spirit says goodbye to Joan and leaves.

Alone Joan asks:  "Oh, God, who made this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive you saints?  How long, oh Lord?  How long?" 


George Bernard Shaw is more of the skeptic concerning the legend of Joan of Arc.  He stresses that she was all too human.  She expects God to smooth the way with the non-believers.  Joan finds it more difficult that she thought it would be to, under God, take command of the forces of the French army.  Shaw shows that she really does not know much of anything about soldiering.  Dunois has to keep training her in the military arts.  Joan is also too impatient and immediately wants to charge the English when she arrives in Orleans.  Dunois has to teach her a few facts of life first. 

When Joan triumphs over the English, she becomes depressed because all the waiting around bores her to death and she wants to do something now.  And it seems that almost everyone is not grateful to Joan enough for her tastes.  So, we see this all to human side of Joan. 

Shaw also has Joan give up too early and too easily and the clergy gets her too quickly to say her voices have deceived her.  It cheapens her commitment to what she feels are orders from God. 

It was still a good film.  And it's good to remember that Joan was human like the rest of us humans, except she was braver or more foolish than other humans (depending on how one looks at Joan). 

I think a better presentation of the true Joan is found in the film  Proces de Jeanne d'Arc (The Trial of Joan of Arc) (1962)   --  life and death of a more sophisticated Joan of Arc focusing on the psychological and physical torture used to break her.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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