Monday, November 11, 2013

Paying Attention to the Voices

The Dauphin (Jose Ferrer): A ruler must compromise and bargain with the lowest kind of people, even the enemy. Men are governed by corruption, they like it.

Joan of Arc (Ingrid Bergman): Men hate corruption, and God hates it!

The Dauphin: I don't know about God, but men take to it very naturally.

I think most people would agree that Ingrid Bergman was an exceptionally beautiful woman.

But I also suspect that, if you conducted a poll on the word or concept that defined that beauty — or which of her movie roles epitomized it — you would receive a wide range of responses.

Of the latter, I would say there might be considerable support for her role as Ilse Lund in "Casablanca." That wouldn't be surprising. It's probably her most famous role, even though Bergman didn't win an Oscar for her performance.

Bergman did win Oscars for her performances in "Gaslight," "Anastasia," and "Murder on the Orient Express." Only Katharine Hepburn's acting was honored more often with Oscars.

All of those roles were reflections of what I think was truly special about Bergman's beauty, but I've always believed that the greatest example was her role in a film that made its debut on this day in 1948 — "Joan of Arc."

Bergman's beautiful exterior hid an interior of reinforced steel. She was, in other words, tough.

And she was smart, too.

The really intriguing part of Bergman's beauty was her tendency to appear at once both vulnerable and hesitant to allow that vulnerability to be exposed for very long. But that was also a trap.

"Bergman's Joan is a strong and spiritual figure," writes Paul Brenner of

Historically, it was a stretch for Bergman to play Joan of Arc. The real Joan was a teenager; at 33, Bergman was more than twice as old as the girl she portrayed.

But Bergman pulled it off, in large part, I have always suspected, because of the ageless quality of her beauty. She was nearly 60 when she won her last Oscar, but she looked younger somehow, even though that last Oscar was for playing an aging Swedish missionary.

She did so well in her portrayal of Joan, in fact, that she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She didn't win — Jane Wyman did — but it was Bergman's fourth Best Actress nomination in six years.

In "Joan of Arc," she played a 15th–century farm girl who was persuaded by the voices in her head to lead the revival of a France that had been demoralized in the One Hundred Years War.

Bergman was striking, even when wearing the plain clothes in which audiences of "Joan of Arc" first saw her, but she was really something else when clad in her warrior's garb. As co–star Jose Ferrer observed at one point, "she's a very pretty girl in armor and exciting to look at."

Indeed she was.

But Bergman was so much more, as she was in all her other movie roles. Bergman's Joan really was "strong and spiritual," a powerful ally in Ferrer's Dauphin's rise to the French throne.