Image Entertainment presents
Joan the Woman (1916)
"Gentle Prince, I am Joan the Maid, sent by God to lead thy army against the English and crown thee King of France."- Joan of Arc (Geraldine Farrar)
Stars: Geraldine Farrar, Wallace Reid
Other Stars: Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth
Director: Cecil B. De Mille
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, threatened torture)
Run Time: 02h:17m:20s
Release Date: 2001-04-24
DVD ReviewThe biographical picture is and has nearly always been a fixture of Hollywood. The disc under review here is one of the first epic biopics, retelling the story of French heroine Joan of Arc while taking wild liberties with the truth in best cinematic tradition. Also notable as the first spectacle by master showman Cecil B. De Mille, Joan the Woman manages to make one of the most fascinating lives on record seem fairly tedious.
This 1916 film has a framing story set in the English trenches of World War I to make it immediately relevant to the intended audience. Inspired by finding an old sword, a soldier has a vision/dream of the career of Joan of Arc (Geraldine Farrar) and is inspired to new heights. Along the way, we see Joan's calling to rescue France, her service to the Dauphin, raising the seige of Orleans and driving back the English. She arranges for the Dauphin to be crowned, but shortly thereafter is captured, sold to the English and tried as a heretic by French bishop Cauchon (Theodore Roberts), acting in connivance with the English.
While Joan the Woman is accurate in the broad strokes, it is also wildly fictitious. Most grievous is setting up Joan ("the Maid") with a boyfriend (Wallace Reid) who is also an English soldier. For dramatic purposes, Joan rescues him, but he is ordered to capture her in return. No doubt this was a concession to the English market, since the story comes off quite badly for England otherwise, but it surely must have been highly offensive across the Channel for the virginal French national heroine to be consorting with the enemy. However, a worse cinematic sin is committed by making the first two thirds of the picture thoroughly boring. While we see Joan's rise and triumph, we get absolutely no insight to how she accomplished it, or any sense of her position in the hearts of her countrymen. Rather, this is a stark narrative with a phony romance tastelessly grafted onto it. The final third, consisting of Joan's trial and execution are quite well done and have a flair that the first portion of the movie quite badly needs. The torture sequence in particular is a stellar use of suspense in early Hollywood.
Part of the problem is that Geraldine Farrar, then a noted opera star, is 20 years too old to be playing Joan, and looks even older much of the time. Instead of a young teenager with idealism in her eyes, Farrar looks more like a dumpy middle-aged hausfrau. Not exactly dripping with charisma, it's hard to imagine her stirring up an army to follow her anywhere, let alone into battle. She does have a few good moments, however, such as the reaction shots when she learns that the French King has declined to ransom her from the English, and again when she learns that she is to be burned at the stake. Roberts wildly and gleefully overacts as the evil Cauchon, so much so that he's quite fun to watch. The rest of the cast is thoroughly nondescript. The only point that makes the film worth watching at all is that it contains some very striking visuals. One of the most shocking, of Joan crucified on a fleur-de-lis is rather spoiled by the box cover, but there are several others worth looking at, such as Cauchon and his minions voyeuristically watching the heroine through a hole in Joan's cell, and the Klansman-like garb of the Inquisitors in the torture chamber.
The costuming and production values are excellent (the picture only broke even when released, leading De Mille to turn to romantic comedies for a number of years). Sets are excellent, as was necessary when the primary competition in cinemas was Griffith's massive spectacle Intolerance.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The original full frame picture seems to be slightly cropped at the sides; many of the intertitles are cut off a bit, particularly at the right. The picture is often quite shaky, and at one point even rolls, which is inexcusable. However, the source print overall is in absolutely beautiful condition for a film from 1916. Even the hand-coloring of the flames in the climax is intact, Contrast is sometimes a little high, but overall this is a very pleasing picture considering its antiquity. Even speckling and frame damage are rarely seen. If not for the rolling picture, this would probably rate an A-, considering this is 85 years old.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The only audio is an organ performance of the original 1916 score by William Furst. Presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround, it has excellent range and thundering low bass that is as impressive as I've heard from an audio track that didn't have a dedicated LFE track. There is a little hiss and noise, but in essence an excellent audio experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:10s
Extras Review: Other than some scant production notes, there are no extras included at all. Chaptering is quite inadequate for a film of this length. At least the layer change is well-placed.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA tedious costume drama for the first two thirds, the last portion inevitably seizes the viewer's attention. This is probably only for silent film devotees, however, despite the very good transfer from a gorgeous source print.
Mark Zimmer 2001-04-27