John Trent, a World War I British officer, finds an ancient sword in his trench bunker just prior to volunteering for what will amount to a suicide mission the next day. That night he is visited by the spirit of Joan of Arc and is transported back to the 15th Century. Joan's career begins when, as a peasant girl, she meets Trent's ancestor, also an English soldier, fighting for the Burgundians. After Trent is captured, Joan is brought to the attention of the beleaguered Dauphin, heir to the French throne, who cannot be crowned because the English hold the royal city of Orleans. The weak Dauphin is impressed by her vision and apparently heaven-sent powers which border on the supernatural and ultimately gives her command of the armies. She is victorious at Orleans and the new King is crowned. Joan resists Trent's entreaties of love and continues her struggle to free the rest of her country from English occupation. Sinister forces, both English and French, conspire against her and she is... Written by
Gabe Taverney (email@example.com)
When the film began its road-show run in major cities it was 12 reels long, but, over director Cecil B. DeMille's objections, was quickly shortened to 10 reels. See more »
When Trent discovers the sword, he holds the hilt in his right hand. In the insert close-up the hilt is in his left hand. In the cutback, it has returned to the right. (In fact, the insert shot has been spliced in upside-down.) See more »
Joan The Woman was Cecil B DeMille's first epic, the genre that today he is best remembered for, although at this point it was more the case that was hopping on a band wagon. After the massive success of Italian "super production" Cabiria, DW Griffith had made Intolerance and Thomas Ince (forgotten today but a big name at the time) did a World War epic called Civilization. In 1916, all the big names were doing epics, and DeMille, now established as Paramount's star filmmaker, wasn't going to be the one to miss out.
Joan The Woman was something like De Mille's fourth or fifth collaboration with Jeanie Macpherson. Typically of Macpherson it has a tight storyline somewhat marred by some rather odd ideas. The framing story, set in war-torn Europe, is apparently there to give the tale some contemporary relevance, and it may be in part an Intolerance-inspired blending of narratives in different historic periods. However on MacPherson's part it seems to be a chance to explore her interest in reincarnation. So we get this daft little story about a British soldier who was in a past life the man who betrayed Joan, and now has to go and sacrifice himself in battle to repay the debt. An officer holds up a bomb as if it were the catch of the day "I need one of you chaps to go and drop this in the German trench. Oh and by the way it's a suicide mission, so think carefully before you volunteer" The whole thing looks like something out of Blackadder Goes Forth.
This is DeMille though, and it's not about the daft plot it's about the big picture. De Mille's deftness at handling crowd scenes had been apparent since his earliest films, but here he really gets to use that skill to its full potential. The main battle sequence is as spectacular as those in Intolerance, but it is also convincing. DeMille apparently set the two opposing armies of extras genuine objectives hence we get a very real sense of desperation and determination. He makes good use of high angles looking down on the action God's-eye-views, perhaps. DeMille also builds up tension to the clash of armies with a mighty cavalry charge across the screen, and in this we see the seeds of the equivalent sequences in DeMille's The Crusades (1935) Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky and Olivier's Henry V, all of which used and developed the opening cavalry charge to add excitement to battle scenes.
DeMille continues to progress well with his mastery of visual grammar. As per usual in his silent pictures, he makes some use of "Rembrandt lighting" well lit actors against dark backgrounds. Here however he achieves a similar effect, albeit it with light and dark reversed, with clouds of dust or smoke framing the characters as silhouettes. Also much in evidence here is DeMille's use of images to imply sound for example a shot of church bells ringing, followed by a shot of Joan reacting to the sound conveys narrative (and in this case character information) without resorting to intertitles. DeMille knows that he doesn't necessarily have to throw in a title every time a character opens their mouth, and as often as possible keeps a smooth flow of meaningful images. The romantic scenes between Geraldine Farrar and Wallace Reid are particularly effective as a result. Having said that, there is perhaps a bit too much pompous theatrical gesturing from the actors, which I suppose goes hand-in-hand with the rather unnecessary use of "thees" and "thous" in the titles.
It's perhaps rather appropriate that, as well as being the first time DeMille brought epic spectacle to the fore, this is also his first story to contain a heavy dose of religious piety. For DeMille, as we can see here, God is a showman, a god of miracles, visions and righteous destruction. The incredibly egomaniacal DeMille probably saw himself as a similar figure, dazzling the populace and hammering home his messages with spectacle and special effects. So, with Joan The Woman, we see the beginnings of the DeMille who would one day part the red sea and resurrect Jesus on the silver screen.
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