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A trio of unscrupulous Russian exiles Yul Brynner, Sacha Pitoeff, and
Akim Tamiroff locate an amnesia victim among the flotsam and jetsam of
refugees in post World War I Europe and attempt to pass her off as one
of Czar Nicholas II,'s daughters, Grand Duchess Anastasia, who survived
the massacre of the royal family in 1918.
The role of "Anastasia" marked Ingrid Bergman's return to an American film production after her exile from America after 1949 and she won her second Oscar with it. She runs a whole gamut of emotions from absolute despair to an assumed air of royalty. After a while Brynner and his confederates think that just maybe Ingrid's the real deal.
Of course the ultimate test is whether the Dowager Empress of Russia, Helen Hayes, accepts Ingrid as the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Although Ingrid got her Oscar, I've always felt that Hayes gives the best performance in the film.
At the age Dowager Empress Marie was in the Twenties all she had left was memories. She's from the Danish Royal House and was the widow of Alexander III and the mother of Nicholas II of Russia. Her world was turned upside down in 1917 with the Russian Revolution, not just toppled from the privileged position she had, she lost her entire family of the next generation of Romanovs to political upheaval. Hayes is back in her native Denmark, a lonely proud, but regal woman with nothing but memories. She truly becomes the Empress Marie.
Yul Brynner as General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine is one of that crowd of Russian refugees who apparently got out of Russia with more than just a skin. He's the owner of a Russian café in Paris and should be doing OK, but he's got a streak of larceny in him and a taste for high living. He's involved in bilking a whole lot of Russian exiles in a search for a Romanov heir to claim millions deposited by the late Czar for his children in the Bank of England. He's got to come up with an heir of some kind and fast. But he's a charming fellow and gives one charming performance.
Both Brynner and Director Anatole Litvak with their own Slavic backgrounds give Anastasia a real flavor of authenticity for the main characters and the Russian exile background of the film. It was shot on location in both Paris and Copenhagen and the camera work is first rate.
Anastasia became a milestone film for Ingrid Bergman and while Anna Koreff may have been a bogus Russian princess, as an actress Ingrid Bergman was always the real deal.
Not the most accurate rumination on whether or not Anna was really Anastasia, perhaps, but creamy, expensive entertainment, expertly done. Many share in the credit. There's a witty, epigrammatic screenplay by the always reliable Arthur Laurents (love that closing line, and most of Helen Hayes' dialogue) that manages to speculate perceptively on the nature-of-performance theme without beating it into the ground; an evocative Alfred Newman score that surpasses virtually anything else he did at Fox; fine CinemaScope photography that really uses the outer reaches of the screen, though it does dabble in spectacle for spectacle's sake at times; a superb Hayes (she could be theatrically actressy or resort to little-old-lady tricks in other movies, but here she's the real deal); a delightful Martita Hunt; and chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner that suggests all the underlying sexual tension without ever stating it explicitly. Also knock-your-eye-out costume design. In a time of rampant Hollywood bloat and slow-moving epics, this one moves along, without too much pretension. And Anatole Litvak's direction, while no great shakes, is nicely paced.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1917, the Romanoff dynasty - rulers of Imperial Russia - were
overthrown by revolution... Some of the nobility and their followers
fled to safety but the Czar, his wife Alexandra and his five children
were imprisoned and then slaughtered in a cellar in 1918 by the
Shortly after, rumors started that the youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolayevna had not been murdered with the rest of her family but had escaped and was still alive...
In the years that followed, the whisper grew louder and louder... Several women outside Russia claimed her identity... All were aware that l0 millions pounds were at stake left by the Czar in the Bank of England...
The film opens in Paris 1928 - Russian Easter...
An amnesic woman, using the name of Anna Corev (Ingrid Bergman), is about to commit suicide on the bank of the Seine... She is saved by a White Russian General, called Bounine (Yul Brynner).
With a face hint by fatigue and stress, lost and broken, frustrated and unhappy, and tired to argue, she accepts modestly to be taken under care and to be trained by the General and his business associates Boris Chernov (Akim Tamiroff) and Petrovin (Sasha Pitoeff) in order to be passed off as Princess Anastasia, the daughter of the Czar of Russia...
Bearing a strong resemblance to the Grand Duchess, the plan of the Russian group can succeed... There is an opportunity for them to share the inheritance, the fortune left by the Emperor...
After days of training, the unknown lady becomes another woman... Elegant, radiant and healthy, arousing profound solemnity, dignity and even royalty...
The Grand Duchess wins her first victory when 18 of the 25 individuals recognized her as 'Anastasia,' but the most significant victory is yet to come... She must be recognized by her grand mother, the Dowager Empress of Russia, who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark...
Helen Hayes is simply superb as the melancholic old Empress with a wistful desire to accept the vague truth...
Yul Brynner plays his role with enormous task...
The motion picture marks Ingrid Bergman's comeback to the Hollywood cinema after the European exile... She gives a gracious, confused, eloquent, moving performance, following back the progress of a woman, from the deepness of hopelessness and confusion, through strenuous efforts with uncertainty and disillusion, to a successful display of bravery, self-respect and love...
Directed with elegance by Anatole Litvak, and with a fascinating music score by Alfred Newman, "Anastasia" is a combination of mystery and romance, a compelling drama with quite considerable charm which persuade without projecting any flame on history...
This is a great movie with fabulous performances by Brynner, Bergman, and Hayes. My one complaint is not about the movie, but the videotape. Litvak made a beautiful movie and used every inch of the screen. There are multiple scenes where the three principals are located left, right, and center. With pan-and-scan you can never see more than two of them at a time. This movie deserves to be re-released in its original aspect; better yet, release it on DVD. But go ahead and see it; you will be moved by the story.
As the woman who may or may not have been the Grand Duchess Anastastia,
Ingrid Bergman was welcomed back with open arms by the Hollywood
fraternity that had spurned her after her affair with Roberto
Rossellini and she won her second Oscar for her performance. It is a
fine piece of acting in a film that is all about acting; (Bergman plays
a woman called Anna Koreff who is being groomed to pass as the Grand
Duchess, though it is no "Pygmalion" as she may well indeed have been
the person she is being hired 'to play', though DNA tests later proved
the woman in question was not Anastasia).
Yul Brynner is the Russian general who acts as her Professor Higgins and he's excellent. The same year he won an Oscar for "The King and I" but his performance here is just as good. Helen Hayes is superb as the Dowager Empress and there is a terrific turn from the great Martita Hunt as the Empress' lady-in-waiting. Anatole Litvak's direction isn't exciting in 'cinematic' terms but he knows he has a good yarn and he moves it along at a cracking pace. Between them, Bergman, Brynner and Litvak hold you in thrall.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
America gave a belated welcome home to Ingrid Bergman in this film (her first studio-produced movie after being practically banished from the US for having an illicit affair and an illegitimate pregnancy!) It was thanks to her rather regal nature and the persistence of Darryl F. Zanuck that she even got the chance. The story is a fictionalized account of what became of a Russian princess believed assassinated with the rest of her family during the Russian revolution. Like several others before her, Bergman's character turns up believing that she could be a surviving royal---in her case Anastasia. Brynner is a con man who doesn't particularly care if she is or is not the princess, so long as the Dowager Empress (Anastasia's grandmother) believes that she is. In order to fully enjoy the film, one must say goodbye to a lot of the cold, hard historical facts and just accept the film as a dramatic fantasy. Bergman shines in the title role (though at 41, was a touch too old to be playing this character!) She has the right European strength and dignity, beaten down by time and turmoil. She's a heroine to root for (much more so than the actual woman she is based on.) Brynner completes a stunning threesome for 1956 with this film and his work in "The Ten Commandments" and "The King and I". He and Bergman make a compelling pair. An added bonus is the rather surprising casting of Helen Hayes as the Grand Duchess. She was choen in order to win the approval of Americans who had reviled Bergman previously...if a monument to American values like Hayes approved enough to appear in the film, then the rest of the country had permission to enjoy it. Though some reviewers didn't approve of her at the time, her scenes are filled with great professionalism and, finally, stirring emotion. Her stoic countenance is quite a contrast to her impish work with Disney and other projects later. The supporting cast is colorful and interesting as well (keep an eye peeled for "Mrs. Howell" of "Gilligan's Island"!) Special mention goes to the effervescent Hunt who steals every frame of film she appears in. The icing on the cake is Alfred Newman's magnificent score. The music is grand and appropriately Russian and royal in flavor. (Some of it was derived from original Russian works.) It adds the perfect feel to this gloriously beautiful film.
Anatole Litvak's 1956 Anastasia was Ingrid Bergman's big comeback
vehicle after being cast into the moral void for running off with
Roberto Rossellini, but it's Helen Hayes' performance that really gives
the film its heart and its best scenes. Now that the story of Anna
Anderson's claim to the title and inheritance of Tsar Nicholas'
daughter has been completely debunked by DNA tests it's more a bit of
wish-fulfilment than a compelling mystery, and one that doesn't go out
of its way to disguise its theatrical origins - despite the lavish
CinemaScope lensing, it rarely strays outdoors unless it's absolutely
necessary for a brief establishing shot. Yul Brynner and Akim Tamiroff
do their party pieces (stern precision and comically nervous
dishonesty) and Bergman fares much better doing imperious than
impoverished in a classy production that goes down smoothly but doesn't
linger long in the memory.
Fox's R1 DVD suffers from an atrocious remix in the opening reel where the music and effects track are amplified while the dialogue is reduced to a barely audible whisper even at full volume, a problem that doesn't affect the rest of the film but is irritating as hell while it lasts.
Big themes, treated with a tabloid sensibility. Within its historical context the Ingrid Bergman saga is much more juicier than that of Anastasia herself. After the Rosellini scandal, this was Bergman's return to the graces of the American public. The Oscar was, without question, a reward for her personal ordeal than for her performance. (That same year Carroll Baker was nominated for Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll" Katharine Hepburn for "The Rainmaker" and Deborah Kerr for "The King and I" not to mention Nancy Kelly for "The Bad Seed". The scene between Bergman and Helen Hayes, however, makes the whole, plodding thing, very worth while.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The "what if" story of Anastasia is a fascinating one. This particular
version of that story is outstanding. A great script that is witty and
often funny, filmed and acted beautifully.
In addition to containing the finest performance of Ingrid Bergman's career, including Casablanca, Yul Brynner is at his best and Helen Hayes delivers an absolutely brilliant gem of a performance. While Bergman justly won Best Actress of 1956 for her performance, I find it astounding that Brynner and especially Hayes did not even get consideration. Yes, Brynner was nominated and even won for his silly, over the top performance in The King And I. And I'm sure, like Jim Broadbent this year, he was rewarded as much for his body of work for the year as he was that single performance. Still though, I'm baffled as to why he won for The King and not for "The General". The snub of Hayes, though, is even more mystifying. Particularly because 1956 was a pretty weak year for great films and performances, especially in the supporting actress category. Any year in which a performance like Dorothy Malone's in the Sirk trash de l'annee, Written on the Wind, can win has to be weak. Hayes performance, in addition to being played to perfection, also seems like the kind that is almost a given to at least be nominated. In other words, if Anastasia was remade (again) this year, Judi Dench would play the role and a nomination would be a given. Almost as much a mystery to me as the "Is she or Isn't she" thing.
This film fluctuates wildly between dark and light. One minute, you're shocked by the horrors Anastasia must have endured over the years, the next minute Ingrid Bergman is making you laugh out loud at a brilliant drunken performance. One minute, Bergman is in tears, the next she's overjoyed. Definitely one of the all time great performances by an actress.
However, there are a few things I'm just not sure how I feel about. And perhaps that's one of the films' intentions. (Possible spoiler ahead) The ending is very surprising and very abrupt. And not entirely satisfying. Or is it? I'm not sure. Not being familiar with the story before I saw this film, I expected a letdown in the final twenty minutes after Anastasia's grandmother accepts her. I predicted they would plant one final seed of doubt, and then end it. And they do...in a way. But not the way I would have hoped. I would have liked to see it end on a dark and sinister note. To put it into our heads that maybe Ingrid Bergman's character might be playing everyone for a fool. Maybe. As it stands, the apparent flight with Brynner's character is functional enough, I suppose, to create some mystery. In other words, for me, the ending is a letdown, but not a total letdown. The difference between a great film and what could have been a brilliant one.
This is a film that should be re-released. I mean at the motion
theaters besides video and DVD. Nothing changed. Ingrid Bergman, Helen
and Yul Brynner do superlative acting performances
and the direction, music and the cinematography just could not be
duplicated, in my opinion.
Other films have been redone with contemporary actors, some successful and some not so.
It would be very difficult to improve on this one. I have seen this film a few times over the past forty years and I appreciate it more and more.
Wish we could have more quality cinema like it!
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