I still enjoy many of those old 1940's and 50's epics that, when the budget permitted, saturated the screen in gorgeous 3-strip Technicolor splendor and lavish set design, while a thundering score by maestro's such as Max Steiner, Miklos Rozsa, Elmer Bernstein or Alfred Newman splendidly punctuated the proceedings on screen making many a memorable viewing experience.
For todays blog I will be taking a trip down the proverbial cinematic backroad to 1948 where, under independent mogul-producer Walter Wanger and director Victor Fleming, star Ingrid Bergman and a cast and crew of thousands, a memorably grand, production was assembled.
The film - one of many to explore the same events - tells the story surrounding the popularity, strength and inevitable persecution of the fifteenth century Saint - an uneducated French peasant girl known as Joan of Arc who, during the 100 years war between France and Britain would lead armies and conquer territory in the name of her mother land, while at the same time antagonising the Religious and political establishment of the day, to her peril. The events are supposedly based upon actual historical documents and apparently no expense was spared in creating as exact a narrative of events and the period as possible.
Interestingly, the film was not a Hollywood 'studio' picture at all and was actually an entirely independently financed production from Producer Walter Wanger. Wanger had a solid track record while Producer at several studios in the thirties and early forties, and eventually went solo, and in doing so was responsible for such excellent pictures as Hitchcock's wonderful FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, Don Siegel's still chilling INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and the Susan Hayward disaster spectacular TULSA among many others. RKO would go on to release JOAN OF ARC but had nothing to do with the production itself.
|Bergman with blimped Technicolor camera|
JOAN OF ARC though set in France and Britain was entirely filmed in California and at the old Hal Roach Studios, with extensive matte magic required to bring the shooting locations the appropriate 15th Century look (more about that later). The picture was helmed by veteran top shelf director (and former Hollywood stuntman) Victor Fleming who of course had GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ under his belt to name but two from a long list of premium movies. Sadly Fleming died shortly after completing JOAN OF ARC making this one his swan song. The film was a veritable who's who of 1940's acting talent - some of whom were superb choices such as the always magnificent Ingrid Bergman, and some odd choices such as the scenery chewer extraordinaire that was Ward Bond! Everybody's in this picture and unusually they all get full screen credit up front.
Jose Ferrer in his debut screen performance as Charles VII King of France, in the first of many skin crawling characterisations (did Jose ever play a role with even a semblance of 'normal'?). Bergman and Ferrer would both receive Oscar nominations for this show as did other categories, with both Cinematography and Costume Design winning that year for this film. Speaking of talent in front of the camera, one of my all time favourite character actors, the great Francis L. Sullivan is there too, and as always is utterly compelling as he was in films such as David Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Even respected Actor's Studio character icon of many a fine film, Jeff Corey (the Harry Dean Stanton of his era) turns up as a prison guard with a penchant for rape!
|Star Bergman suiting up in armour.|
|Legendary matte artist and effects man Jack Cosgrove.|
|Cosgrove matte: SAN FRANCISCO STORY|
From what I've been told, Cosgrove's life was really something. His painting talents were envied by many yet his colleagues often found it hard to believe such superb mattes resulted from apparently slipshod working practices. Matthew Yuricich outlined in his Oral History in my 2012 blog how Cosgrove would be slapping paint around with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, with ash frequently dropping into the wet oil paint, yet without a care in the world.
The story goes that Jack would on occasion be pretty much drunk while on the job and teetering as if trying to keep his balance while rendering a matte, yet they all said the same thing; the final shot would look a million dollars on screen! Jack's matte art was spontaneous, loose and instinctive - a far cry from most of the 'technical illustration' style so prevalent in the matte industry at the time. His longtime associate, Effects Cinematographer Clarence Slifer once said that Cosgrove had an innate ability to read through a script and immediately see where matte shots would benefit both the story and Jack's bank balance. The more mattes Jack painted the more he got paid ... goes without saying. Jack could envisage mattes where nobody else could, and films such as GONE WITH THE WIND are a testament to that.
|Fulton with his three Oscars.|
During the mid 1940's he would be employed by Samuel Goldwyn Pictures with the handshake 'promise' of being able to direct - a dream of John's that was never to be fulfilled. Fulton did however gain notoriety with his work on a couple of Danny Kaye pictures, one of which, WONDER MAN, would win John the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Fulton continued at Goldwyn for several years before taking on several assignments for Walter Wanger which included the Oscar nominated miniature work for TULSA and of course JOAN OF ARC. Becoming disenchanted with his career prospects as they stood, Fulton took a job over at Warner Bros with Lou Litchtenfield where once again he would work with Jack Cosgrove. John's biggest break would come with the untimely death of Paramount's long time chief of Special Effects, Gordon Jennings in 1953. Paramount desperately needed an ace visual effects man and Fulton fitted the bill. Among the hundred or so pictures John worked on at Paramount, two stand out. Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS which won John another Oscar, and the George Pal bugs-on-the-rampage adventure THE NAKED JUNGLE which is one of my favourite special effects movies of all time.
|The great John P. Fulton with his visual effects camera crew.|
|The famous ADDAMS FAMILY tv house by Luis McManus|
|An almost fully painted shot with just a patch of live action with the guys and the horse and cart. Beautiful Cosgrove sky.|
|Part of the grand cathedral sequence which is wall to wall effects shots. I'm not sure if this is a miniature (doesn't look it) or a matte painting with miniature bell matted in? The next shot is a similar puzzler ...|
|A full painting with candle flicker added optically.|
|The vast interior as a full matte painting by Luis McManus. Effects man Jim Danforth knew McManus from the old Project Unlimited days and recalled Luis as being especially proud of this matte painting.|
|A full painting of some considerable magnificence.|
|An extensively painted Cosgrove shot where the demolished bridge, trees, landscape and sky are all matte art. Just the water and the men on horseback are real.|
|Another mostly painted view with all of the frame just above the heads of the horsemen being artwork.|
|Approaching the town we have another example where most of the frame has been painted in by Jack Cosgrove. The shot succeeds as it's so flawlessly composited with not a matteline to be seen in what must be a rather complicated blend.|
|This shot appears to be a complete painting.|
|The approach to the city of Vaucouleurs.|
|The court of Charles VII is a mostly painted shot with the matte commencing at the level of the flaming torches. Classic Golden Era set extension to add in a ceiling.|
|One of those quick undetectable effects shots that nobody ever notices. The top treeline of the hill along with the sky have been matted in by Jack Cosgrove.|
|A vast, sprawling vista combining a Southern Californian location shoot and a Cosgrove painted landscape.|
|The city of Orleans, prior to the bloody battle. Love the sky.|
|Probably the best matte shot in the picture. Everything here is painted with just a narrow strip of live action soldiers and a fluttering flag doubled in atop the battlements. I like this one.|
|The Battle of Orleans. I wonder whether director John Boorman got some of his extraordinary concepts and visual design for likeminded sequences in his masterpiece EXCALIBUR from this sequence?|
|Closer view of the roto optical work.|
|After the battle...it's all over bar the bleeding and wailing. No Purple Hearts handed out here. Mostly matte art with just a small interior set where Ingrid Bergman goes about her business.|
|A minor matte painted 'top up' where pretty much all just above the heads of the foreground actors has been painted in, presumably due to sound stage limitations, rigging, lights and boom mike etc.|
|All eyes heavenward as Hugo Friedhofer's stirring Oscar nominated score wraps up the proceedings.|