Saint Joan

In 1956, Preminger began a search for an unknown actress to play Joan of Arc in an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's flamboyant play. Eighteen-year-old Jean Seberg was selected from the pool of eighteen thousand applicants. As the Maid of Orléans, Seberg stands amidst a compact version of the stinging play, pared down by Graham Greene to a fleet rendition of the testy three-and-a-half-hour original. This handsome black-and-white production, with more circumstance than pomp, follows the cross-dressing saint-to-be as she leads the rout of the British at Orléans. Richard Widmark plays Charles VII, Joan's patron and a true pretender to the throne in that his retardation makes him unfit to rule. Answering God's guidance, the butch-coiffed combatant leads the French forces to further victories until she is captured by the British invaders. Joan is tried for heresy in a clerical tribunal that bears the Church's immense weight. These scenes of theological debate are handled in sprightly fashion by the slight Seberg, who rises to the occasion like an ember in an updraft.

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