Joan the Woman (Cardinal Film Corporation, 1916) was Cecil B. DeMille's first great spectacle. In keeping with theatrical tradition, DeMille sought a more formal and stylized mode of acting from stars Geraldine Farrar and Wallace Reid - a technique he continued in his late historical films. Wilfred Buckland's art direction is outstanding, and DeMille's social comments are subtle but biting. The film also features a dramatic hand-colored climax utilizing the Handschiegl stencil-color process.
The film became a prototype for DeMille's later spectacles. His handling of the large battle scenes (with the aid of seventeen cameras and a small army of assistant directors, including William deMille, George Melford and Donald Crisp) was exceptional - equal to D.W. Griffith's work in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. The real strength of the picture, however, is found in the director's provocatively compelling images:
- At Joan's trial by torture, officials the Church are clad in white hooded robes with black holes for eyes. DeMille frames his shot so that the top of Cauchon's mitre is out of frame, and he looks like a black-clad grand dragon of the invisible empire surrounded by Klansmen and hiding behind a crucifix rather than a bishop of the Church.
- The empty town square. An executioner drives a single horse cart piled with kindling to lay around the stake where Joan will meet her death. A lone dog is the only living thing, barking a futile protest.
- As Joan is led to the stake, the Bishop Cauchon seizes her ornate crucifix, and as the flames surround her, Eric Trent hands Joan a handmade cross of simple twigs that she carries to her death.
Ultimately, in an effort to get more performances per day, the picture was drastically cut very early in the run. This DVD release offers DeMille's director's cut and the original hand-colored climax. William Furst's original 1916 score is performed by Christian Elliott at the J. Ross Reed Wurlitzer, Sexson Auditorium, Pasadena, California.
(Abridged from an essay by Robert S. Birchard)
Length: 137 minutes
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Geraldine Farrar, Wallace Reid, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth
Music: Composed in 1916 by William Furst and performed by Christian Elliott
Produced for DVD by David Shepard
From the Blackhawk Films® Collection
Presented by Flicker Alley