ANASTASIA (1956) C widescreen 105m dir: Anatole Litvak
w/Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, Helen Hayes, Akim Tamiroff, Martita Hunt, Felix Aylmer, Sacha Pitoeff, Ivan Desny, Natalie Schafer, Gregoire Gromoff, Karel Stepanek, Ina De La Haye, Katherine Kath
Absorbing drama of a young amnesiac woman in Germany who may or may not be the daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
From The Movie Guide: "The peak of Ingrid Bergman's triumphant career. Cheap impostor or grand duchess of Russia and daughter of the last czar? There was no doubt in the mind of any viewer after watching Bergman's sublime performance that Anastasia was the lost and unhappy Romanoff princess. This was Bergman's comeback to American screens after the Rossellini [sic] scandal and she played her part with such intense feeling that it won over audiences worldwide and earned her an Academy Award. Climax is Bergman's confrontation with Empress Hayes, the latter's best screen work. The [Arthur] Laurents screenplay is faithful to the Marcelle Maurette play. A grand entry in Hollywood history."
From the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), this article about the film by Stephanie Zacharek:
"Anatole Litvak's 1956 romantic drama Anastasia is not only is a movie about an exile, made by an exile; it also stars a woman who herself had been banished from the kingdom of Hollywood, for committing a crime of the heart. Anastasia tells the generally fictional, almost fantastical story of a woman who just may be the only surviving member of the doomed Romanov family, executed by Bolshevik radicals in 1918. It's 1928 in Paris: A former White Russian general, Bounine (Yul Brynner) is scheming with his cronies to find a suitable woman and pass her off as the single surviving daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas, who reportedly escaped the fate of the rest of her family --- their hope is to use her to collect a hefty inheritance. They've gone through several candidates, none of them even remotely believable. But one day, Bounine comes across a troubled and extraordinarily beautiful young woman who has spent time in mental institutions and has no idea who she is. She also possesses an extraordinary amount of intimate, inside knowledge about the Romanovs. Might she really be the lost princess? And even if not, in the scheme of Hollywood romance, does it really matter? Because that woman is played by Ingrid Bergman.
"The performance --- which won Bergman the second of her three Academy Awards --- is touching at least partly because we're fortunate that it exists: Bergman almost didn't get the role for numerous reasons, but chiefly because she had fallen deeply out of favor with Hollywood, and with audiences, when she embarked on an affair with Roberto Rossellini, for whom she left her husband. The affair began when she went to Italy in 1949 to film Stromboli (1950); not long afterward, she became pregnant with Rossellini's child and decided to remain in Italy with him. The moral gatekeepers not just of Hollywood, but of America, were outraged. She was denounced from the floor of Congress as an 'agent of evil.' Though she'd become beloved for her roles in pictures like Gaslight (1944, for which she earned her first Oscar). For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Casablanca (1942), it didn't seem possible she could ever again work in the United States.
"Anastasia was a hot property to begin with. The story originated as a play, written by Marcelle Maurette and first staged in France in 1951; it was based partially on the story of the real-life Anna Anderson, a woman with a history of mental illness who became the toast of high society by somehow convincing the 'right' people that she was indeed the lost Russian princess. Guy Bolton further adapted the play for Broadway, where it became a hit in 1954. Several studios were dying to get their hands on it, and 20th Century Fox won the bidding war, paying some half-million dollars for the property. (The lavish movie, shot on location in Paris, London and Copenhagen, would ultimately cost more than $3 million to produce.) Arthur Laurents worked on the script, and the charismatic Brynner, filming The King and I at the time, signed on to play Bounine. The Ukrainian-born Litvak --- the man behind the 1936 French-made hit Mayerling --- would direct. As a young man, Litvak had worked at a theater in St. Petersburg. In 1925, he fled Russia for Berlin, working there until the rise of the Nazi regime; he later moved to France. After the success of Mayerling, Litvak received invitations to work in Hollywood. He became an American citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he began filming in Europe once again, so Anastasia would be something of a homecoming for him.
"But who would play the title character? Fox president Spyros Skouras was pushing for Jennifer Jones. But Litvak and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck desperately wanted Bergman for the role, even though she hadn't made an American picture since Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc, in 1948. Skouras resisted, believing that U.S. exhibitors would be hostile to the fallen star. But Zanuck went to the board of 20th Century Fox, eventually persuading them to take a chance on Bergman --- who, it turns out, was chafing under the constraints of Rossellini's possessiveness and was more than ready to return to Hollywood.
"The performance she gave as the just-maybe princess Anastasia is perhaps excessively melodramatic in sections, but at its best, it has a touching fragility. 'Miss Bergman's performance as the heroine is nothing short of superb as she traces the progress of a woman from the depths of derangement and despair through a struggle with doubt and delusion to the accomplishment of courage, pride and love,' wrote Bosley Crowther in the New York Times upon the film's release. 'It is a beautifully molded performance, worthy of an Academy Award and particularly gratifying in the light of Miss Bergman's long absence from commendable films.' There's a note of superiority in that compliment --- Crowther had a rather stuffy notion of what made a film 'commendable' --- but he's right about the performance. Bergman really is royalty here, the kind that doesn't require any special birthright."
As an added aside, Bergman's response to inquiries about how she felt about being accepted once more into the Hollywood "family" is worth noting: "Happiness depends on two assets, which fortunately I have. They are good health and a poor memory."
Besides Bergman's Best Actress Oscar, the film was also nominated for Best Score (Alfred Newman).