[Film Review] Anastasia (1956)

Anastasia poster

Title: Anastasia
Year: 1956
Country: USA
Language: English, French
Genre: Biography, History, Drama
Director: Anatole Litvak
Writer: Arthur Laurents
based on play of Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton
Music: Alfred Newman
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Ingrid Bergman
Yul Brynner
Helen Hayes
Akim Tamiroff
Martita Hunt
Sacha Pitoëff
Ivan Desny
Natalie Schafer
Felix Aylmer
Rating: 6.2/10

ANASTASIA is a warm welcome vehicle for Ingrid Bergman, after her exile in Europe with her then-husband Roberto Rossellini, her first Hollywood feature since 1949, it won her a second Oscar.

Directed by Oscar-nominated director Anatole Litvak, the story is loosely based on a historical event, in 1927, Paris, Anna Koreff (Bergman), a woman who is suffering from amnesia and distress, has a remarkable resemblance to the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who is the youngest daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas II and may have miraculously survived the execution. Anna is coerced by a former Russian General Bounine (Brynner) and company, to impose Anastasia, so as to get an inheritance worth of £10 million. But to achieve that goal, Anna must get the approval from the exile Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna (Hayes), Anastasia’s paternal grandmother, who firmly believes Anna is a hired hand like many others before and refuses to dredge up her wretched memories of the monarchy’s abdication.

Over forty then, it is quite a stretch for Bergman to carry off an allegedly 26-year-old Duchess, but Anastasia’s supposedly decade-long trials and tribulations give her a free pass when she appears disheveled, jaded and frail, attempts to drown herself in the Seine. The proper transformation is where Bergman reigns supreme, her star-appeal and royal flair glamorously ignite the screen and she is so in her comfort zone to exude vulnerability while remaining the nuance of regal dignity. It is a standard performance out of her competence, its Oscar reward is an over-achievement.

Brynner has a banner year in 1956, a one-two-three punch with THE KING AND I, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and this one, his blunt-talking eloquence and stern countenance mingled with an indistinct accent, are competent for a business-orientated mind, but the growing romance between Bounine and Anna, it is too understated to detect. And Helen Hayes, the picture is also a grandiose showcase for the First Lady of the American Theater, her conversion from steely negation to emotional capitulation is so cliché but her sterling acting is abounding in pathos and reverberations, and upstages everyone else in the cast. Also, Martita Hunt is a flamboyant hoot as Baroness Elena von Livenbaum, the first lady-in-waiting of empress.

“The party is over, go home!” Empress Marie’s imperious remark concluded this identity-discovering mystery with an anti-climatic finish, the thematic revelation (as corny as it is) of falling in love with a person as she is, sounds like a wishful thinking and feels as vague as the true identification of Anna Koreff, which the film cautiously toys with.

A typical Hollywood excesses on the production scale, where all the sophistication yields to a simplified open-face romance, ANASTASIA is beguilingly banal and banally beguiling.

Anastasia 1956

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