Cast & Crew
When their bombers are shot down over France, five RAF pilots are stranded in the countryside. Their leader, Paul Lavallier, a member of the Free French movement who escaped to Britain after the Germans sentenced him to death, determines that they must contact British Intelligence in Paris to help them escape. Planning to steal some civilian clothes to wear on their journey to Paris, the five break into a bar where they are discovered by a German soldier. After overpowering the soldier, they steal his wallet and split up, agreeing to meet at a cathedral in Paris. When the other soldiers find their injured comrade, they pursue the five, firing their guns into the foggy night. In Paris, the German soldier reports the incident to Herr Funk, the Gestapo chief, who realizes that the fugitives must be the missing pilots. Funk alerts his forces to look for the bank note, stamped with the mark of the German paymaster, that was stolen from the soldier's wallet. Soon after, the pilots regroup at the Paris cathedral. Baby, one of the pilots, has been wounded in the escape and warns Paul that he has been followed by a Gestapo agent. Entering the confession booth of Father Antoine, his boyhood priest, Paul asks for refuge and help in locating British Intelligence, an underground organization. Suggesting that they hid in the sewers under Paris, Antoine directs them to the crypt door that leads to the tunnels. To insure Baby's escape, Paul diverts the agent who has been following him and crosses the street to a nearby café. When the agent begins to follow Paul, the pilot knocks over his coffee and accidentally tears the sleeve of Joan, the barmaid. After excusing himself to wash his hands, Paul slips out the bathroom window and up the backstairs into Joan's room. Soon after, Joan enters her room to change her ripped dress and prays to St. Jeanne, her patron saint and the French heroine and martyr who raised the siege of Orleans against the British, for a new dress. Although she is shocked to find Paul hiding in her closet, Joan tells him that his pursuer recently arrested a British Intelligence agent in the café. Desperate to send word to Father Antoine, Paul tells Joan that the priest has asked him to give her the bank note so that she can buy a new dress. He asks Joan to notify the priest that she has received the money, and asks her to deliver a message, written in Latin, from him. After delivering Paul's message, requesting that Antoine visit the condemned spy in prison, Joan buys her dress. The priest visits the spy, but when he asks the man to name a contact for the pilots, the man thinks that it is a Nazi trick. When Father Antoine prays to God for help, the spy relents and provides the priest with the information before going to his death. Meanwhile, Paul, exhausted, has slept the night in Joan's room and upon awakening, he proclaims that France will never be conquered and bids her farewell. Paul proceeds to the church, where Antoine hands him a paper with the contact's name. Soon after, the Nazis, alerted by the Gestapo agent, enter the church and after Paul slips the paper into a Bible, they arrest him for lacking the proper documents and take him to Funk, who recognizes him as the missing flyer. Pretending to believe Paul's story that he has left his papers at home, Funk issues him a pass and releases him, hoping that he will lead them to the others. Arranging to meet Paul in Joan's room, Antoine gives him the address of Mlle. Rosay, a British Intelligence agent, and warns him that he is being followed. To circumvent the Gestapo, Antoine suggests sending Joan to meet Mlle. Rosay. Although Paul at first opposes the suggestion, Joan insists on helping and he gives her a note for Mlle. Rosay and a gift of a new musical clock to replace her broken one. On the way to meet Mlle. Rosay, Joan passes the shop in which she purchased the dress. A Gestpo agent, alerted by the bank note, steps from the door and follows her. The Gestapo arrive just as Mlle. Rosay greets Joan, but the two women escape out the back door. Later that night, Joan returns to her room, her hand injured in the escape, and Paul confesses that he has fallen in love with her. The next morning, Mlle. Rosay comes to Joan's room, bearing a map of the sewers, and instructs Paul and his men to meet her colleagues' boat in one of the sewer outlets at 2 a.m. that night. She tells Paul to call her if he is unable to lose the agent tailing him. As night falls, Paul shows Joan the medallion of Free France that he wears and promises to return and marry her when the war ends. After he leaves, Joan sees the agent waiting in the street and runs to warn Paul. When Paul phones Mlle. Rosay for help, he hears a German voice in the background, and realizing that she has been discovered, hangs up and sends Joan to deliver the map to the others while he tries to shake the agent. Joan arrives in the tunnels to find Father Antoine reciting the twenty-third psalm to the dying Baby. Meanwhile, the agent doggedly tails Paul, who after several unsuccessful diversions, ducks into a steambath. Turning up the steam to create a blinding fog, Paul finally overpowers the man and shoots him with his own gun. Too late to meet the boat, Paul leaves Joan a note that he has missed his appointment. As Joan is reading the note, she hears the Gestapo climbing the stairs and quickly stuffs the paper in the clock. When the clock stops playing music, Funk finds the note and deduces that Paul is hiding in the church. He offers to spare the pilot's life if Joan will lead him to the others, and she agrees if he will allow her to see Paul alone. At the church, Joan tells Paul that the others are still waiting for him. Knowing that her betrayal of Funk will cost her life, Joan sends Paul away, promising to wait for him. After Paul leaves, Joan leads Funk and his men on a labyrinthine tour of the sewer tunnels, delaying them until she hears the sound of Paul's motor boat speeding away. On the day that she is condemned to die, Joan, wearing the dress that Paul bought for her, is visited by Father Antoine. As she bravely faces death, he reassures her that she will live on in the heart of France. A volley of shots signifying Joan's death before the firing squad the ring out, while the planes carrying Paul and the others soar back to Britain and freedom.
Robert Mitchell Boychoir
Joseph P. Mack
James A. Anderson
John L. Cass
Albert S. D'agostino
Father John S. Devlin
Ellis St. Joseph
Joan of Paris
Even without its topical appeal, Joan of Paris still holds strong fan appeal thanks to a quartet of leading performances from actors destined for still greater things: Paul Henreid, Michele Morgan, Laird Cregar and Alan Ladd. Morgan was the most established of the four, having given a legendary performance in the French classic Port of Shadows (1938), starring Jean Gabin. Her sultry image in that precursor of the film noir was so strong Henreid was surprised to meet her off-screen and find her as clean-cut and wholesome as any American bobbysoxer. Morgan spent most of the war years in Hollywood, where she made her American debut in Joan of Paris as the French waitress who idolizes Joan of Arc and gives her life to rescue the downed flyers. Most of her other American films were less notable, though she was briefly considered for the lead in Casablanca. On her return to France, she scored a personal triumph in La Symphonie Pastorale (1946) and got to play St. Joan for real in Daughters of Destiny (1953).
Henreid had recently emigrated to America from his native Austria and had scored a hit on Broadway in Elmer Rice's play Flight to the West. That brought him a contract at RKO, which was supposed to start with a co-starring role opposite Ginger Rogers, but when she saw the script, the film was cancelled. Instead, he made his U.S. debut in Joan of Paris. From the start, he never quite fit in with the Hollywood publicity machine. The studio thought his real name, Paul von Hernreid, too long and Germanic and wanted him to change it. He agreed to drop the "von," but balked when they wanted him to change his last name to "Hammond" or "Henry." Finally, they agreed to simplify the spelling to "Henreid," the name he bore as a star. Then the publicists wanted him to pretend not to be married so they could send him out on arranged dates with Hollywood glamour girls and turn him into a matinee idol. Instead of outright refusing, his wife suggested that they'd have to pay her a salary equal to his so she could hire hot young actors to take her out on dates, too. As a result, Henreid rose to stardom as a married man - though not at RKO. After the success of Joan of Paris, he moved to Warner Bros., where he hit pay dirt making love to Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (later in 1942).
Lower down in the cast list were two American actors playing their best roles yet in Joan of Paris. Portly character actor Laird Cregar, cast as the Nazi agent dogging Henreid's tail, had only been in Hollywood two years. Alan Ladd had been around for a decade and though his wife, actress-turned-agent Sue Carol, had gotten his freelance fee up to $750 per week, he had yet to get a studio behind him. His role as the flyer who dies in a sewer while priest Thomas Mitchell recites the Lord's Prayer changed all that. Reports as to the scene's immediate impact vary: some say there wasn't a dry eye on the set; Henreid and director Robert Stevenson thought he played the whole thing with a one-note glassy stare. But the scene captured solid reviews and had fans demanding to see more of him. RKO offered the actor a contract at $400 a week. By that time, however, Paramount had tested him for the role of a paid killer in This Gun for Hire (1942). Although they were only offering $300 a week, Carol and Ladd chose the Paramount offer, knowing the film would make him a star (which it did). She later said that she would have made him do the picture for free if necessary. After This Gun for Hire scored a hit, RKO re-issued Joan of Paris, with Ladd advertised as the star.
This Gun for Hire would be a breakthrough for Cregar as well, who won his villainous role in that film on the strength of his performance in Joan of Paris. It would lead to his typecasting as rotund crooks and psychopaths for five years. Then, in an effort to make himself a leading man, Cregar went on a severe crash diet that sent him into an early grave at the age of 28, proving that the quest for fame can sometimes be hazardous to your health.
Producer: David Hempstead
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Charles Bennett & Ellis St. Joseph
Based on a story by Jacques Thery & Georges Kessel
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Carroll Clark
Music: Roy Webb
Principal Cast: Paul Henreid (Paul Lavallier), Michele Morgan (Joan), Thomas Mitchell (Father Antoine), Laird Cregar (Herr Funk), May Robson (Mlle. Rosay), Alan Ladd (Baby), Alexander Granach (Gestapo Agent).
BW-92m. Closed captioning.
By Frank Miller
Joan of Paris
George Cleveland is listed as a cast member by a modern source, but he is not seen in the movie.
RKO constructed the studio's largest single set since Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1939).
The working title of this film was Joan of Arc. According to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, RKO considered Charles Boyer, Robert Morley and Jean Gabin for leads in the picture. A news item in Los Angeles Times adds that producer David Hempstead initially wanted Julien Duvivier to direct the project because Duvivier had worked with Gabin and Michele Morgan in Europe. Other pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter note that Lewis Milestone was assigned to direct the film and worked with Hempstead on the script until Milestone resigned from the project over differences with the studio. The picture used the largest single set constructed by the studio since the making of the 1939 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2032), according to another news item in Hollywood Reporter. This film marked the U.S. screen debuts of Austrian actor Paul Henreid and French performer Morgan. Henreid had appeared in some British-American co-productions made in England prior to this film. Laird Cregar was borrowed from Twentieth-Century Fox to appear in the production. The film's score was nominated for an Academy Award.