© 1956 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Anastasia (1956)

Director: Anatole Litvak
Starring: Ingrid Bergman
Yul Brynner
Helen Hayes
Cinematographer: Jack Hildyard
Composer: Alfred Newman
Year: 1956

Although I am a history buff and occasionally even enjoy the odd conspiracy theory, I have always thought the whole lost Romanovs/Anastasia myth was nothing more than a bunch of hooey. The fact that this film is a very loose adaptation of the story of Anna Anderson, the most notorious and controversial of the many Romanov imposters makes the film even less appealing. But I did want to see it in order to enjoy Ingrid Bergman’s performance.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that that the question of the woman’s identity was not left open at the beginning of the film. Yul Brynner plays the unscrupulous leader of a group of Russian expatriates in France who are interviewing a number of potential Anastasia, in the hopes of laying claim to a 10 million pound inheritance deposited at an English bank. He selects a woman who has previously been institutionalized and relentlessly drills her on the most minute facts of the Czar’s family and training her in the necessary manners and etiquette. She soon begins to believe that she is in fact Anastasia, and starts coming up with bits of knowledge that only the real princess would know. Even her conniving teacher begins to have doubts. This made the whole thing a bit ridiculous for me, but Bergman is good at performing this meaty role of a confused woman.

Anastasia marked Bergman’s return to Hollywood, from which she had been exiled seven years earlier. When the actress left her mild-mannered dentist husband and their daughter to be with Italian director Rossellini, all of Hollywood had a hissy fit. Over 20,000 newspaper articles criticizing her personal life were published. By 1957, things had cooled down enough that she was not only able to star in the international production, but went on to win an Oscar for it. One of the best scenes in the film has Ingrid as Anna/Anastasia confronting the man who has been training her, who has promised he will arrange a visit with the dowager mother, for “her sake.” “For my sake?” she explodes. “You never did anything for the sake of anybody but yourself. You enjoy playing with people, making fools of them. That’s why you’re doing it, as a joke! To prove that you are great, and alive and the others are small and dead. Yes, and for money…” It is tempting to think that Bergman is addressing the whole Hollywood system.

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