Forty one years prior to the 20th Century Fox animated movie, ANASTASIA, featuring action, romance, an evil villain, and revisionist history, the same studio released an live action acting tour de force featuring Ingrid Bergman in the title role. Differing from the 1997 ANASTASIA, the 1956 ANASTASIA has White Russian General Bounine, played with intensity by Yul Brynner, spy the lost, amnesiac Anastasia wandering the streets of Paris in 1928. In her, they see an almost exact likeness of the daughter of the last Czar of Russia, Princess Anastasia. Bounine teaches her the ways of a princess, but it isn't until she is accepted by her Grandmother, the Dowager Princess (Helen Hayes), that Anastasia regains her title. Anastasia plans to marry a childhood sweetheart, until her heart dictates otherwise.
The 1956 ANASTASIA is primarily adult material. It contains no objectionable material except an insane Anastasia near the beginning, but the talking is long and intense, with many expository scenes concerning the nature of identity and royalty. The leads perform with great intensity and drive. The 1956 ANSASTASIA is a great movie to compare with today's version, and adults and patient children will find it holds ample rewards with its moral worldview.
(B, C, AA, M) Moral worldview of seeking family & deception rebuked with a Christian processional; no foul language; no violence; no sex, but some passionate kissing; no nudity; alcohol use & abuse; smoking; and, attempted suicide & insanity
Forty one years prior to the 20th Century Fox animated motion picture, ANASTASIA, featuring action, romance, an evil villain, revisionist history, and some spiritism, 20th Century Fox released an live action acting tour de force featuring Ingrid Bergman in the title role. Her career rightly suffered by the bad press given to her by her extramarital affair with Roberto Rossellini, but this movie returned her to the attention and admiration of America. Though appearing somewhat staged with limited action (to the consternation of today’s Attention Deficit Disordered moviegoers), this 1956 ANASTASIA features very strong performances by all of the leads, and Bergman won an Academy Award for best actress.
Differing from the 1997 ANASTASIA, this 1956 ANASTASIA has no cabin boy Dimitri nor demonic Rasputin. Instead, White Russian General Bounine (Yul Brynner) and his cronies spy the lost, amnesiac and suicidal Anastasia wandering the streets of Paris in 1928. In her, they see an almost exact likeness of the daughter of the last Czar, the Grand Duchess of Russia, Princess Anastasia. Bounine knows that the Czar ferreted away some 10 million pounds of money, and hence, if he can convince the public that his Anastasia is the real Anastasia, than maybe he can get his hands on the money.
Dirty, cold and lost, the homeless Anastasia has no choice but to go along with Bounine who dresses her, feeds her, teachers her, and tries to convince her that she is the Princess with almost Draconian methods. Reluctant to believe that she is the Princess throughout the training, she is ushered before Chamberlain (Felix Aylmer), a one time Russian minister to the Czar. Chamberlain instantly dismisses her out of hand as an impostor, but Anastasia tells him that that is no way to treat a princess. Hence, Anastasia surprises herself, so she now begins to think that she is the real Princess.
The final and true test of her royalty is an approval from her grandmother, the Dowager Empress played with strong conviction by Helen Hayes. For this encounter, Anastasia and Bounine must travel to Copenhagen. However, the Empress will not receive Anastasia, even for inspection, because the Empress has been emotionally troubled by many impostors and would-be money-grubbers.
In Copenhagen, Anastasia meets her childhood sweetheart, Prince Paul (Ivan Desney). Paul immediately accepts her as the Princess and even prepares to ask her for her hand in marriage. The Empress finally meets Anastasia, but she rebuffs every earnest plea by Anastasia, who is now a transformed lady and convinced of her royal status. The Empress finally embraces Anastasia, and Prince Paul plans to announce to high society his wedding plans. The Princess reveals to the Empress that she loves the General, not Paul, which results in an unique, but satisfying, ending.
Literate and patient children can appreciate this version of the classic story, but the 1956 ANASTASIA is primarily adult material. It contains no objectionable material, but the talking is long and intense, with many expository debate scenes concerning the nature of identity and royalty. This is an actors’ movie, and all of the leads perform with great intensity and drive. Likewise, modern audiences may be put off by the limited amount of sets. Very few scenes are shot outside, and there is no action at all, unlike the train scene in the 1997 ANASTASIA.
Historical purists will appreciate that Rasputin isn’t introduced as the chief instigator of the Russian revolution as in the animated version. This 1956 version of ANASTASIA, doesn’t seem at all interested in exploring or explaining the Russian revolution. Its only concern is saying that her family is dead and that she is looking for a reunion with anyone she can. Hence, the 1956 ANASTASIA doesn’t have a personified villain, just her own identity, as well as the doubts of those who knew the Romanov family.
Of course, years later, in recent times, the woman who all along claimed to be ANASTASIA turned out to be a fraud. The real Anastasia was probably murdered along with the rest of her family. But, a lost princess seeking love and family makes for great drama, and this classic 20th Century Fox examination of the story is about as skilled and astute as possible. It is a great movie to compare with today’s version, and adults and patient children will find it holds ample rewards.
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