Anastasia (1956)

 

 

 

Director:     Anatole Litvak.

Starring:       Ingrid Bergman (Anna Koreff/Anastasia),  Yul Brynner (General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine),  Helen Hayes (Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna),  Akim Tamirfoff (Boris Adreivich Chernov),  Martita Hunt (Baroness Elena von Livenbaum),  Felix Aylmer (Chamberlain),  Sacha Pitoff (Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin),  Ivan Desny (Prince Paul von Haraldberg),  Natalie Schafer (Irina Lissemskaia / Nini),  Grgoire Gromoff (Stepan),  Karel Stepanek (Mikhail Vlados),  Ina De La Haye (Marusia),  Katherine Kath (Maxime).

Oscar:  Bergman as Best Actress.

Bergman plays the woman posing as Anastasia, the surviving daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917.  

 

 

Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In 1917 the Romanov dynasty --  rulers of Imperial Russia --  were overthrown by revolution.  Some of the nobility and their followers fled to safety but the Tsar, his wife and children were imprisoned and then shot in 1918.  Shortly after, there were strange whispers that one of the family had escaped and was still alive.  In the weeks, months, years that followed, the whispers grew louder and louder.  And then a woman appeared, a woman who was said to be the youngest daughter of the last Tsar, her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  Only she, if she still lives, knows the truth behind the story you are about to see."

Paris, 1928.  Russian Easter.  A woman named Anna Koreff looks into the windows of a shop to linger over a portrait of the last Russian Tsar and his family.  The owner of the store points her out to a man speaking with him.  The man follows Anna Koreff as she stands in front of a Russian Orthodox church.  The man is Stepan and he walks over to the taxi limousine of a man he refers to as Excellency.  Stepan asks the driver if he could drive to the Kasbek and ask General Bounine to come immediately here. 

The General is at his night club where there is entertainment by two male Russian dancers.  The maitre-de tells the General that Count Beresoff is waiting outside in his taxi.  The General goes out to see what Beresoff wants.  Meanwhile, Stepan is waiting at the church.  The General shows up and Stepan takes him over to see Anna Koreff.  Bounine asks her if she is the Anna Koreff who was at the asylum at St. Cloud?  Anna starts to run away.  Bounine stops her and asks why does she always run away?  She says:  "Always questions. I've lost the answers."  The General says that he believes that she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  She walks away.  Bounine and Stepan follow her.  She walks and walks around the city.  She stops by the river and contemplates jumping in.  Just as she is about to jump, Bounine grabs her. 

Petrovin and Chernov come to see Bounine and are mad that he is going to be late again.  While they wait for him, they talk about Anastasia having 10 million English pounds of inheritance.  Chernov says he was the one who thought up the method of selling shares to stockholders to pay for the search for the grand duchess.  Bounine comes in and the men greet each other.  Chernov and Bounine criticize each other.  Apparently, Bounine has been looking for the grand duchess for awhile and had several candidates, all of whom he rejected later.  He criticizes Chernov for taking money from the corporation to buy things like new suits.  Chernov criticizes him for spending a lot of money in search of the grand duchess, only to reject the candidates he chose.  Chernov says the corporation gives them only eight more days to present Anastasia.  Bounine tells the two Russians that they have found Anna Koreff.  She denies that she was in the asylum and that she told a nun she was Anastasia, the grand duchess of Russia.  He adds:  "But the important thing is that properly used, she may serve our purpose."

Bounine has Stepan bring in Anna.  Petrovin and Chernov look her over.  Bounine says the two Russian are both fools:  "You're examining her as if she was the real Anastasia.  There is no Anastasia.  She was shot to death ten years ago by a firing squad."   He says they are not looking for Anastasia, but for "a reasonable facsimile".  Anna starts acting like the real Anastasia screaming that they brought her to the cellar where they are going to shoot her.  The General asks her if she has gone mad?  Anna tries to run away again, but the General stops her.  

When Anna realizes what the men are up to, she tells them that she will take no part in this.  She says that no one will believe it.  She has told others that she was somebody of importance and they promised her various things, but all the schemes came to nothing but failure and she is sick of it.  Apparently, Anna has no conception of the true Anna.  She wants someone else to tell her who she is.  Bounine likes this because it gives him the opportunity to tell her that she is the true Anastasia.  He also assures Anna that he will do all the work.  She laughs and then cries about assuming the identity of the Russian princess. 

Bounine starts working with Anna to give her a believable identity.   Part of this is to teach her a believable story about how Anastasia avoided death along with the rest of her family.  Later Chernov warns Bounine that they only have three days left.  Bounine tells him not to worry and starts teaching Anna the ins and outs of the story of the Russian royal family.  In the winter they lived in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.  In spring they lived in Tsarskoie Selo.  They lived in the hunting lodge Peterhof in Livadia for the summer.  The hunting seat is is Spala, Poland.  When in Moscow they stayed at the Kremlin. 

Chernov comes to tell Bounine that their time has run out.  Bounine is not worried.  He says when the colony first meets Anastasia, she will be exhausted and too sick to talk. 

Bounine introduces five members of the Russian colony in Paris to Anastasia.   One of the women in the group was a lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina.  Anastasia is able to convince her that Anna is Anastasia by telling her that the Tsarina nicknamed the lady-in-waiting Nini. Later Bounine scolds Anna for even saying one thing to one of the colony members, the former lady-in-waiting. 

The lessons are continued.  He shows her how to dance several different dances that the royal family would dance.  At night Anna has a nightmare.  She screams and cries out to Bounine that she doesn't know who she is.  Bounine tells her to calm down.

Now a tougher challenge faces Anna.  She will be Anastasia at a dinner party given by Madame de Lissenskaia full of important Russians.  Bounine does the introduction and one by one the Russians go up to talk with Anastasia.  Countess Baranova is the first to speak with her.  Anastasia is rude to one of the influential guests and Bounine warns her against getting mad and then saying something coarse.  One of the visitors Anastasia gets is Ivan Wassielevich.  He is very skeptical of this Anastasia and compliments her on being a great actress. 

Half the people says she is Anastasia and other half says she isn't.  So Bounine says they must go right to the top, to the empress dowager Maria Feodorovna herself, who lives in Copenhagen now.  It sounds like a good idea, but now Anna is threatening to leave again, saying she liked it until she felt ashamed of what she was doing.  The General says that he is the one who can get her in to see her grandmother and if the dowager cmpress believes in her as Anastasia, all the rest will too. 

Bounine and Anna take the train to Copenhagen.  She has a visa to stay two weeks in Denmark.  Arriving in Copenhagen, Bounine speaks with Petrovin and Chernov.  Chernov breaks the bad news to Bounine that the dowager empress absolutely refuses to see the General or Anna.  But there is one hope.  Chernov has set up a rendezvous between Bounine and the Baroness Elena von Livenbaum at 4 pm at Tivoli Gardens. 

The next day the two meet and Elena says that Bounine can not get to see the empress, not through her or Paul, who at one time was engaged to Anastasia.  But she does say that the empress will probably go to a Tchaikovsky opera at the Royal Theater.  Bounine and Anna show up at the opera in box seats across from from the empress.  She sits behind a curtain at the back of her box.  During the intermission, Bounine speaks with Paul.  He introduces Anastasia to Prince Paul von Haraldeberg and then he introduces to Paul, Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaevna. Paul decides to leave, so Anastasia tells him that he is afraid of her.  This puts him on the defensive and he stays to talk with her, as Bounine leaves. 

When Elena tells the guard at the box door to go get the empress a glass of mineral water and then follows him to make sure he makes no mistake, Bounine sees his opportunity to sneak into the box of the empress.  The empress is a bit miffed that Bounine is pestering her.  She says:  "I have already been shown two Tatianas, an Alexei and a Maria, aw well as an Anastasia."   She adds that she only has her memories left and she wants to be left alone with these memories.  She accuses him of just being interested in this Anastasia for investment purposes and tells Bounine to go back home to Paris.  Bounine backs out of the box.  After the intermission, however, the empress uses her opera glasses to get a good look at this Anastasia. 

Back at the hotel Bounine tells Anna that Prince Paul will be calling her tomorrow.  Periodically, Anna gets mad at Bounine for making her feel like she is only something to be used for his own amusement or benefit. 

On their third date, the Prince kisses Anastasia.   She's a bit intoxicated.  Bounine shows up early to take her home so that she doesn't get herself and him in trouble.  He uses the excuse that this is on the orders of her doctor.  After he sends Anna up to the room, Bounine speaks with Paul.  Paul tells him that he has been knocking on the door too heavily.  He is pushing them too fast and too hard.  Bounine tells him that Anastasia's visa expires in four days. 

Back in their room Anna asks Bounine for one tiny, little confession.  He goes over to her room, but she has fallen asleep already. 

The next day Paul talks with the empress.  He wants to talk about Anastasia with her.  They talk, but the Prince leaves the room very sullen and a little angry.  The empress speaks with Elena about how shocked she is that Paul asked to see "that woman".  But all of a sudden she changes her mind and tells Elena she is going over to this woman's hotel room.  The two women go over to the hotel.  Elena telephones Bounine that she is coming up with a "lady".  Bounine tells Anna and she becomes very nervous and doesn't want to see her just now, but Bounine just tells her to get ready.  Her Majesty comes in alone.  Bounine brings Anastasia out.  The empress dowager and the imposter have a bit of a showdown and the empress calls "Anastasia":  "Imposter!"  But the empress also feels that the imposter is a good actress.  Things go back and forth until Anna says that grandmother used to call her Malenkaia and she (Anastasia) would cough whenever she was frightened.  Suddenly both women start crying and the empress accepts the "imposter" as Anastasia. 

At his nightclub Bounine tells Chernov that everything is all set.  The presentation of Anastasia will be tomorrow evening. 

Bounine lets the press in.  He tells them that Anastasia has graciously consented to talk with the press for a few moments.  Anna is then presented as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaevna.  She is wearing an all white outfit except for a red sash across her upper body.  A man named Mkkhail Vlados steps up to say that he was a fellow patient with Anna in the asylum in Rumania.  Anna deflects the accusatory tone of the man by admiting that what he is saying is true.  She was in an asylum in Rumania and did get hurt in a train accident.  A little later Bounine stops the questioning.  The press are forced out.  Now Anna and Bounine have a quiet chat that doesn't stay so for very long.  Bounine is miffed that Anna is interested in marrying in Prince Paul.  He tells her:  "Marry a man who wouldn't come within ten feet of the altar if you were not an heiress."   Anna starts to leave, but just then the orchestra begins playing as the guests start arriving.

When the place is filled with people, Anastasia and Paul dance in the middle of the main entrance hall, while the guests all watch them.  Later the guests also start dancing along with the royal couple.  Bounine seems a bit jealous of Paul dancing with Anastasia.  He goes up to see the empress.  Bounine says he wants to say goodbye to her, because his work is finished here.  The empress can't believe that he wants to leave before the spectacle.  She doesn't believe his stated reasons for wanting to leave.  The empress feels him out on how he feels about Anastasia.  She says:  "Sergei Pavlovich, what do you wish to ask?  Why do you try to ask me?  Why have you not asked her?"  He replies that he did try, but anger overtook him. 

The empress tells the general to stay put until she finishes with the ceremony.  Bounine agrees to this.  She leaves the room and goes to another.  Anastasia comes up to talk with the empress.  The empress sends everybody out of the room so she can talk to Anastasia alone.  The empress dowager wants to know if Anastasia really loves Paul.  Anastasia hesitates and the empress says that she doesn't really want to marry Paul, but rather someone else.  Anastasia says that she really only wants to do what will make the empress happy.  The empress doesn't think much of that answer.  She must seek out her own happiness.

The ceremony finally is about to begin, but they can't find Anastasia now.  The dowager empress smiles and says that Anastasia has gone with Bounine.  She then goes down to speak to the guests.  Paul asks her what she will say and she responds:  "Say?  Oh, I will say 'The play is over. Go home.'"

 

Good movie and love story, even if it isn't true.  The Romanov family was very mad that the movie portrayed the empress dowager as accepting Anna as Anastasia, because she definitely did not approve of the imposter.    We know for sure now that she was an imposter, because DNA tests have proven that she was not related to the Romanovs.  And she couldn't speak a word of Russian.  In addition, the real story of Anna is pretty sad.  She was not accepted as Anastasia and had a short career as an imposter.  She was then very alone in the world and troubled.  An American professor finally married her and they got along pretty well with each other.  Anna was put back in an asylum, but her husband helped her escape.  She and he traveled around for about two years before Anna was sent back to the asylum.  Ingrid Bergman (as Anastasia), Yul Brynner (as General Bounine) and Helen Hayes (as the empress dowager) were all very good in their roles.  (I would have liked to have seen a little more love be shown between Anna and Bounine in this rather dry love story.)  My wife Rosemary really like the film.  In a way the film reminded me of the story in My Fair Lady where the professor tries to transform Eliza Doolittle into royalty.  And in both stories the teacher and student fall in love with each other, leaving the third party out in the cold. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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