This RKO production is a first of sorts for various reasons.
Paul Henried was making his Hollywood debut with this tale of five downed flyers trying to make contact with the French underground during WW2 and make their way back to England to keep up the fight against tyranny. French import Michele Morgan was starring as the title role who finds herself falling for the suave Henreid and fencing with pompous Nazi Laird Cregar.
Also in the cast and getting what could be considered his first break in the biz is Alan Ladd as one of the flyers under Henreid’s command. It’s Ladd that elicits sympathy from the audiences of the day.
After landing the five men split only to reunite at a Paris church where Thomas Mitchell is the parish priest. Henreid enlists Mitchell in hiding his crewmen thus allowing him to make conduct with the underground. He quickly finds himself using Miss Morgan to shield him from the Nazi tail he has picked up. Romance is just around the corner for Paul as he and Morgan quickly fall in love regardless of the German occupation and a bleak future awaiting them.
When Paul is picked up in a Nazi raid he is led to the office of Cregar whom he begins toying with. Cregar of course knows exactly who Paul is but let’s him walk in order to become his “Judas Goat.” With too many eyes taking in his every move it is Morgan who is off to meet the contact played by elderly May Robson.
When the night of the rendezvous comes to get the men out of France the tension goes up a notch between Henreid having to face his Nazi pursuer and Cregar confronting Morgan with the threat of violence and death if she doesn’t give him the information he requires to capture the flyers.
This is a role well suited to Henreid who would excel in many Warner Brother titles in the years ahead including Casablanca and his role opposite Bette Davis where he turned lighting two cigarettes at once into a romantic pastime.
Most of Morgan’s career seems to be in French cinema including films with Jean Gabin before coming to RKO for this leading role. She did turn up in the noir film The Chase opposite Robert Cummings in 1946 which also had Peter Lorre in the cast.
In Henried’s enjoyable autobiography “Ladies Man” he and director Robert Stevenson both thought that the career of young Alan Ladd would amount to nothing. He jokingly tells of how they thought Ladd was playing a key scene to broadly. Then admits how wrong they were.
Within a couple of years Ladd would be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and heavily outdrawing Paul at the all important box office. It’s easy to see that given some close ups here, Ladd displayed the all important movie star looks to generate fan mail.
Both Thomas Mitchell and Laird Cregar are solid and play their roles as expected. Mitchell the gentle priest and Cregar the smooth yet brutish villain.
Director Stevenson would eventually become one of Uncle Walt’s house directors and was behind the camera for some studio favorites including Mary Poppins and the pair of flubber films.
Joan of Paris never strays far from it’s religious overtones and they fit into the plot nicely without becoming preachy or self righteous. The film serves more as a call to freedom fighters as opposed to outright propaganda which would increasingly creep into many titles for the duration of the war.
A good film to be seen here from the Warner Archive collection for fans of the two leads and a pre-stardom Alan Ladd.