(1956 c 122')
Based on Irving Stone’s novel, Vincent Van Gogh passionately works at painting and is supported by his brother Theo. He has a tumultuous friendship with Paul Gauguin that leads to mental instability.
The committee of a missionary society tells Vincent Van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) they cannot recommend him even though his father is a minister. Vincent says he wants to serve and begs them to use him. So he is given a chance to serve in a miserable, coal-mining area.
To an audience of coal-mining families Vincent reads a sermon from a paper. A man leaves in disgust, and Vincent concludes with a prayer. Vincent runs after the man who left to ask him why. He asks the man to help him understand. The man says they live underground in the mines. Vincent asks him to take him down, and the man tells him to come there at four in the morning.
Vincent and the man go down in an elevator. He sees men and children working. Vincent also observes the women working on the mountain-side. They hear a horn and leave. Vincent sees a man dead on a stretcher and covers him. He carries a boy and covers him with his jacket.
Vincent goes home to get a blanket for one of the wounded and finds two men from the committee waiting for him. They ask him why he lives in such a wretched shack. He says he is helping the poor. They say he will not be respected, but he says he wants to live like a true Christian. They leave, and he calls them hypocrites. He cries.
Theo Van Gogh (James Donald) asks where he can find Vincent and finds him asleep in the dark on the straw. Vincent wakes and says he was sick but is all right now. Theo says father asked him to find him. Theo says he has changed, but Vincent says he still wants the same things—to be of use and work. Vincent says that Theo found what he wanted in Paris. Vincent says he failed but has learned. Theo calls him an idler. Vincent says he is idle in spite of himself because he wants to work. Theo asks him to make him part of his life. Theo asks him to let him take him home.
In a gallery Theo let buyers look at the paintings. He reads a letter from Vincent who wrote that he is working at painting outside.
Vincent brings his sketches and paintings back to his house. Willemein (Jill Bennett) comes in the open door and asks him not to argue with his cousin Kay (Jeannette Sterke) at the family dinner table. Vincent says it has been a year. His father Theodorus Van Gogh (Henry Daniell) reprimands Vincent for not going to church once since he came back. Vincent says he does not believe in the God of the clergy. His mother (Madge Kennedy) removes the children and then asks Vincent if he realizes what he said. She asks if his drawings are going well. Theodorus also sees that he is struggling. Vincent says he is not ready to show his work.
Vincent writes he is learning to measure Nature. He believes that the influence of Kay is softening his work. Kay has spread a picnic blanket, and Vincent shows her a drawing. Vincent says he has much to learn. He says that Michelet said that the man is blessed who has found his work and found one woman to love. Vincent says he wants a home and children. He tells her he loves her and tries to embrace and kiss her, but she struggles to free herself and says no, never.
Vincent goes to see Kay in her home and pushes his way in. Her father says she is not there. He says she returned his letters unopened. Vincent says she must love him because he loves her. Her father asks why he is whimpering. Vincent puts his hand in the candle flame and asks to see her for as long as he can hold his hand there. Her father says she refuses to see him again ever. She said he disgusted her, and this affects Vincent. Her mother asks if he wants to spend the night there, but Vincent leaves.
At night Vincent goes to a bar and sits down. He gives his brandy to a sad woman, and she drinks it and asks if he is a working man. Christine (Pamela Brown) says she is a laundress and has a baby to feed. She says she was not paid today. He gives her a coin. She notices his burned hand and offers to dress it for him at her place. He follows her home. Vincent writes to Theo about her. She tells him she does not feel alone anymore.
Vincent takes some drawings to his cousin Anton Mauve (Noel Purcell) and asks him for advice. Mauve says he sees talent in his work though it is clumsy. He asks Vincent what kind of artist he wants to be. Vincent says he wants to move people. Mauve says he must learn skill. He suggests he work in color with watercolors and oil. He tells him to work there and gives him paint and statues. Mauve asks if he has a place to work and gives him some money to get set up.
Christine poses with a baby, but she is happy to be hooked up with a painter. On another day Christine complains they are so poor, and Vincent tells her to stop nagging. She wonders if she was better off before. Vincent says he was told he has no talent. She asks about his cousin Mauve, and Vincent says he puts him off. Vincent gets angry and smashes the casts Mauve gave him.
Vincent asks Christine where she was for two days, and she says with her mother. He says he has to leave for a few days. At the train Christine tells him that she will not be there when he comes back. He asks how she will live, and she says it will be her old life. She says he has been good to her and the baby as if it were his own.
Vincent prays aloud in an empty church, and Theo hears him. Theo asks him to come to Paris and live with him. He could meet other painters, but Vincent says he has to break through there in the place he knows. Vincent paints and writes to Theo thanking him for the money and the paint. Vincent paints workers in the field and says it is hard to draw.
Vincent also visits their homes and workers with looms. He paints portraits of the poor and people eating potatoes.
Willemein comes in and tells Vincent he dresses and behaves in ways that people do not understand. She says it has been difficult since father died. He asks about her young man. She says mother is upset, and Vincent says he will go home.
In Paris men discuss Impressionism in an art gallery. Vincent looks at the paintings. Vincent tells Theo in his home about these new artists and asks if they are right. Theo says he will live there.
The next day Theo and Vincent listen to Pizarro say not to be timid but trust his first impression. Another artist tells Vincent they are using scientific methods. He takes Vincent to meet Seurat in his studio, and he explains his technique.
Vincent works on a painting in the house and takes a drink. He wakes Theo and asks his opinion and whether he could sell the painting. Theo says it is hard to sell any of the new painters. Theo objects to Vincent criticizing him and insulting his guests in his home. Theo says he shows his paintings and suggests he take them to another dealer too. Theo asks him to let him sleep at night.
In a shop Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn) lectures others about art, admiring Cezanne. Vincent shows him a painting, and Paul says it is vigorous. Vincent is glad to meet him, and Paul offers him a drink. They sit outside. Paul says he cannot work at Paris. He will be working in Brittany. He warns that friends and family can get in the way.
Theo finds a note from Vincent thanking him and explaining why he left to work by himself. Theo’s employer says that his love for Vincent has blinded him about his work. Theo says he has not done enough for Vincent who is struggling and passionate. The employer says the change may do him good.
Vincent rents a room in Arles for eight francs a week. In the morning he opens the window and sees fruit trees blooming. He puts his impression of them on canvas. He paints in the sun. The landlord shouts at Vincent that he is getting paint all over and demands that he pay him.
In town Vincent gets help carrying his paintings by bearded Roulin (Niall MacGinnis). Vincent rents a house and spends his last money on paint and supplies. He paints out in the fields in the sun and by a river. He writes that he goes days without speaking to anyone, increasing his concentration.
In the fall the wind blows, and Vincent stays indoors and drinks. At night he paints with candles on his hat, depicting a starry night. He sleeps with his head on a table, wakes, and drinks more wine. Roulin comes in and asks if Vincent ate anything. He pays most of the bill and helps Vincent carry his things. Vincent says that Theo is getting married to a Dutch girl.
Theo reads the letter from Vincent to his wife Johanna (Toni Gerry). Theo wishes he could sell something. He says Vincent wants him to persuade Gauguin to go down there. Theo says he would have to send him some money.
Gauguin with a bag and suitcase comes into Vincent’s house. Vincent is excited to see him and fixed up a room for him. Gauguin admires the paintings of sunflowers. Vincent offers him some food, and Gauguin looks at the paintings laying around. Gauguin smells the stew and suggests he do the cooking. He sees the mess and starts cleaning up the place. Gauguin says they will put the money Theo sends in a box. Vincent says they could get other painters with Gauguin as the head. Gauguin says he created a style with things from his mind. Gauguin objects to Seurat and Millet. They argue their differing views about painting.
At night Vincent and Gauguin drink on a sidewalk. Vincent implies he may go mad. Gauguin asks about the local women and says he does not want to be loved. They walk in the town, and Gauguin breaks up a fight. Rachel asks Vincent why he has not been there lately. Vincent introduces Paul to her. Paul says he is attracted to violence, and a fight makes him feel better. Later Paul carries Vincent home and throws him on his bed.
Vincent writes to Theo about Gauguin. Vincent asks Paul for advice, and he says Paul’s painting have no texture but are flat. Vincent says he argues with Paul. On a windy day Paul paints inside, but Vincent is restless.
Paul tries to work outside in the wind, and Vincent tells him to nail down his easel. Paul is frustrated, and Vincent says he can leave; but Paul says he does not have the money. In the house Vincent has a letter and tells Paul it is their money. Paul is grinding paint, and Vincent suggests they try to remain friends. Paul notices he finished his painting. Paul says he tries to avoid attachments. Vincent asks about his children, and Paul tells him to mind his own business. Paul complains that Vincent is too emotional. Paul says he worked so he can paint, but Vincent does not know working for a living because he has a brother who supports him. Vincent throws something, and Paul leaves. Vincent follows Paul and has a razor. He sees Paul and turns back. Vincent goes home and looks in a mirror in agony. He screams.
Gauguin comes into the house, and a man tells him his friend is dying. Paul finds Vincent on the bed. The man says his ear was slashed off. The doctor arrives and says he will survive. Gauguin says he is unbalanced. He must go so that Vincent will not see him. Gauguin leaves.
People gather outside the house, and Roulin comes out and says Vincent is sick and needs rest. In bed with his bandaged head Vincent hears them and comes to the window. He shouts for them to leave him alone.
Theo comes into a hospital to visit Vincent. He says Dr. Ray said he is doing well and can travel. Vincent says he wants himself committed. Theo says he must come and live with him in Paris. Vincent says he and Johanna will be watching him. Vincent asks Theo to find a place for him.
Theo and Vincent go in a carriage to a mental asylum. Dr. Peyron (Lionel Jeffries) tells Vincent they have only eleven patients, and it is quiet. He is shown to a room, and his paintings are stored away. Dr. Peyron writes his diagnosis to Theo in a letter. After a while Vincent is no longer violent, and he is allowed to have his personal effects. Vincent’s room has bars on the window. He paints in his room, and a nun admires his work. Dr. Peyron writes that his painting is beneficial as long as he does not indulge in excesses of work and emotion. Vincent’s paintings have a swirling style of brushstrokes. Outside Vincent has a seizure, and Dr. Peyron writes to Theo that he is recovering. Vincent wants to leave and go north. Dr. Peyron says he will be discharged when fit to travel.
Vincent is welcomed by Johanna and Theo. He is eager to see the child named after him. Vincent says he was dizzy for a moment. Theo tells him that he sold one of his paintings for 400 francs. Vincent asks where Paul is, and Theo says he is in Brittany. Theo will invite over some artists. Theo tells him that Dr. Gachet is ready for him.
At a table outside Vincent talks with Dr. Gachet (Everett Sloane), who admires his painting. He urges Vincent to work. Dr. Gachet shows him paintings by Manet and other artists. Vincent writes that he is not sure that Dr. Gachet can help him. Vincent paints a portrait of Dr. Gachet and landscapes. Vincent fears he is facing disaster.
At a holiday celebration Vincent sits alone at a table and is upset. He leaves. In a field Vincent is trying to paint and is attacked by blackbirds. He adds them to the wheat-field he is painting. He writes in a brief note in despair that he sees no way out. He has a pistol, and a shot is heard.
Theo visits Vincent by his bed. Vincent says his name and then dies.
This biopic shows the environment in which Van Gogh worked and the paintings he produced. In a time of many new artists his brother Theo was only able in his lifetime to sell one of his paintings that now are worth millions. The different temperaments of Gauguin and Van Gogh clash, and they both prefer to work alone.