The most sublime and moving of Hollywood's religious films
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 12/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are very few "religious" films that actually achieve a sense of spirituality that makes them work for believers and non-believers alike. "The Song of Bernadette" is one of those rare films, and owes a lot of its power to the Oscar winning performance of Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous, the young French peasant girl who in 1858 saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the town of Lourdes. While gathering firewood with her sister and a friend, Bernadette was told by the "beautiful lady" to return to the grotto every day for fifteen days. The common folk of Lourdes come to belief in young Bernadette's visions, while the authorities try to put a stop to the nonsense, and the church keeps its distance for the moment.As Bernadette, Jones is the calm center at the heart of the storm. The scenes in which Bernadette sees the Lady (an unbilled and pregnant Linda Darnell) are presented by director Henry King with a elegant simplicity. Bernadette has a strong and simple faith, which is how she is able to endure the battering by those around her. It is in her victory over these opponents that make this story work, and Bernadette's opponents are a superb cast of supporting players. Charles Bickford is Peyramale Dean of Lourdes, who has to deal with the idea that this lazy and less than intelligent peasant girl has seen the Virgin Mother, Vincent Price the cold hearted local prosecutor Dutour, Lee J. Cobb as the reasonable and scientific Dr. Dozous, Anne Revere as Bernadett's mother, and Gladys Cooper as Sister Vauzous, the nun whose jealousy of Bernadette has quite an emotional payoff in the film. A best selling version of Bernadette's story was written by Franz Werfel in 1942 and 20th Century Fox bought the rights to make an ambitious screen version which manages to avoid the faults of sentimentality. They also searched for a newcomer for the title role and looked at Anne Baxter, Teresa Wright, Linda Darnell and Gene Tierney before settling on Jones, who had small parts in two previous films as Phylis Isley and was renamed to have a clean slate as an actress. Winning the Oscar pretty much speaks to the success of their efforts. The film also deservedly won Oscars for Arthur Miller's cinematography and Alfred Newman's score. Ironically, Newman replaced the famous composer Igor Stravinsky on the film, and the second movement of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements evolved from his original unused score.The long awaited DVD version of "The Song of Bernadette" makes up for the delay with some excellent extras, including the A&E "Biography" of Jones, a theatrical trailer, a World War II newsreel of Jones visiting the troops, and an excellent commentary track by two of Jones' biographers. This is classy treatment for one of Hollywood's classiest films."
A Wonderful Film for Adults and For the Family
C. Hutton | East Coast, USA | 10/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Song of Bernadette" led all movies with 12 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and 4 acting nods) as the most predigious film of 1943. A stellar ensemble cast examines the conflict between faith and reason when Bernadette Soubirious (played by Jennifer Jones in her major screen debut) has visons of the Virgin Mary in the garbage dump of Lourdes, France in 1858.
Ridiculed, scorned and threatened by the ecclesiastical and political establishments, Bernadette must hold on to her integrity in order to survive. The realistic plotting and manipulations of the petty local politicians (led by Vincent Price) is worth the price of the DVD alone. Charles Bickford (nominated for best supporting actor) portrays the skeptical local priest who believes that he knows what is best for Bernadette in the end.
Gladys Cooper (nominated for best supporting actress) is the vitriolic nun who despises and persecutes the poorly educated, sickly and simple minded Bernadette. The shattering emotional climax where the nun realizes the enormity of her sin is a master class in acting.
This remains the most realistic religious film of the Studio era. Its hard hitting depictions of the poverty of Bernadette's family, of the blindness of the Church and of a town's small-mindedness is balanced by its literal depiction of the validity of Bernadette's visions.
As the big winner of its year with 4 Oscars for best actress (Jennifer Jones), cinematgraphy, art direction, and musical score, it was upset by "Casablanca" for the best picture and director awards. This B/W film rewards repeated viewings as something new is seen everytime. Bernadette was later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1933.
Bernadette gets the Fox dvd treatment
W. Oliver | Alabama | 06/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Finally, one of the greatest films from the 40s gets released on dvd and Fox has done a wonderful job here. I will skip the details about the film itself (which have already been written here) except to say that it is a very compelling film and features one of the best casts ever. You don't have to be religious to enjoy the film either (I'm not) and despite the length, it doesn't seem that long (it's that good). Jennifer Jones gives an inspired performance and is luminous in her Oscar winning performance. The image quality is very good - there are a few noticeable nicks and scratches but nothing to be concerned about. A restoration comparison is provided and when compared with the older prints, it is excellent indeed.Extras include a brief clip of a visibly nervous Jennifer Jones accepting an award from the GIs. Also, a superb A&E Biography titled "Jennifer Jones - Portrait of a Lady" which covers her life in detail and provides many excellent clips from her illustrous film career.Commentary is provided by Jones biographer Edward Epstein, Hollywood historian Donald Spoto and Alfred Newman biographer John Burlingame. I was a tad disappointed with the commentary. Epstein is by far the most interesting with his commentary that discusses Jennifer Jones. Spoto is an expert on religion (as well as Hollywood history) and I found his thoughts on the relgious aspects of the film to be quite boring and seemingly pompous. Burlingame's comments on Newman are interesting but I would have rather heard about the film itself. What would have been wonderful - a commentary with Jennifer Jones! I wonder if Fox tried to contact her? Overall, well worth the price and a valuable addition to your dvd library!"
A Moving Story
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 05/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jennifer Jones gives the performance of her career in The Song of Bernadette. She plays a fourteen-year-old girl who, while out collecting firewood, sees a vision of a beautiful lady. When it becomes apparent that this lady is the Virgin Mary, Bernadette finds herself in conflict with both the secular and church authorities. Jones is utterly convincing in her performance. Somehow she is able to portray faith in such a way that it becomes impossible to doubt her. Everyone, to begin with, is against Bernadette. Her claims seem unbelievable, the product of a deranged mind or the schemes of a charlatan. But through the faith that can be seen in her face and her simple determination to tell only the truth, she gradually wins over the doubters. For this process to be depicted on film something very special is required from an actress. Anyone who views the story with an open mind cannot fail to be moved deeply by a performance which has the power to suspend disbelief.The Song of Bernadette is one of the best religious films, because it shows the life of a Saint without being too pious. Moreover it is willing to be critical of a church which could at times be harsh and even cruel. The town prosecutor scoffs at religion as much as he scoffs at Bernadette, but initially he has an ally in the local priest. A nun treats Bernadette with cruelty and ridicule. It is the opposition that the girl has to overcome which gives the film its dramatic power. This conflict works so well because the actors who perform opposite Jones give fine performances. Vincent Price as the cynical prosecutor is particularly good and shows that he was capable of dramatic acting of the highest quality. The print used on the Fox DVD is very good indeed. The DVD includes a restoration comparison, which shows how the print has been cleaned up. There are still a few visible scratches, but overall the film looks wonderful with clear sharp images and beautiful black and white photography. The sound is likewise very good. The music and dialogue sound find and there is no hiss. As extras the DVD includes a trailer for the reissue of the film in the late fifties, a brief piece of newsreel of Jones accepting an award from the GIs, a commentary and a documentary. The documentary lasts about an hour and is fairly interesting with a good number of clips from Jones's films. This is a fine DVD of a classic film. It should interest anyone who is the least bit curious about Saint Bernadette of Lourdes."