Dir: Henry King | Writer: George Seaton | US Drama 156′
The Song of Bernadette is a perfect film for Lent. And while Jesus Christ is wandering about in the wilderness having his faith tested, so is Sister Bernadette in this rare Hollywood film that explores the thorny theme of spiritual belief and religious conviction. Clearly one for the believers, then. But this earnest classic went on to win no less that four Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Drama and Best Director for Henry King (Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing), and made a star out its leading lady Jennifer Jones.
Based on the best-selling historical novel by Franz Werfel, the film chronicles the life of 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, who began seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France in 1858. When news of Bernadette’s vision first spreads through the town, there are those who decry her as a nutter, while others wholeheartedly believe –particularly when the spring that erupts near the grotto that housed the visitations contains water that seems to have miraculous healing properties. Eventually her priest (Charles Bickford) and the Roman Catholic Church become convinced of her beliefs and welcome her into a convent.
The film has an interesting cast: alongside Jones there is Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Charles Bickford, and Gladys Cooper. It also enjoys the sumptuous visuals and lighting techiniques of Arthur C. Miller (How Green Was My Valley) who won the Oscar for Best Art Director and Interior Decoration.
Whatever your personal feelings on the matter (and please suspend them and cast your mind back to the 1940s) The Song of Bernadette is an earnest attempt to capture the essence of conviction: not only its power to heal mind and body, but also to inspire leadership. And King’s attempts to convey this do occasionally wander into the realms of melodrama (not helped by Alfred Newman’s ridiculously over-bearing religious score – needless to say he won an Oscar). That said, this is a touching and intimate portrayal of a young French girl’s spiritual journey from her vision to the healing spring at Lourdes. Her gentle strength of purpose provides a leading light and succour to many others. The film version also puts a positive spin on Franz Werfel’s rather reverent novel on which George Seaton’s script is based.
The Song of Bernadette tempers raw realism to offer up a soft-edged and dignified religious narrative. This mammoth undertaking had a cast of 104 actors including five doctors (one aptly named ‘Dr LeCramps’). Rene Hubert’s does wonderful things with the black and white ecclesiastical robes. And Gladys Cooper is particularly convincing in her intense portrayal of Mistress of Novices, Marie-Therese Vauzous. In her screen debut as Bernadette, Jennifer Jones is perfectly cast as an innocent, wide-eyed wonder. There is also a role for Vincent Price as the vehement Prosecutor Vital Dufour. MT
Amazon https://amzn.to/2BBlQU9 | 8 APRIL 2019