The Song of Bernadette (1943)
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,671
    It occurs to me that, today being the memorial of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes, some people here may appreciate a higher definition version of the 1943 movie, "The Song of Bernadette", which introduced Jennifer Jones* as a leading lady and with a top-drawer supporting cast. The screenplay, adapted from the novel by Franz Werfel, a Jewish writer from Prague who was sheltered in Lourdes as he sought asylum over the Pyrenees after the Vichy government began to cooperate with German eradication plans for Jews in France, and who wrote his novel as a testimony to Lourdes. While not a factual documentary, the espirit of the writing, acting and production was a worthy witness. (Btw, the location used for the grotto was in what is now Malibu Creek State Park on the leeward side of the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu, a not bad proxy for the Pyrenean foothills).

    In my view, while there are many other accounts of other apparitions, of those of the modern era, those at Lourdes are distinguished for their utter simplicity and their integrity in the form of the extraordinary witness of the life of the visionary before, during and after the fact in consonance with them. A worthy treatment of the apparitions from a secular but sympathetic viewpoint can be found in "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in The Secular Age" (1999) by Ruth Harris.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6zAoq8tRfI

    * Jones got the part because she was the only candidate who apparently credibly portrayed an inner transformation in her visionary encounters; to give some sense of beholding someone who is beholding a portal between earth and Heaven. She does it so well that the (uncredited) use of Linda Darnell to portray the BVM in retrospect was unnecessary. Jennifer Jones got her career off to a great start, with Academy Award nominations for her first three roles, a few years after another leading lady of the early 1940s, Teresa Wright, did the same thing.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,007
    This is indeed a profoundly moving film, and it holds very well lo these many years later.

    Speaking of transformations, this film contains one of the most profoundly moving scenes of any I've ever seen: namely, when Bernadette's former school mistress turned [antagonistic] novice-master finally witnesses the true extent of Bernadette's silent suffering. The expression she portrays stirs me to the depths of my soul every time.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,671
    Yes. The actress is the inimitable Gladys Cooper, the queen of the London stage in the 1920s. Henry King's direction, and the camera work, and her professional skill combine powerfully in that moment. Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this role, as she was in the previous year for her work as the unforgettable mother of Bette Davis' character in "Now, Voyager", and a generation later for her portrayal of Rex Harrison's mother in "My Fair Lady." I can't think of a performance of hers on screen that is not worth watching, of the ones I've seen.

    And St Bernadette Soubirous was canonized for her exemplary heroic perseverance in suffering, not as a visionary as such, and the story does a good job of conveying that with relative sobriety.

    The story benefits immensely from the black-and-white cinematography and scene framing. The opening scenes conveying the destitute poverty of typical mid-19th French townfolk - and of the Soubirous family in particular - deftly lay the foundation for what follows.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,007
    The story benefits immensely from the black-and-white cinematography and scene framing. The opening scenes conveying the destitute poverty of typical mid-19th French townfolk - and of the Soubirous family in particular - deftly lay the foundation for what follows.
    Agreed.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    Speaking of transformations, this film contains one of the most profoundly moving scenes of any I've ever seen: namely, when Bernadette's former school mistress turned [antagonistic] novice-master finally witnesses the true extent of Bernadette's silent suffering. The expression she portrays stirs me to the depths of my soul every time.
    Yes. Sad, though, that “in real life” she didn’t have such a conversion of opinion or attitude toward Bernadette.
    Thanked by 2Liam ServiamScores
  • Haven't seen it. To see an American actress play Saint Bernadette is quite surprising, but I will leave it aside.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    It has a really great cast. It’s a wonderful film.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,671
    The cast is almost all A-List. It was a prestige project, and cast as such. It got 12 Oscar nominations, and won in four categories. For a religious-themed film whose only gestures towards popular culture were a fairly limited number of sentimentalized scenes (unlike the Going My Way/Bells of St Mary's approach of basically being secular films in Catholic drag), its continued high regard is unusual.

    Best Actress in a Leading Role - Jennifer Jones
    Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
    Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
    Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture

    Also nominated for a further 8 categories:

    Best Picture
    Best Director
    Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Charles Bickford
    Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Gladys Cooper
    Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Anne Revere
    Best Writing, Screenplay
    Best Film Editing
    Best Sound, Recording
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    I loved Charles Bickford in this.
    He’s a strong priest who isn’t going to go for sentimentalism or any sort of nonsense, but defends those in need and keeps a level head on their shoulders.
    Really, everyone played their parts amazingly well, and very convincingly.
    I encouraged my Methodist FiL to watch it, the other day, and he thought it was great, too.
  • Thanks for this timely posting for yesterday's feast. Watched the movie for the first time. The portrayal of Bernadette put me in mind of our Lord's comment about Nathanael...'there is no guile in her.'

    Several other strong performances as others have noted.
    There were a few snippets of chant in the soundtrack, especially in the covent towards the end, but no depictions of anything explicitly liturgical.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • In a film jam-packed with stellar performances, my favorite scene is the final monologue of Prosecutor Vital Dutour, as played by Vincent Price. It's not accurate in any way - Dutour was actually a devout Catholic - but the way it sums up the existential dread of atheism, concluded with the cri de coeur begging Bernadette for her intercession, makes it one of the most beautifully shot and acted scenes of cinema.

    Fun fact: did you know Igor Stravinsky was originally chosen to compose the score? Alfred Newman's score is amazing, all the same. I remember reading an article in National Review about cinema, and they compare his score to "Samuel Barber meets Anton Bruckner", or something of that sort.
  • oldhymnsoldhymns
    Posts: 193
    Thanks, Liam, for explaining the location of the grotto used in "The Song of Bernadette"--Malibu Creek State Park on the leeward side of the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu. Even though I live on the East Coast, I visit the LA area quite a bit, and have hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains a number of times. I shall try to locate the site of the grotto on my next visit; or, shall I say, I will make a pilgrimage to it.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,671
    1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, California, USA is the park entrance (courtesy of IMDB*), and the park abuts the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

    That said, that parkland was cobbled together from ... movie and TV studios that owned lots around there and used them for location shooting. M*A*S*H was filmed in that area.

    * https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?locations=20th Century Fox Ranch, Malibu Creek State Park - 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, California, USA&ref_=ttloc_loc_1

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malibu_Creek_State_Park
    Thanked by 2oldhymns CHGiffen
  • oldhymnsoldhymns
    Posts: 193
    Thanks, Liam, for this interesting and useful information. There are lots of interesting things to see in "them mountains," although some have been destroyed by the wild fires in recent years.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,375
    Great thread. Thanks, Liam.
    Thanked by 2Liam tomjaw