I watched, last night, ‘The Song of Bernadette’ (1943), a movie masterpiece from Director Henry King, a stupendous, Oscar-winning, ‘divine’ performance by Jennifer Jones, one of the most staggering, most powerful acting performances I’ve ever seen, Alfred Newman’s celestial, pathetical, powerful score (Oscar) is so effective, art direction/interior design, B&W (Oscar), cinematography, B&W (Oscar), both works of genius. The use of lighting to create an aura, a sense of holiness, around Bernadette, I watched aghast. I don’t want to refer to any – or too many – details of the story as it would/might spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it.
There are so many outstanding acting performances besides that of the protagonist, Jennifer Jones as Bernadette:
Charles Pickford as Father Peyramale (Oscar nominated for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’), his love and warmth, as the movie progresses, tangible;
Gladys Cooper, pre DBE (Oscar nominated for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’), mesmerising, hypnotic as the jealous, bitter Sister Vauzous (her jealousy reminded me of [F. Murry Abraham] Salieri’s jealousy in Milos Forman’s brilliant movie ‘Amadeus’);
the young Vincent Price, as Vital Dutour, comically pompous and tragically insecure;
the young Lee J. Cobb, as Dr. Dozous – 14 years before ’12 Angry Men’;
(though why Americans, particularly Price with such a strong American accent, were cast, I can’t imagine);
Aubrey Mather, wonderful as Mayor Lacade;
Anne Revere’s portrayal of Bernadette’s mother is heartrending (also Oscar nominated for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’).
I checked the 1944 Oscars to see why the movie won ‘only’ 3 Oscars, why it didn’t ‘sweep the board, what stopped it getting ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Director’ (won ‘Golden Globes’ in those categories): ‘Casablanca’ – fair enough (‘Casablanca’ is a 1942 movie but, apparently, according to Wikipedia, as it went into national release in 1943, it was included in that year’s Nominations – and, thus, was awarded Oscars in 1944).
Two great quotes from the movie (which, I guess, hint at its nature but not more than that):
“For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible” (I think adapted from the quote attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas)
– and thus the chasm between those who ‘believe’ and those who do not –
and just as relevant today,
Vital Dutour (Vincent Price):
“She’s a religious fanatic and every time religious fanaticism steps forward, mankind moves backwards.”
The themes in this beautiful movie – religion, love, faith, devotion, intolerance, division and the ‘under current’ warnings inherent in the story as to how the aforementioned forces are just as capable of being turned towards evil as towards good – and, particularly in the context of 1943 Europe, not only in relation to religion – it all makes for a movie which is as relevant today as it was in 1943.
A beautiful, rousing movie. I used to love talking ‘movies’ with one of my grandparents, my mum’s mum: she had posters of Ronald Colman on her bedroom wall when she was a young girl and she loved to reminisce about the time when she saw her first ‘talkie’ – oh, how I wish I could wax lyrical with her about this movie now…
I’ll leave you with Alfred Newman’s powerful, beautiful yet, and times, thunderous, soundtrack – if you haven’t seen the movie, my suggestion is that you just listen to a bit of the soundtrack, whet your appetites, don’t listen to all of it or you’ll be diluting your potential enjoyment of the movie which will be maximised if you see AND hear the movie, together, for the first time: