Film Review – THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943)

SONG OF BERNADETTE, THE (1943, USA) ****
Biography, Drama

dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox; d. Henry King; w. George Seaton (based on the novel by Franz Werfel); pr. William Perlberg; ph. Arthur C. Miller (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Alfred Newman; ed. Barbara McLean; ad. James Basevi, William S. Darling; set d. Thomas Little; cos. René Hubert; m/up. Guy Pearce; sd. Alfred Bruzlin, Roger Heman Sr. (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); vfx. Fred Sersen; rel. 21 December 1943 (USA); cert: U; r/t. 156m.

cast: Jennifer Jones (Bernadette), William Eythe (Antoine Nicolau), Charles Bickford (Father Peyramale), Vincent Price (Prosecutor Vital Dutour), Lee J. Cobb (Dr. Dozous), Gladys Cooper (Sister Marie Therese Vauzous), Anne Revere (Louise Soubirous), Roman Bohnen (François Soubirous), Mary Anderson (Jeanne Abadie), Patricia Morison (Empress Eugenie), Aubrey Mather (Mayor Lacade), Charles Dingle (Jacomet), Edith Barrett (Croisine Bouhouhorts), Sig Ruman (Louis Bouriette), Blanche Yurka (Aunt Bernarde Casterot), Ermadean Walters (Marie Soubirous), Marcel Dalio (Callet), Pedro de Cordoba (Dr. LeCramps), Jerome Cowan (Emperor Louis Napoleon III).

Based on the popular novel by Franz Werfel, this drama focuses on Bernadette Soubirous (Jones), a young French woman who experiences vivid visions of the Virgin Mary. While many dismiss her claims, certain people, including the priest Dominique Peyramale (Bickford), slowly begin to believe her. Eventually, Bernadette is deemed a saint, and becomes a nun at a convent, where she must deal with jealousy from others who resent her revered status. An earnest adaptation that nails its colours to the mast from its prologue. The deeply religious tale is played out at great length, perhaps overlength. The production, however, is very strong with King’s direction giving encouragement for an exceptional cast to deliver consistently excellent performances. Jones’ wide-eyed innocence perfectly embodies Bernadette’s voyage of discovery. Revere as her mother conveys the emotional turmoil of a woman torn between her familial struggles and the love of her daughter. Price is restrained and almost sympathetic as the cynical politician, whilst Bickford is sturdy as the priest who is initially sceptical of Bernadette’s claims. Technical attributes are also top-notch with Miller’s photography making the most of the production design and Newman’s score evocatively complementing the unfolding drama. Linda Darnell appears uncredited as the Virgin Mary.

AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Jones); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur C. Miller); Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (James Basevi, William S. Darling, Thomas Little)’; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Alfred Newman)
AAN: Best Picture; 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 Director (Henry King); Best Writing, Screenplay (George Seaton); Best Sound, Recording (Edmund H. Hansen (20th Century-Fox SSD)); Best Film Editing (Barbara McLean)