The Song of Bernadette
The Song of Bernadette (1946 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Norman Rockwell
Directed byHenry King
Screenplay byGeorge Seaton
Based onThe Song of Bernadette
by Franz Werfel
Produced byWilliam Perlberg
StarringJennifer Jones
William Eythe
Charles Bickford
Vincent Price
Lee J. Cobb
Gladys Cooper
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byBarbara McLean
Music byAlfred Newman
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 21, 1943 (1943-12-21)
Running time
155 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.6 million[2]
Box office$5–7 million[3][4][5]

The Song of Bernadette is a 1943 American biographical drama film based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Franz Werfel. It stars Jennifer Jones in the title role, which portrays the story of Bernadette Soubirous, who reportedly experienced eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary from February to July 1858 and was later canonized in 1933. The film was directed by Henry King, from a screenplay written by George Seaton.

The novel was extremely popular, spending more than a year on The New York Times Best Seller list and thirteen weeks heading the list. The story was also turned into a Broadway play, which opened at the Belasco Theatre in March 1946.[6]

Plot

It is February 11, 1858. Fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous lives in poverty with her family in Lourdes. At her Catholic school, Sister Vauzou shames Bernadette for falling behind in her studies because of her asthma.

Later that afternoon, while fetching firewood with her sister Marie and friend Jeanne, Bernadette is left behind in the Massabielle grotto. Distracted by a strange breeze and a change in the light, Bernadette investigates and sees a beautiful lady. They pray the rosary together. Her friends promise to keep what they saw a secret, but Marie tells their mother when they return home. Neighbor Croisine and her husband appear with food to share their gratitude for Bernadette's mother Louise caring for their sick baby and for Soubirous' new job.

When the story spreads all over Lourdes, Bernadette's aunt Bernarde tells Bernadette's parents to stand up for their daughter and go with her to the grotto. Others follow. “All France will be laughing at us,” the mayor says to the Imperial Prosecutor. Abbé Dominique Peyramale refuses to get involved. Bernadette faces threatening interrogation by Dutour and Jacomet, but confounds them with her simplicity.

Bernadette brings a message for the dean: Chapels are to be built, and processions are to come to Massabielle. He asks the lady for a “little miracle”: Make the wild rosebush bloom, in February. No roses appear, but the lady tells Bernadette to wash at a nonexistent spring. Bernadette digs a hole in the ground and smears her face. The crowd disperses, but Antoine and Bouriette call them back; water pours from the hole.

Croisine's child dies. She runs with him to the spring, saying “Take him Lord or give him back to me.” The baby cries—and moves. Dr. Dozous cannot explain the undeniable physical transformation. Suffering people flock to Lourdes.

On Bernadette’s last visit to the grotto, the lady finally identifies herself as "The Immaculate Conception." Bernadette does not understand. Others are stunned. Peyramale warns her that she is playing with fire.

The grotto is fenced off, ostensibly to test the water. Dutour tries to have Bernadette committed, but Peyramale declares it will be “over his dead body.” He takes her to the convent, where Sister Vauzou accuses her of deception.

Peyramale asks the Bishop of Tarbes for an episcopal commission to decide if Bernadette is a fraud, insane, or “the rarest of mortal beings.” The Bishop declares that unless the Emperor orders the grotto to be opened, there will be no investigation. When the Emperor’s infant son is cured of a cold by water from Lourdes, the Empress demands the grotto be reopened.

Four years later, Peyramale persuades Bernadadette to join the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. As novice Marie Bernarde, she works hard at the convent, where Sister Vauzou is mistress of novices. Years later, Vauzou accuses Sister Marie Bernarde of limping to get attention. Vauzou reveals that she is consumed by doubt. She cannot believe that someone who has never suffered would be chosen when she has spent her life suffering in God's service. Bernadette agrees that she has not suffered, then pauses and raises the skirt of her habit. Vauzou is horrified at the vast tumor revealed (not shown). The doctor diagnoses tuberculosis of the bone; the condition causes unspeakable pain, yet Bernadette never mentioned it. Vauzou prays for forgiveness and vows to serve Bernadette for the rest of her life.

Despite the severity of her illness, Bernadette insists that “the spring is not for me.” The bishop wants one final confirmation from her lips. “I did see her,” she cries.

In Lourdes, Dutour, dying of throat cancer, walks with thousands of pilgrims to the shrine and kneels, saying, “Pray for me, Bernadette.”

Bernadette sends for Peyramale. Her voice failing, she confesses she is afraid that she has not suffered enough. She calls to the lady, afraid that she will never see her again. The lady appears, smiling, her arms open. Bernadette whispers, “I love you, I love you. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me,” and dies. "You are now in Heaven and on Earth. Your life begins, O Bernadette,” Peyramale says. Bells are heard, and the film ends with a clip of the interior of what appears to be St. Peter's Basilica.[7]

Cast

Jones as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943)
Jones as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943)

Historical accuracy

The film's plot follows the novel by Franz Werfel, which is not a documentary but a historical novel blending fact and fiction. Bernadette's real-life friend Antoine Nicolau is portrayed as being deeply in love with her and vowing to remain unmarried when Bernadette enters the convent. No such relationship is documented as existing between them. In addition, the government authorities, in particular, Imperial Prosecutor Vital Dutour (played by Vincent Price) are portrayed as being much more anti-religion than they actually were;[8] in fact, Dutour was himself a devout Catholic who simply thought Bernadette was hallucinating. Other portrayals come closer to historical accuracy, particularly Anne Revere and Roman Bohnen as Bernadette's overworked parents, Charles Bickford as Father Peyramale (although his presence at Bernadette's deathbed was an artistic embellishment; in reality, Peyramale had died a few years before Bernadette), and Blanche Yurka as formidable Aunt Bernarde.

The portrayal of Sister Marie Therese Vauzou is also inaccurate. There is no evidence that Sister Vazou was Bernadette’s elementary school teacher or that they met prior to the time that Bernanette entered the convent. The dramatic conversion of Sister Vazou to Bernadette’s cause, depicted in the movie, is unsupported by the historical record. Indeed, more than 20 years after Bernadette’s death, Sister Vazou testified that Bernadette was vain and simple and should not be canonized.[9]

The film combines the characters of Vital Dutour and the man of letters Hyacinthe de La Fite, who appears in the novel and believes he has cancer of the larynx. La Fite does not appear at all in the movie. In the film, it is Dutour who is dying of cancer of the larynx at the end, and who goes to the Lourdes shrine, kneels at the gates to the grotto and says, "Pray for me, Bernadette."

The film ends with the death of Bernadette and does not mention the exhumation of her body or her canonization, as the novel does.

Music

Igor Stravinsky was initially informally approached to write the film score. On 15 February 1943, he started writing music for the "Apparition of the Virgin" scene. However, the studio never approved a contract with Stravinsky, and the project went to Alfred Newman, who won an Oscar. The music Stravinsky had written for the film made its way into the second movement of his Symphony in Three Movements.[10]

Reception

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the movie a mostly negative review, praising the acting, especially Jones's, but regretting the movie's "tedious and repetitious" narrative, its emphasis on "images that lack visual mobility" and "dialectic discourse that will clutter and fatigue the average mind," and the decision to make Bernadette's "lady" visible to viewers.[11]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 16 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.8/10.[12]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Outstanding Motion Picture William Perlberg (for 20th Century Fox) Nominated [13]
[14]
Best Director Henry King Nominated
Best Actress Jennifer Jones Won
Best Supporting Actor Charles Bickford Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Gladys Cooper Nominated
Anne Revere Nominated
Best Screenplay George Seaton Nominated
Best Art Direction–Interior Decoration – Black-and-White James Basevi, William S. Darling and Thomas Little Won
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Arthur C. Miller Won
Best Film Editing Barbara McLean Nominated
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alfred Newman Won
Best Sound Recording Edmund H. Hansen Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Picture Won [15]
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jennifer Jones Won
Best Director Henry King Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 5th Place [16]

Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Radio adaptation

The Song of Bernadette was presented on Hollywood Star Time 21 April 1946. The 30-minute adaptation starred Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Pedro DeCordoba, and Vanessa Brown.[19]

See also

References

  1. ^ "The Song of Bernadette (1944)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  2. ^ Stanley, Fred (7 March 1943). "A NEW SPIRITUAL RESURGENCE IN HOLLYWOOD: Studios Now Look Favorably On Religious Themes". The New York Times. p. X3.
  3. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  4. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 220. ISBN 978-0810842441.
  5. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season". Variety. 5 January 1944. p. 54.
  6. ^ "The Song of Bernadette". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  7. ^ Bernini's Baldachin visible on the left side of the screen. Bernadette was canonized in 1933, so it is possible that this is footage taken at the time.
  8. ^ Trochu, François (1 January 1957). Saint Bernadette Soubirous: 1844-1879. Tan Books. ISBN 978-1787201194. Trochu provides background information on Bernadette's "inquisitors", revealing that they were not atheists or even freethinkers.
  9. ^ Aquerò - The Atlantic (December 2002).
  10. ^ Walsh, Stephen (30 September 2011). Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America 1934-1971. p. 144. ISBN 978-1407064482. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  11. ^ Crowther, Bosley (27 January 1944). "THE SCREEN; 'The Song of Bernadette,' a Devout Film Version of the Werfel Story, With Jennifer Jones, Opens Here at Rivoli". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
  12. ^ "Mortal Kombat (2021)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  13. ^ "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Movie Award Goes to Jennifer Jones". The New York Times. United Press. 2 March 1944. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  15. ^ "The Song of Bernadette – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  16. ^ "1944 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  17. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  18. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  19. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (2): 32–41. Spring 2015.

Further reading