THE SONG OF BERNADETTE
B&W, 157 min.
Released: Dec. 27, 1943 (20th Century Fox)
Cast: Jennifer Jones (as Bernadette Soubirous), Charles Bickford, Gladys Cooper, William Eythe, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Anne Revere, Roman Bohnen, Linda Darnell.
Director: Henry King
Producer: William Perlberg
Complete Credits at IMDB
In 1858, a French peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous had an experience that forever changed her life and the town of Lourdes where she lived. While gathering firewood with her sister and a friend, she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. She claimed that the "beautiful lady" asked her to return to the grotto every day for fifteen days. Bernadette's story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not Bernadette was telling the truth. She soon had a large number of people following her on her daily journey, some out of curiosity and others who firmly believed that they were witnessing a miracle. Bernadette's credibility was increased when her "lady" instructed her to dig in the ground with her hands which resulted in the discovery of an underground spring. The water was soon found to have healing powers and the grotto at Lourdes became a haven for the sick and afflicted from all over the world. Bernadette, who really wanted nothing more out of life than a husband and a family, eventually bows to the pressure of her priest and becomes a nun. Her last few remaining years are spent in a convent where she is comforted only by the memory of her beautiful lady. She was declared a Saint by the Catholic Church in 1933.
Franz Werfel wrote a best-selling account of Bernadette's story in 1942 and Twentieth Century Fox wasted no time in buying the rights to the book and developing a screen treatment that was to be their most ambitious and expensive project of the year. They wanted a newcomer with an unblemished image for the title role. The search resulted in a large number of actresses being tested (reportedly over 2000) and Anne Baxter, Teresa Wright, Linda Darnell and Gene Tierney were all possible contenders. David O. Selznick immediately utilized his influence in obtaining a screen test for Jennifer (still know as Phylis Isley) and she was put on a train to make the cross country trip. On the way, she read Werfel's book. The screen test proved to be crucial in securing Jennifer the part of Bernadette. Henry King, who directed the film, also directed the screen test. For the test, he asked the actresses to look at a stick behind the camera and pretend that they were looking at the vision of the Virgin Mary. When the results were viewed side by side, King said that it was clear that Jennifer was the only actress who actually "saw", the others "looked". The part was immediately hers.
Filming began in March of 1943 and would take 6 months to complete. The cast included some of Twentieth Century Fox's best character actors. Charles Bickford would portray Dean Peyramale and would become a close personal friend to Jennifer. Vincent Price played the hard hearted prosecutor Dutour. Anne Revere would be memorable as Bernadette's fierce but devoted mother. And in an unforgettable performance, the venerable Gladys Cooper played Sister Vauzous, a nun whose jealousy of Bernadette is quite chilling.
The Song of Bernadette opened in late December of 1943 to qualify for the Academy Awards. It was an immediate critical and commercial success and Jennifer Jones was a new star. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards (Picture, Actress (Jones), Supporting Actor (Bickford), Supporting Actress (Cooper and Revere), Director (King), Screenplay, Cinematography, Interior Decoration, Sound Recording, Scoring, and Editing. When the award were announced on March 2, 1944, the film won 4 awards (Actress, Cinematography, Interior Decoration, Scoring).
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