The Song Of Bernadette (1943)

HENRY KING

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1943.  Twentieth Century Fox.  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1943.  Golden Globe Awards 1943.  

This adaptation of the novel by Franz Werfel mixes fact and supposition for a film that tells the tale of a miracle: the now venerated saint of Lourdes who saw a vision of a “beautiful lady” by a stream and went back to pray at her feet every day for two weeks.  Jennifer Jones is fiercely amiable as the young woman who, despite an inability to keep up with her religious education at school, finds herself seeing visions of what everyone else assumes to be the Virgin Mary, her miracle proven when she follows the specter’s instructions and digs up a spring whose waters heal the sick.  It sounds like the corniest thing possible, and with a running time in excess of two and a half hours also promises be to the most ridiculously pompous film ever made, and yet if you made that assumption you are wrong on both counts.  Henry King’s direction doesn’t exactly provide a skeptical view of Bernadette’s miracle, but it does leave some room for doubt while also making the challengers to her claims real characters with sympathetic doubts:  when you manage to make  come off as human, you have accomplished a miraculous task indeed.  The story takes place somewhere between the beliefs of old and the practical scientific skepticism of the present, fascinating for more than just the girl’s claims but for the way it finds a culture at a crossroads. Anne Revere is superb as the girl’s mother and Gladys Cooper equally compelling as her doubtful teacher, but it is Jones’s picture all the way and her engaging sweetness makes it all go down very smoothly.

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