Saturday, 7 May 2011

Our Lady's Month II - Song of Bernadette (1943)

The Song of Bernadette is a 1943 drama film which tells the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who reported 18 visions of Our Lady at Lourdes from February to July, 1858. It was directed by Henry King.

The film was adapted from a novel written by Franz Werfel. The novel was published in 1942. For more than a year it was on the New York Times Best Seller list, at no. 1 for 13 weeks.

The 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 in both novel and film as being deeply in love with her, and vowing to remain unmarried when Bernadette enters the convent but there is no evidence of romantic feelings between them. 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. Dutour was in reality 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, and Blanche Yurka as Bernadette's formidable Aunt Bernarde. The film ends with the death of Bernadette, and does not mention the exhumation of her body or her canonization, as the novel does.

The Song of Bernadette won four Oscars in the 1943 Academy Awards for best leading actress (Jennifer Jones), best art direction, best cinematography, and best musical score. In addition, the film was nominated for a further eight categories: best supporting actor (Charles Bickford), best supporting actress (both Gladys Cooper and Anne Revere), best director, best film editing, best picture, best sound recording, and best screenplay. In the first Golden Globe Awards in 1944, the film won three awards, for best director, best motion picture, best leading actress (Jones).

Franz Werfel was a jew - not untypically in a Hollywood described as Jews producing Catholic films to be watched by Protestants. The book was written by Werfel in fulfilment of a vow that he made having hidden in Lourdes for some weeks during his and his family's successful escape from the Nazis.

Casting aroused considerable speculation and illustrates a healthy reverence among the film makers. Various reasons have given for casting Jennifer Jones in her first starring role (and only her third motion picture) but among them is that a figure unsullied by other associations was sought. The part of 'the Lady' went to Linda Darnell but her part was not advertised at the time because "it would shatter the illusion to have an actress connected with the part of the Virgin Mary" - a far cry from later treatment of Our Lady in film.


Anonymous said...

This is a very beautiful film that should be seen by every devoted Catholic. The story of the apparitions is very moving but the important element is how Bernadette reacts to the apparitions be dedicating her life to God in seclusion and prayer and suffering. She is the model of devout clients of Mary.

Random Thinker said...

I love this film. It's a great way to celebrate the month of our blessed mother. I think I like it better then Mel Gibson's Life of Christ but it comes out of a more devout era.

Anonymous said...

I have loved this film ever since I first saw it 53 years ago. Holy Mary pray for us sinners!