Thursday, June 18, 2015

1943: Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette

Jones plays the title character, a simple, sickly young girl who sees a series of visions of a beautiful lady, which eventually leads to the creation of a spring that seems to heal people. Though she is constantly taunted and persecuted by both secular and religious leaders, she continues to insist that her visions are real.

In a year when four big stars were nominated for Best Actress (Jean Arthur, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, and Greer Garson), somehow the unknown newcomer came away with the statue. She had appeared in a few things before this, but always credited under her birth name Phyllis Isley. No one knew who Jennifer Jones was before this movie, which means that she won solely for this performance, and not for her status in Hollywood as some past winners seem to have done. While I do have several complaints about this movie in general, I must admit that she was darn near perfect for the role.

This film isn't bad, but it's very cheesy, and the background music makes it significantly more so. I was sick of the music after the first ten minutes, and it would not stop. Apparently the score won an Oscar, too, somehow, which makes me wonder how terrible the other nominated scores must have been. I think Jones was far more deserving of her award. She exudes such innocence and conviction that the whole time I just wanted to smack everyone who refused to believe her and thought she was perpetrating a fraud. Yes, the movie was cheesy, but it could have been way cheesier if the character of Bernadette hadn't been so believable. I couldn't really relate to her, as she literally let nothing bother her, except when people prevented her from going to the place where she could see the lady. Suffering from terrible asthma, people calling her stupid, being doubted and accused of madness or fraud, even dying of bone cancer; nothing caused her to deny what she'd seen, or even to complain. Bernadette is a truly saintly character, and the film does a good job of portraying the hypocrisy of those who oppose her. Hokey music aside, I would probably be quicker to recommend this movie if it didn't drag so much. The performance was very good, but the movie needed to be at least a half hour shorter.

For some reason, people seem to have forgotten about Jennifer Jones. Most of the other stars of her era have names that are still at least vaguely familiar to most people, but not her, which is odd since she was nominated for a total of five Oscars, starting with this one. The following year she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Since You Went Away, and then she was nominated for Best Actress in 1945's Love Letters, 1946's Duel in the Sun, and 1955's Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. Though this was her only win, I think she deserves to be remembered more than she is, especially with the talent she demonstrated in this performance.

Next up: Ingrid Bergman, in the only Best Actress winning performance to make it onto my 10 Views in 10 Years blog.

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