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The Song of Bernadette(1943)
In 1858 France, Bernadette, an adolescent peasant girl, has a vision of "a beautiful lady" in the city dump. She never claims it to be anything other than this, but the townspeople all assume it to be the virgin Mary.
For more about The Song of Bernadette and the The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray release, see the The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 18, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jennifer Jones, Charles Bickford, Vincent Price, Linda Darnell, William Eythe, Lee J. Cobb
Director: Henry King
» See full cast & crew
The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray Review
Faith vs. reason.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 18, 2013
Despite the fact that I attended an Episcopalian parochial school as a child, and the fact that both of my sisters married Catholics (with one of them actually converting to the religion), I have spectacularly little knowledge about the Catholic way of doing things, either liturgically, ritually or otherwise. That ignorance is probably no more pronounced than in what I must admit I have felt is the really odd occurrence of the Catholic church canonizing people and appointing them (for lack of a better term) saints. Shouldn't something like that really come from some more immutable, Divine presence, rather than the often clouded judgment of mere humans? Now of course canonization involves the approval of the Pope in Catholicism, and as even ignorant folk like myself know, Catholics affirm that the Pope is infallible, so that helps on a philosophical if not practical level to overcome some niggling doubts about the process. What's kind of interesting about at least some Saints in the Roman Catholic hierarchy is how despised and condemned they initially were and how their canonization actually took a while to come into being. Two somewhat linked stories include simple peasant girls who claimed to have witnessed a Divine Presence (in different forms), but who were derided and laughed at before ultimately achieving Sainthood post-mortem. Joan of Arc remained the most famous in this category for centuries after her death, but with the publication of The Song of Bernadette in 1941, another French girl became the object of much adoration and public interest. Bernadette Soubiris lived a rather short but eventful life in the mid-19th century, and, like Joan, insisted she had been "contacted" by an emissary from God, in this case the Virgin Mary. As has so often happened in the long, sometimes tortured, history of most major religions, the Catholic Church initially condemned Bernadette, but the young girl would not budge in her beliefs nor in her demands that the messages that had been conveyed to her were acted upon. And again like Joan, Bernadette's steadfastness paid off, leading to perhaps not quite the epochal changes that Joan's battles helped to accomplish, but in their own quieter, gentler way bringing about significant change, including to the Catholic Church itself.
We're a decidedly more cynical people now than in 1943 when The Song of Bernadette debuted, and some younger viewers especially will probably watch this film and come away thinking it's unbridled hokum from start to finish. But a little context is necessary. Probably the most salient thing to keep in mind, as is discussed in the excellent commentary ported over from the Studio Classics DVD, is that the planet at that point had been embroiled in World War II for years, with no conceivable end in sight. Questions about a Divine Presence, let alone a Divine Purpose, were paramount in many peoples' minds, even the most devoutly faithful. The Song of Bernadette was therefore rather like a salve for a debilitating wound, an uplifting and hopeful response to a tumultuous and disconcerting time.
There's also a none too subtle subtext running pretty rampant throughout The Song of Bernadette that the unadorned faith of the simple, uneducated peasant Bernadette (Jennifer Jones) is more potent than the gaudy shows put on by Church officials. We get two notable representatives of the Church in The Song of Bernadette, including Sister Vauzous (Gladys Cooper), who starts out as Bernadette's teacher when Bernadette is young, but who ends up in charge of the convent where Bernadette lives out her adult life. There's also Father Peyramale (Charles Bickford), a sort of parish priest who deals with Bernadette as a child and continues to interact with her as she matures. Both of these individuals are shown to be kind of venal, jealous types (probably Sister Vauzous more than the Father), but both have crises of conscience that leave them repentant and more or less cowering at the thought of Bernadette being a conduit to the Divine.
The Song of Bernadette is a typically glossy forties biography (actually a hagiography in both the positive and negative connotations of the term), which might initially seem to work against the film's portrayal of a simple village life filled with unsophisticated people. But the film, while a bit too "neat" for its own good, actually does a wonderful job of depicting the essential simplicity of Bernadette and her family (Anne Revere and Roman Bohnen are exceptional as her parents). The film makes no bones about playing directly to the heart, which is of course another part of its none too subtle subtext, making the perhaps obvious point that an intellectual understanding of faith is in a very real way irrelevant. Bernadette's intuition and open heart are all it takes to receive repeated visions and messages from the Virgin Mary (Linda Darnell), something that drives the better educated Church and government officials slightly batty.
Film fans probably already know that while Jennifer Jones is given that all important "Introducing" credit in this film, she actually had already had at least a couple of previous appearances (under her more or less given name, Phyllis Isley). Jones had become a protégé of David O. Selznick (and would soon end up marrying him), and Selznick lobbied rather relentlessly for Jones to be cast in this important role. It didn't hurt that Daryl Zanuck was off fighting World War II and Selznick's then brother-in-law was managing Fox at the time. This is the role that made Jones a star, and she delivers a luminous yet unaffected performance, one that easily deserved the Academy Award which was bestowed. The entire supporting cast is excellent, and the film is a model of the incredible professionalism that was part and parcel of the studio system during this era. Everything from the production design to the incredible score (by Alfred Newman) helps to make The Song of Bernadette an unusually affecting experience, perhaps even for those who have forsaken faith in this all too cynical age.
The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Song of Bernadette is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.33:1. It's kind of interesting that this one time "Studio Classics" release has been licensed to Twilight Time, since Fox has gone ahead and released several former Studio Classics DVDs on Blu-ray themselves (Zorba the Greek, How Green Was My Valley, Gentleman's Agreement, etc.). I have to wonder if perhaps this title was licensed because the source elements have some issues, most of which were quite evident on the previous DVD release. This is apparent right off the bat during the Fox logo, which has a rather bad tear and minimal warping. The first reel or so of the film is also littered with fading on the extreme edges of the frame (the left side more than the right). All of these particular issues were also apparent in the previous DVD release, so are no doubt endemic to the source elements. Once these minor but noticeable problems are out of the way, the rest of this high definition presentation looks quite nice. Contrast is excellent, and gray scale is very well modulated. The film still has a somewhat soft look in the midrange shots, but close-ups reveal substantial fine detail. There are some minor haloing issues on some of the inserts featuring text on things like newspapers and notices (see some of the screenshots accompanying this review for some examples). Natural film grain is more than apparent throughout this presentation.
The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Song of Bernadette features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that sounds surprisingly spry for its age. While there is some minimal hiss that creeps through in the film's quieter moments, otherwise this track presents a nicely nuanced blend of clear dialogue and Alfred Newman's extremely beautiful score. There's a minimally boxy sound in the midrange, as should be expected, but overall things sound great here, with more low end than I personally was expecting and a relative lack of clipping in the extreme upper frequencies.
The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Song of Bernadette Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Song of Bernadette is unabashedly old fashioned and my hunch is younger audiences may actually find the film unintentionally humorous. But for those with perhaps a bit longer in the tooth (and I count myself in that category), the film is a beautifully heartfelt examination of faith triumphing over the supposed omnipotence of rote belief in the form of organized religion (and, in this case, also government). The film is anchored by a star making performance by Jennifer Jones, and while it's a bit too glossy for its own good, its good intentions overcome the neat and tidy ethos that was almost a requirement during the studio system. This Blu-ray offers very good if occasionally problematic video and surprisingly excellent audio, along with a superb commentary and an equally wonderful rendering of Alfred Newman's music via an isolated score track. Recommended.
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