The Song of Bernadette (film)

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The Song of Bernadette
Song sheet.jpg
Poster art by Norman Rockwell
Directed by Henry King
Produced by William Perlberg
Written by George Seaton
Starring Jennifer Jones
William Eythe
Charles Bickford
Vincent Price
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Barbara McLean
Distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox
Release dates
  • December 21, 1943 (1943-12-21)
Running time 156 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.6 million[1]
Box office $5 million (US/ Canada rentals) [2]

The Song of Bernadette is a 1943 drama film which tells the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who from February to July 1858 in Lourdes, France, reported eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was directed by Henry King.

The film was adapted by George Seaton from a novelization of Bernadette's story, written by Franz Werfel. The novel was published in 1941 and was extremely popular, spending more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list and thirteen weeks heading the list. [3]

Plot[edit]

François Soubirous (Roman Bohnen), a former miller now unemployed, is forced to take odd jobs and live at the city jail with his wife (Anne Revere), his two sons, and his two daughters. One morning he goes to find work, and is told to take contaminated trash from the hospital and dump it in the cave at Massabielle.

At the Catholic school (run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers) which she and her sisters attend, fourteen-year old Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones) is shamed in front of the class by Sister Vauzous, the teacher (Gladys Cooper), for not having learned her catechism well. Her sister Marie (Ermadean Walters) explains that Bernadette was out sick with asthma. Abbé Dominique Peyramale (Charles Bickford) enters and awards the students holy cards, but is told by Sister Vauzous that Bernadette does not deserve one, because she has not studied, and that it would not be fair to the other students. Peyramale encourages Bernadette to study harder.

Later that afternoon, on an errand with her sister Marie and school friend Jeanne (Mary Anderson) to collect firewood outside the town of Lourdes, Bernadette is left behind when her companions warn her not to wade through the cold river by the Massabielle caves for fear of taking ill. About to cross anyway, Bernadette is distracted by a strange breeze and a change in the light. Investigating the cave, she finds a beautiful lady (Linda Darnell) standing in brilliant light, holding a pearl rosary. She tells her sister and friend, who promise not to tell anyone else, but of course they do, and the story soon spreads all over town.

Many, including Bernadette's Aunt Bernarde (Blanche Yurka), are convinced of her sincerity and stand up for her against her disbelieving parents, but Bernadette faces civil and church authorities alone. Repeatedly questioned, she stands solidly behind her outlandish story and continues to return to the cave as the lady has asked. She faces ridicule as the lady tells her to drink and wash at a spring that doesn't exist, but digs a hole in the ground and uses the wet sand and mud. The water begins to flow later and exhibits miraculous healing properties. The lady finally identifies herself as "the Immaculate Conception". Civil authorities try to have Bernadette declared insane, while Abbé Peyramale, the fatherly cleric who once doubted her and now becomes her staunchest ally, asks for a formal investigation to find out if Bernadette is a fraud, insane, or genuine. The grotto is closed and the Bishop of Tarbes (Charles Waldron) declares that unless the Emperor orders the grotto to be opened, there will be no investigation by the church. He says this will be a test for Bernadette's lady. Shortly thereafter, the Emperor's infant son falls ill and, under instructions from the Empress (Patricia Morison), the child's nanny obtains a bottle of the water. Arrested for violating the closure order, she appears in court, identifies herself as the Empress' employee, and pays the fines of the other persons who attempted to enter the grotto, so that they will not have to serve time in jail. The magistrate permits her to go and to take the bottle of water with her. The Emperor's son drinks the water and recovers. The Empress believes that his recovery is miraculous, but the Emperor is not sure. The Empress upbraids him for doubting God, and at her insistence, the Emperor gives the order to reopen the grotto. The Bishop of Tarbes then directs the commission to convene. The investigation takes many years, and Bernadette is questioned again and again, but the commission eventually determines that Bernadette experienced visions and was visited by the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

Bernadette prefers to go on with an ordinary life, work, and possible marriage, but Peyramale does not think it is appropriate to turn a saint loose in the world, and persuades her to become a nun at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, the Saint Gildard Convent. She is subjected to normal although rigorous spiritual training and hard work, but also emotional abuse from a cold and sinister Sister Vauzous, her former teacher at school, and who is mistress of novices here. Sister Vauzous is skeptically jealous of all the attention Bernadette has been receiving as a result of the visions. She reveals this to Bernadette, saying she is angry that God would choose Bernadette instead of her when she has spent her life in suffering in service of God. She says Bernadette has not suffered enough and wants a "sign" proving Bernadette really was chosen by Heaven.

Bernadette is diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, which causes intense pain, yet she has never complained or so much as mentioned it. The jealous sister, realizing her wrongness and Bernadette's saintliness, begs for forgiveness in the chapel, and vows to serve Bernadette for the rest of her life. Knowing she is dying, Bernadette sends for Abbé Peyramale (who in reality died a few years before Bernadette) and tells him of her feelings of unworthiness and her concern that she will never see the lady again. But the lady appears in the room, smiling and holding out her arms. Only Bernadette can see her, however, and with a cry of "I love you! I love you! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me", she reaches out to the apparition, and falls back dead. Peyramale utters the final words of the film, "You are now in Heaven and on earth. Your life begins, O Bernadette".

Cast[edit]

Historical accuracy[edit]

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 as being deeply in love with her, and vowing to remain unmarried when Bernadette enters the convent. No such relationship is documented as existing 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,[4] and in fact Dutour was himself 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 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 film combines the characters of Vital Dutour and the man of letters Hyacinthe de La Fite, who appears in the novel and believes he has cancer of the larynx. La Fite does not appear at all in the movie. In the film it is Dutour who is dying of cancer of the larynx at the end, and who goes to the Lourdes shrine, kneels at the gates to the grotto and says, "Pray for me, Bernadette."

Awards and Honors[edit]

The film was a great success both critically and financially. The Song of Bernadette won four Oscars in the 1943 Academy Awards:[5]

In addition, the film was nominated for a further eight categories:[6]

In the first Golden Globe Awards in 1944, the film won three awards:

American Film Institute Recognition[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ A NEW SPIRITUAL RESURGENCE IN HOLLYWOOD: STUDIOS NOW LOOK FAVORABLY ON RELIGIOUS THEMES -- GOWNS BY ADRIAN FOR MISS CORIO By FRED STANLEYHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 Mar 1943: X3.
  2. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  3. ^ "On New York Times Best Seller list for over a year". 
  4. ^ Trochu, François, Saint Bernadette Soubirous Tan Books 1993. Trochu provides background information on Bernadette's "inquisitors", revealing that they were not atheists or even freethinkers.
  5. ^ "NY Times: The Song of Bernadette". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-15. 
  6. ^ "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 

Further reading[edit]

  • John Bear, The #1 New York Times Best Seller: intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list, 50 years ago, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1992.

External links[edit]