Archive for July 20, 2019

The B.V.M.

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by dcairns
“What I got don’t need beads.”

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, in which Jennifer Jones appears courtesy of David O. Selznick and the Virgin Mary appears courtesy of God.

A few of us Bolognites wished Il Cinema Ritrovato had shown this one, because it’s a good, well-known Henry King, and he give s it the big build-up in the documentary they screened. He tested multiple big stars for the title role and asked them to look off-camera and see the Ble s sed Virgin Mary. “All the others looked,” reported King, “but only Jennifer Jones SAW.”

Jones is pretty great. Always tempting to define her successes in terms of her limitations, for some reason. Good directors use their stars for what they CAN do and aim them away from what they can’t. “There was a stupidity about her,” said Ruth Goetz, meaning to praise her for her rightness for the title role in the 1952 CARRIE. Here, Bernadette calls herself stupid but is, rather, simple, which in the movie’ s terms elevates her above all the troublesome, complicated character s who persecuted her.

Jones plays this with an unchanging serenity and hesitant meekness that comes right to the edge of being annoyingly monotonous but doesn’t quite cross over. I would guess that the inspiration is hers and the control is King’s.

All the performances are ace. Vincent Price is airdropped into the dead centre of his comfort zone, playing intelligent, cool and cynical, with the melancholy he could sometimes access, and without campery (he must’ve been tempted to try to slip one passed the goalie, but maybe King was too nimble in defense). Oddly, his final moments appear to have inspired the ending of DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

The only actor who gets away with anything inappropriate is one of Bernadette’s sisters, who moons the camera.

The Breen Office was too dazzled by the Virgin to notice the butt cheeks.

Top mark s to Lee J. Cobb again, a different actor from his laid-back debut in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF but with none of the growl and bluster of later roles. He’s marvellously DETAILED.

Huge waxen eyelids.

And scary nun Gladys Cooper nearly walks off with the show. She has to literally carry Jones for the third act.

King does something very clever by keeping the B.V.M. apparition in long shot, like an icon, though it would be even better if we never saw the very special guest star at all. There are other bit s where he has his periodic fits of visual expressiveness and it’ s pretty great.

Now, I not only don’t HAVE faith, I don’t even admire it, though I acknowledge a lot of people find it useful in withstanding life’s brickbats. Thus, as an opening title forewarns, part of this film is a closed book to me. But I could admire the way a lone, ill-educated girl stands up to the authorities: police, politicians, family, and even the church, and the way the film gets us on her side, the ultimate underdog, even though apparently she has the supreme being in her corner.

Without Linda Darnell as the B.V.M. and the heavenly choir s nudging us in the ribs, this wouldn’t have a trace of kitsch. With them, it has quite a bit of that popular and valued Hollywood commodity. But it’s, you know, compelling.

THE SONG OF BERNADETTE stars Cluny Brown; Oliver Niles; Prince Prospero; Lt. William Kinderman; Mrs. Higgins; Caroline Lamphere; Jimmy Valentine; Maybelle Merriwether; Georges Sand; Ben Hubbard; Mrs. Rand; “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt; Madame Therese De Farge; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; Miles Archer; Lt. Alexei Chernoff; Antonya Raskolnikov; Matiste; The Dear One; The Kid; Alfred the butler; Van Helsing; and Chihuahua.