|The Song of Bernadette|
Theatrical poster by Norman Rockwell
|Directed by||Henry King|
|Produced by||William Perlberg|
|Screenplay by||George Seaton|
|Based on||The Song of Bernadette|
by Franz Werfel
Lee J. Cobb
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Edited by||Barbara McLean|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$5 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
The Song of Bernadette is a 1943 biographical drama film based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Franz Werfel. It stars Jennifer Jones in the title role, which portrays the story of Bernadette Soubirous, who reportedly experienced eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary from February to July 1858 and was later canonized in 1933. The film was directed by Henry King, from a screenplay written by George Seaton.
The novel was extremely popular, spending more than a year on The New York Times Best Seller list and thirteen weeks heading the list. The story was also turned into a Broadway play, which opened at the Belasco Theatre in March 1946.
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François Soubirous, a former miller now unemployed, is forced to take odd jobs and live in a hovel that was once the city jail with his wife, 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 burn it at Massabielle, then the city dump.
At the local Catholic school (run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers) that she and her sister attend, fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous is shamed in front of the class by Sister Vauzous, the teacher, for not being able to explain what the Holy Trinity is. Her sister Marie explains that Bernadette was out sick with asthma the day that the students learned about the Holy Trinity. Abbé Dominique Peyramale enters and awards the students holy cards, but is told by Sister Vauzous that Bernadette does not deserve one because she has not learned her catechism 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 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 standing in brilliant light, holding a pearl rosary. She tells her sister and friend, who promises not to tell anyone else. However, Marie tells their mother almost as soon as they reach home, and the story soon spreads all over town.
Many, including Bernadette's Aunt Bernarde, 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 seemingly unbelievable 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 yet exist. In order to do what the lady asks, Bernadette digs a hole in the ground and uses the wet sand and mud. 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 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, 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 need serve no 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, though he believes in God, is not sure. The Empress upbraids him for ingratitude, 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 Bernadette 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 at the convent, but also emotional abuse from a cold and sinister Sister Vauzous, her former school teacher, who is now mistress of novices at the convent. 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 makes a revelation to Sister Vauzous which is later diagnosed as tuberculosis of the bone. The condition causes intense pain, yet Bernadette has never complained or so much as mentioned it. The jealous sister, realizing her error 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 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".
The film's 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. In addition, 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; 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 (although his presence at Bernadette's deathbed was an artistic embellishment; in reality, Peyramale had died a few years before Bernadette), and Blanche Yurka as formidable Aunt Bernarde.
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."
The film ends with the death of Bernadette and does not mention the exhumation of her body or her canonization, as the novel does.
Igor Stravinsky was initially informally approached to write the film score. On 15 February 1943, he started writing music for the "Apparition of the Virgin" scene. However, the studio never approved a contract with Stravinsky, and the project went to Alfred Newman, who won an Oscar. The music Stravinsky had written for the film made its way into the second movement of his Symphony in Three Movements.
In addition, the film was nominated for a further eight categories:
In the first Golden Globe Awards in 1944, the film won three awards:
Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: