The Song of Bernadette [DVD] [1943]

Henry King's The Song of Bernadette (1943) comes to DVD in a very beautiful film-to-video transfer that, after some traces of instability in the opening credits, takes on the sharpness of still photography. That's the product of the 2002 upgrade of the movie from the best surviving nitrate elements. 20th Century Fox has treated the film well with this transfer, which looks better than any small-screen presentation it has ever received, including the laserdisc release (which, as was often the case, had the usual playback anomalies common to that format and was made from a far lower-quality source). Indeed, the mere fact that the 156-minute movie fits onto a single five-inch platter still feels like a miracle -- as much as the so-called "private revelation" of Bernadette of Lourdes. The movie itself is an acquired taste, as the producers knew it would be at the time, expressing this reality in the disclaimer at the opening: "For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible." Alas, the commentary track, which is one of the main extras on the DVD, is also something of an acquired taste. The three-way commentary simply doesn't work, as none of the contributors ever has a chance to build up a chain of observations -- or an intellectual head of steam -- before he gives way to a colleague on a separate train of thought. John Burlingame, who is present to discuss the music, seldom has the chance to expose any of the music cues because there's no room for such pauses. He says once too often that he will never say there's a false-note in the movie, but we seldom get a chance to hear any of the notes; instead, one must go back to the menu and fiddle with on-screen buttons, even over the first appearance of the "Beautiful Lady." His discussion of the psychology behind Alfred Newman's music is wonderful, but he should have simply been given this section of the movie to himself. Donald Spoto, the principal commentator, is also a little too flashy in his discussion, so much so that one loses focus on the film at times. It's a performance that, alas, competes with the performances on the screen. Edward Z. Epstein, who has written a book on Jennifer Jones' life and career, doesn't add a huge amount of information in his contribution. Much more useful in some ways is the Biography installment on Jones, which offers a full picture of her life and career. Also included is an excerpt of a Fox/Movietone newsreel showing Jones accepting an award from American GI's for her work, the film's trailer, and a before-and-after depiction of the restoration, which is rather eye-opening. The disc opens to a two-layer menu that keeps the Play option in the default position and is easy to maneuver; the Special Feature selection advances automatically as each bonus selection concludes. For reasons best known to itself, FoxVideo has erroneously credited the 1943 full-frame (1.33:1) black-and-white movie as being in Deluxe Color and CinemaScope in the packaging.
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The Song of Bernadette (DVD)  (Black & White)  (English/Spanish)  1943 - Larger Front
  • The Song of Bernadette (DVD) (Black & White) (English/Spanish) 1943
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Overview

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Rating 4.85 out of 5 stars.
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Special Features

  • Audio commentary by Edward Z. Epstein (author of "Portrait of Jennifer: A Biography of Jennifer Jones"), John Burlingame (biographer of Alfred Newman), and biographer/historian Donald Spoto
  • "Jennifer Jones: Portrait of a Lady" Biography program
  • Movietone newsreel of Jennifer Jones
  • Restoration comparison
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Full-frame format (aspect ratio 1.33:1)
  • English and Spanish subtitles
  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

The Song of Bernadette
The Song of Bernadette is a reverent recounting of the life of St. Bernadette of Lourdes. As a teen-aged peasant girl growing up in the tiny French village of Lourdes in the 19th century, Bernadette (Jennifer Jones) experiences a vision of the Virgin Mary in a nearby grotto. At least, she believes that she did. The religious and political "experts" of the region cannot accept the word of a silly little girl, and do their best to get her to renounce her claims. Bernadette's vision becomes a political hot potato for many years, with the authorities alternately permitting and denying the true believers' access to the grotto. No matter what the higher-ups may think of Bernadette, there is little denying that the springs of Lourdes hold some sort of recuperative powers for the sick and lame. Eventually, Bernadette dies, never faltering in her conviction that she saw the Blessed Virgin; years later, she is canonized as a saint, and the Grotto of Lourdes remains standing as a permanent shrine. The 20th Century-Fox people knew that The Song of Bernadette would whip up controversy from both the religious and the agnostic. The company took some of the "curse" off the project with a now-famous opening title: "To those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. To those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible." Jennifer Jones's performance in The Song of Bernadette won her the Best Actress Oscar. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Jennifer Jones
    Jennifer Jones - Bernadette Soubirous
  • Charles Bickford
    Charles Bickford - Peyramaie Dean of Lourdes
  • Gladys Cooper
    Gladys Cooper - Sister Vauzous
  • Vincent Price
    Vincent Price - Dutour
  • Lee J. Cobb
    Lee J. Cobb - Dr. Dozous

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