One of cinema’s most authentic, beatific representations of faith, The Song of Bernadette still works its magic even seventy years after its premiere. Directed by Henry King, the film’s beautiful craftsmanship and exquisite handling of sensitive subject matter never goes for an overly pious or egregiously saintly tone. Instead, its purity comes, as with the title character herself, from within, delicately stepping around the exaggerations and overdrawn melodrama of earlier religious-themed films and emerging as one of the few faith-based movies that can be enjoyed by all whether they consider themselves to be religious or not.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/26/2013
In the village of Lourdes in 1858, a simple peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones) has a series of visions of a beautiful lady whom many took to mean the Virgin Mary. Instructed by the lady, Bernadette scoops out a place in the ground where a spring with somewhat miraculous curative powers babbles which begins a series of pilgrimages to the site for the crippled and infirm. But town officials want nothing to do with Bernadette for fear that she’ll eventually be unmasked as a fraud which would make them look ridiculous. The town’s Imperial Prosecutor Vital Dutour (Vincent Price) continually interrogates her trying to make her slip up in her testimony, but she remains resolute. Even religious leaders shy away from her initially doubting her faith, especially her former instructor Sister Marie Therese Vauzous (Gladys Cooper), but eventually Father Peyramale (Charles Bickford) believes in her sincerity and recommends that she devote her life to God by becoming a nun.
The Production Rating: 5/5
Written by George Seaton (based on the book by Franz Werfel), the script does not shy away from the persistent doubt cast upon Bernadette by both political and religious leaders of France (the Catholic Church really comes off here as a tentative, graceless entity; the poor and simpler folk seem to have fewer questions about the earnestness of her faith) making the movie much less pious and sanctimonious than was typical for religious movies of the era. She’s mentally tortured and continually treated roughly despite evidence of the waters’ healing powers and even though Bernadette herself never claims the lady she saw was the Virgin. Henry King directs Bernadette’s initial encounter with the lady with simple grace and elegance and guides the entire film with a stylishness and simplicity that lets the wonderful words and the excellent performances speak for themselves.
Jennifer Jones had made some minor film appearances before this one under her real name Phyllis Isley, but the film introduces her in her new screen name to starring roles, and she’s entirely worthy of such an introduction. In a wonderfully spare but wholly committed performance, she’s utterly convincing as this simple French schoolgirl who never wavers from her belief in what she saw. With utmost dedication and seeming almost to glow from within, Jones is peerless in this role, certainly one of her greatest-ever performances. As her crusty mother who softens over time when she realizes her daughter’s unique place in history, Anne Revere is quite excellent. Charles Bickford, too, gets to temper his initial reluctance to believe over the course of the lengthy picture eventually becoming one of Bernadette’s staunchest supporters. Gladys Cooper as the nun filled with hatred and jealousy that so lowly a girl would be chosen for such a special experience gets some especially dramatic scenes to act which she handles with great authority. Vincent Price likewise has a meaty role as the cynical inquisitor intent on unmasking a fraud handling his chores nicely.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While sharpness is everything one would wish it to be, unfortunately time has left even this remastered version with a plethora of dirt and dust specks which are sometimes quite heavy. The grayscale is certainly above average though black levels are not always optimal, and shadow detail is sometimes only average. There is fading to be seen sometimes especially along the left side of the frame. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix at its finest boasts excellent fidelity that really presents Alfred Newman’s exquisite Oscar-winning score to its best advantage. Sadly, there is a somewhat troubling undercurrent of low rattling noise on occasion and some hiss which intrudes on quieter scenes especially in the film’s second half. Dialogue has been well recorded and is always intelligible, but one wishes the sometimes distracting audio artifacts could have been dealt with with greater dexterity.
Audio Rating: 3/5
Audio Commentary: comments from three speakers are interspersed during the film’s lengthy run time. Donald Spoto gives the film’s overview and speaks to its religious themes and treatment; Edward Z. Epstein comments on the work and career of Jennifer Jones; Jon Burlingame lends his expertise to analyzing Alfred Newman’s splendid score.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Isolated Score Track: Alfred Newman’s marvelous Oscar-winning score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo. The disc also allows the viewer to play the film with or without the overture.
Theatrical Trailer: (1:53, SD)
Restoration Comparison: (3:32) shows split screen clips comparing the 1993 film transfer to its 2002 restoration.
Enclosed 6-page Booklet: contains black and white stills of the film, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s appreciative essay on the movie.
The Song of Bernadette is one of the great classics of the era now coming to Blu-ray. Even with somewhat spotty video and audio, it’s such a wonderful film that the upgrade comes highly recommended. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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