The Song of Bernadette (20th Century-Fox) will doubtless be one of the box-office bingos of the new year. It may not be, as its producers gasp, "a motion picture so powerful . . . so majestic . . . so deep in its understanding . . . that for one immortal moment you touch the eternal truth . . . the final fulfillment... of everything you are . . . or ever hope to be." Nevertheless, it is a remarkably good moving picturean improvement on Franz Werfel's reverent novel about the French peasant girl who saw the Blessed Virgin and, with her help, discovered a miraculously healing spring at Lourdes.
When Bernadette Soubirous first saw, or believed she saw, her shining Lady (1858), the local rationalists hauled her before the police, hired a psychiatrist for her, boarded up her healing spring, did everything possible to discredit her. At first only the primitive, the wretched, the poor, believed in her with the intensity of their massive, sorrowful faith. Bernadette's priest (Charles Bickford) found it painfully hard to believe her. The Roman Catholic Church was cautious, but at last was convinced, and Bernadette spent her last years in a convent.
Everything but Mammy. The Song of Bernadette lacks the razor-edged realism, the urgent poetry, the freshet-like creative vitality of great cinema or great religious vision. Sometimes its too high cinematic and religious gentility betrays itself awkwardly, as in the efforts of the cast to say maman (French for "mamma"), which is pronounced practically every way except mammy. But within its limits, most of The Song of Bernadette is reverent, spiritually forthright, dignified. The photography is continuously elegant. Most of the cast (especially Gladys Cooper as a Mistress of Novices) plays with unusual soberness and intensity.
As Bernadette, Newcomer Jennifer Jones (real name: Phylis Isley) makes one of the most impressive screen debuts in many years. It remains to be seen whether or not Cinemactress Jones can do in other roles the delicately dynamitic things she achieves as this little peasant saint. If she can, Hollywood should watch and guard Miss Jones as sedulously as the Church watched over Bernadette.
Lost Angel (M.G.M.) has for a month been fluttering shyly around the sticks because M.G.M. lacked confidence in its box-office aerodynamism. Reasons: the picture's lack of marquee names, the originality of its story. Lost Angel is a remarkably touching, tragicomic treatment of one of the world's sure-fire themes: the Misunderstood Child.
Based on an idea of Dance-Mime Angna Enters', Lost Angel is a fable about a foundling who is adopted by a platoon of psychologists, given the name of Alpha, and crammed to the scalp with Chinese, sociology, polysyllables, pure reason. At six, Alpha runs into a sentimental newshawk who is appalled when she says, of his sheet, "Reactionary, isn't it?" He is shocked when he finds she knows no fairy tales, has no childish belief in magic. On a tour of Manhattan he shows her magic in a sandwich man whose shirt front lights up, in an enormous neon dragon above Times Square, in the whistling convolutions of a popcorn machine.