“For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible" – this card preceded the opening titles of The Song of Bernadette, director Henry King’s adaptation of Franz Werfel’s eponymous best-selling novel and our first best motion picture Golden Globe.
Bernadette’s migration from page to screen seemed inevitable and natural: Werfel’s novel had been at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list since the book came out in 1941, and a tale of unwavering faith, passion and devotion was clearly a perfect offering for audiences troubled by war and uncertainty. 20th Century Fox had optioned the novel and put it in the capable hands of veteran writer George Seaton, responsible, among many others, for Miracle on 34th Street, That Night in Rio and the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races. Henry King, one of the top directors under contract with Fox (Carousel, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tender is the Night), was set at the helm.
The main role of Bernadette Soubirous, the young peasant girl from Southern France who, from February to July 1858 , claimed to have seen 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the village of Lourdes, went to a fresh studio hire, 24-year old Jennifer Jones (stage name of Phyllis Lee Isley). Production started in 1942, with shooting in the Los Angeles area, with interiors on the Fox Lot on Pico Boulevard and exteriors in Calabasas, Cherry Valley and the Fox Ranch in Malibu. Seaton’s script followed t Werfel’s book closely, mixing fact and fiction and following Bernadette from her quiet life as a miller’s daughter to her extraordinary encounters in Lourdes and her decision to become a nun.
Premiering on Christmas Day, 1943, The Song of Bernadette was a huge success, critically and commercially – and the Golden Globe was the first of its many other accolades.