Monday, May 12, 2008
cinema obscura: Two with Jennifer Jones
The achingly beautiful Jennifer Jones was an enticing combination of the enigmatic and the sensual.
Typically, Hollywood really didn't know what to do with someone whose appeal was starkly natural - who didn't seem manufactured along the lines of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford (and I say that as someone with an unbound admiration for all three actresses, particuarly the much-maligned Crawford).
And so it is no surprise that during her all-too-brief, 30-year screen career, Jones performed in the shadows of Davis, Hepburn and Crawford - both as an actress and a media darling. She made three films as Phylis Isley before breaking through as Jennifer Jones in the title role in her beloved Henry King's 1943 "The Song of Bernadette."
Jones retired in 1974, after appearing in John Guillermin's swanky disaster epic, "The Towering Inferno." She's the exact kind of neglected icon to which this site is dedicated. Frankly, I've grown weary of the decades of buzz (sustained over the years by critics and historians who should know better) about David, Hepburn and Crawford.
Correcting this oversight is ever-resourceful Film Society of Lincoln Center which, beginning May 16th and continuing through May 24th, will screen a program at the Walter Reade Theater (65th Street at Amsterdam) titled "Saints and Sinner: The Tempestuous Career of Jennifer Jones," featuring twelve of her films, both the hits and the criminally neglected.
It's the latter that interests me, two titles in particular, both from Fox - neither of which is available on home entertainment.
There will be two screenings of Henry Koster's "Good Morning, Miss Dove" (1955), a sentimental, inspirational fable, a la "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," that was an audience favorite in the '50s. Like "Chips," Koster's film is about a dedicated teacher (Jones in the title role) whose precision and perfectionism are mistaken for rigidity and coldness.
Jones takes the character from youth to old age and few scenes are as memorable as the ones detailing Miss Dove's retirement or the emblematic, heart-stopping moment when two of her former students, now adults, gallantly carry Miss Dove in a way that pays tribute to her regal bearing. Most touching. "Good Morning, Miss Dove," being screened May 18th at 4:30 p.m. and again on May 23rd at 6 p.m., softly delineates how emotional attachments aren't always played out in the same way.
Henry King, as stated, oversaw Jones in her first major film role in "The Song of Bernadette," directed her in one of phenomenally popular films, "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," with William Holden, and in a movie that was to be his last - the 1962 adapation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night," filmed with much fidelity to the book.
Jones, with her penchant for conveying uncontrolled, tempestuous passion, was born to play Nicole Diver, who meets her better half, Dick (Jason Robards, Jr., in one of his first screen roles), in a sanitarium.
This role and this story, which spans decades, cannot be played small, and Jones doesn't even try, using her actorly mannerisms to perfection. The supporting cast - and what a cast - includes Tom Ewell, Joan Fontaine and Jill St. John, and Bernard Hermann contributed another one of his great scores.
"Tender Is the Night," which runs 146 minutes, screens on May 22nd only, at 8 p.m.
The Film Society's Jones program will overlap with one dedicated to the singular Charles Boyer, the rare Frenchman who made an effortless and successful transition into American films. Ernst Lubitsch's divine "Cluny Brown" (1946), which of course co-stars Jones and Boyer, will be screened at 6:15 p.m. on May 16th and at 4:40 p.m. on May 24th.
Critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris will introduce the film at the May 16th screening. The Boyer program runs from May 2rd to May 27th, also at the Walter Reade.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Jennifer Jones in one of her more popular roles - with William Holden in Henry King's "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" - in CinemaScope; teaching students in Henry Koster's "Good Morning, Miss Dove" and sharing a scene, a memorable one, with Robert Stack and Biff Elliot in the same film; Jones with Jason Robards in King's "Tender Is the Night," and Robards with Jill St.John in the same film)
Posted by joe baltake at 11:00 AM