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Jennifer Jones, 1919 – 2009

The Auteurs Daily

Jennifer Jones

"Jennifer Jones, 90, an actress who won an Academy Award for playing a saint in The Song of Bernadette and became a popular sinner in Hollywood melodramas including Duel in the Sun and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, died Thursday at her home in Malibu, Calif," reports Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post.

"Jennifer Jones remains one of the more controversial actresses in the Hollywood cinema," writes Richard Lippe in Film Reference. "In general, her professional and personal involvement with David O Selznick has been given a prominence that has colored assessments of Jones's distinctive contribution to 1940s cinema. Interestingly, the central issue is not that Jones lacked talent or screen presence. The longstanding criticism is that Selznick, because of his commitment to Jones, had no critical distance and, with King Vidor's Duel in the Sun, tried to fashion an erotic identity for her, making Jones into a ridiculous creation." Still, "while Jones's physical presence is intended to be provocative, she does not allow her physicality to undermine the complex psychological dimensions of the character." Further, Martin Scorese argues a convincing case for the film in his Personal Journey... Through American Movies.

Claudia Luther in the Los Angeles Times on Bernadette: "It was, everyone agreed, perfect casting. Jones, who was Catholic and had gone to a convent school, had the kind of wide-eyed innocence that made her believable as Bernadette Soubirous, the French peasant girl who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. 'I cried all the way through Bernadette because Jennifer was so moving and because I realized then I had lost the award," said Ingrid Bergman, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls the same year Jones won.... 'Talented, charming Jennifer was the most insecure actress I ever worked with,' actress Joan Fontaine, who played Jones' sister, Baby, in Tender Is the Night, wrote in her 1978 autobiography, No Bed of Roses. 'Despite her Academy Award for Song of Bernadette, I felt that acting was a torture for her.'"

Updates, 12/18: "The movie uppermost in the Siren's thoughts isn't that hagiography [Bernadette], but rather Portrait of Jennie, in which Jones's superb talent for creating odd and bewitching women reached its apogee. William Dieterle's ghost story was the perfect vehicle for Jones, whose spiritual quality always had a note of restless passion.... The Siren wasn't surprised to hear, from Dan Callahan, that Luis Buñuel loved Portrait of Jennie. What might Buñuel have done with a chance to direct its star?"

More from Robert Cashill and Aljean Harmetz (New York Times).

Updates, 12/19: "Jones, the embodiment of feminine innocence, seemed an unlikely candidate for eroticising," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "But if she had not played a number of dark, tempestuous femmes fatales - worlds apart from Bernadette - her career would have been much less interesting."

"She was a seasoned enough player by the time her husband made the odd alliance with Huston and Bogart that yielded Beat the Devil that she was able to insinuate herself into that picture's odd cynicism with ease," notes Glenn Kenny.

Updates, 12/21: Yes, John McElwee admires the performances, but: "What's been mentioned less is the Phylis Isley who came up during momentous days of the picture business as the only child of one of the Midwest's great exhibitors." That's the story he tells at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

David Thomson for the Guardian: "I think she had come to the conclusion that history was like one of her poorer movies: nobody assumed it was meant to be believed."

Image: From a publicity still for Love Letters (William Dieterle, 1945).

Charlton Heston also put the blame on Selznick for making Jones a neurotic and frightened actress. When not conforming to Selznick’s idea of sexiness, she could be quite enjoyable. A pity CLUNY BROWN seems by now to be almost forgotten. Jones was delightful in it, and I always found this to be the most homogeneous and satisfactory Lubitsch film of the mid-forties. (HEAVEN CAN WAIT’s first half is wonderful, but never recovers from the death of Tierney’s character.)
In honor of her, maybe the masterpiece that is Portrait of Jennie could finally be added to the database! I love Duel in the Sun (but PoJ more)!
She was quite captivating as the ghost in the haunting “Portrait of Jennie.”
I really liked Ms. Jones in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing film! I was a fan of hers when I first saw Song of Bernadette! as a teen! It is one of My favorite movies with William Holden and the song was outstanding! It fit right into the theme of the movie! I really thought the interplay with Holden seemed like two people really in Love! A great by Romantic Story Han Suyin, A Great Movie, Great Actors, and a Great song! What more could you ask for?

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