Jennifer Jones’ “Summer Under the Stars” day on Turner Classic Movies is Monday, Aug. 17.
A very popular actress in the 1940s and 1950s, Jennifer Jones isn’t as well remembered today as she should be. After all, she won an Oscar in 1943 for her performance as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette, and starred in three of the biggest box office hits of the 1940s – the aforementioned The Song of Bernadette, Since You Went Away, and Duel in the Sun – and two major hits of the 1950s, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing and A Farewell to Arms.
So, why isn’t she better remembered? Lack of good p.r., since that’s all that seems to count when it comes to popularity, whether we’re discussing new or old movie stars (or just about anything and anybody else, from Lindsay Lohan to universal health care).
Also, I believe that one problem — perhaps the chief problem — regarding the lack of appreciation of Jennifer Jones’ talent is the Marion Davies Syndrome. Many see Jones only as a David O. Selznick creation, much like they see Norma Shearer only as an Irving Thalberg creation and Marion Davies only as a William Randolph Hearst creation. The fact that those three actresses – and others like them – could have both powerful backers and powerful acting skills seems to be anathema to the way of thinking of many film critics and historians.
Anyhow, those unfamiliar with Jennifer Jones – who happens to be one of my all-time favorite performers – will get a chance to become acquainted with her work thanks to TCM, which will be screening 12 of her movies – or nearly half of her total film appearances.
Which ones would I recommend?
Well, all of them.
No, they’re not all great – or even good. But Jennifer Jones, even when she isn’t in top form, is invariably worth a look. And all the listed films have other points of interest besides Jones’ presence.
For instance, Indiscretion of an American Wife (a.k.a. Stazione Termini) may well be one of the least effective films directed by Vittorio De Sica – chiefly, perhaps, because it was butchered before its release. That said, this romantic melodrama does look great (cinematography by Aldo Graziati), it features Alessandro Cicognini’s melodious score, and both Jones and Montgomery Clift (above) deliver capable performances.
John Huston’s weak political thriller We Were Strangers is one of the few American movies of the period (or any period, for that matter) dealing directly with foreign politics – dictatorships, terrorists, and all – in this case set in Cuba. And it was made at a time when Hollywood was feeling pressured to stick to the status quo; else, filmmakers and other talent could be accused of trying to subvert American ideals.
Huston’s Beat the Devil – a sort of The Maltese Falcon sendup – is just plain bizarre. And so is Jones’ (blond!) wig in that film. But with a cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Edward Underdown, and considering that Huston also co-wrote the film with none other than Truman Capote, Beat the Devil must be seen at least once.
And the list goes on…
- Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary is one of the most sumptuous movies of the 1940s;
- The Barretts of Wimpole Street is the unfairly neglected version of Elizabeth Barrett’s story, with Jones fully believable as the frail-looking but determined heroine whose father loved her a wee bit too psychotically much;
- Since You Went Away features one of Claudette Colbert’s best performances; although Jones isn’t quite up to par in this one, she does have one of the most memorable moments of her career – and of 1940s cinema – when she says goodbye to (off-screen ex-husband-to-be) Robert Walker at a darkened train station;
- William Dieterle’s Love Letters is a gripping, noirish psychological melodrama, with Jones playing to perfection an emotionally disturbed woman who may or may not have killed her abusive husband;
- Carrie (a TCM premiere) pairs Jones with Laurence Olivier, who ultimately comes in third place in terms of acting abilities, after both Jones and veteran Miriam Hopkins as his shrewish wife;
- King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun is gaudy, garish, and godawfully entertaining, with Jones unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally?) risible as a lustful and lusted-after half-caste named Pearl Chavez, a character that should be every drag queen’s dream but somehow isn’t;
- and Dieterle’s Portrait of Jennie – an unabashedly romantic, supernatural tale, and one of Luis Buñuel’s favorite films – remains one of the best and most stunning-looking movies of the 1940s (cinematography by Joseph H. August); Jones, for her part, delivers one of the greatest performances of the era.
In addition to Carrie, TCM will also show for the first time Good Morning, Miss Dove, a sentimental melo in which Jones’ presence as a cantankerous teacher with a past is the film’s chief (perhaps only) interest.
Now, hopefully TCM will one day unearth Jones’ awful Angel, Angel Down We Go. One of those flicks that must be seen to be believed. Also, the restored version of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Gone to Earth (released in truncated form as The Wild Heart in the US).
And while I’m at it… Why not the serial Dick Tracy’s G-Men and the Republic Western New Frontier?
Jennifer Jones movies: TCM schedule
3:00 AM Madame Bovary (1949)
A romantic country girl sacrifices her marriage when she thinks she’s found true love. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Van Heflin, James Mason. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Black and white. 114 min.
5:00 AM We Were Strangers (1949)
A Cuban American returns to his homeland during the Revolution and becomes involved in an assassination attempt. Cast: Jennifer Jones, John Garfield, Pedro Armendariz. Director: John Huston. Black and white. 106 min.
7:00 AM Ruby Gentry (1952)
A tempestuous girl from the swamps ignites passions when she moves into the business world. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, Karl Malden. Director: King Vidor. Black and white. 82 min.
8:30 AM Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954)
An American woman tries to break it off with her Italian lover. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift, Richard Beymer. Director: Vittorio De Sica. Black and white. 63 min.
10:00 AM The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957)
Poet Elizabeth Barrett defies her tyrannical father for the love of Robert Browning. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Bill Travers, John Gielgud. Director: Sidney Franklin. Color. 105 min.
12:00 PM Since You Went Away (1944)
A mother and wife struggle to cope while her husband is off serving in World War II. Cast: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten. Director: John Cromwell. Black and white. 177 min.
3:00 PM Love Letters (1945)
A soldier falls for the woman who may have killed his best friend. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gladys Cooper. Director: William Dieterle. Black and white. 101 min.
5:00 PM Portrait of Jennie (1948)
An artist discovers his gift when he falls for a beautiful ghost. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore. Director: William Dieterle. Black and white. 86 min.
8:45 PM Beat the Devil (1954)
A group of con artists stake their claim on a bogus uranium mine. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones. Director: John Huston. Black and white. 90 min.
10:30 PM Good Morning Miss Dove (1955)
A devoted teacher sacrifices personal happiness to stay with her students. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Robert Stack, Marshall Thompson. Director: Henry Koster. Color. 107 min.
12:30 AM Duel in the Sun (1946)
A fiery half-breed comes between a rancher’s good and evil sons. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten. Director: King Vidor. Color. 144 min.