I’ve written often on this blog and on Twitter about my love for actress Jennifer Jones. This month TCM is honoring her as their “Star of the Month” for the first time in the channel’s 23 year history. I couldn’t be more excited! Jones is one of those actresses who has unfortunately been forgotten or not as celebrated as others. This could be due to her reclusive nature. Jones rarely gave interviews and made very few public appearances. Unfortunately her turbulent private life and love life have gained more attention than her work which is sad because to me, she’s a very interesting and unique actress. She played a lot of ethereal characters but the humanity she brought to them made them more than what some would consider a “manic pixie dream girl.”
I first became fascinated by her in the film “Since You Went Away” very early on in my classic Hollywood fandom. “Since You Went Away” is one of my all time favorites. It’s a beautiful wartime drama about a family on the home front during WWII. Jones plays the teenage daughter of Claudette Colbert who is in love with a soldier (played by real life husband at the time Robert Walker). I was taken with not only how beautiful she was but also the childlike vulnerability underneath. Jones portrayed a myriad of characters from saints to sinners, a wretched, dependent housewife or an independent doctor, and she was convincing in all of them. Unfortunately, because of her dark brown hair and unique features, she was called upon to play ethnic roles most notably as a “half-breed” in “Duel in the Sun,” a half Cuban in “We Were Strangers,” and a half Asian/half European in “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.” It’s outrageous and in each of these films her character experiences racism yet Jones was able to showcase their dignity and humanity.
I’m excited TCM is airing some of her harder to find on television titles such as “Ruby Gentry,” “We Were Strangers,” “Good Morning Miss. Dove” and “Tender is the Night,” these are all films I haven’t seen but I’m bummed “Carrie” isn’t on the list. It’s an underrated film pairing Jones with Laurence Olivier. If you ever happen to run into it, definitely pick it up and give it a watch.
Here’s my list of films you shouldn’t miss during the celebration of Jennifer Jones.
“The Song of Bernadette” (Dir. Henry King, 1943)
In her first starring role, Jones is Bernadette Soubirous, in this moving tale of unrelenting faith. Jones’ performance is silently powerful as the young French peasant girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Don’t let the religious theme or the film’s nearly 3 hour running time hinder you, what this film ultimately boils down to is the universal theme of sticking to your beliefs. Jones is so good in this film in a role that is a lot more complicated than one might think. Legend has it that Henry King himself directed the screen tests and instructed actresses to look beyond the camera at a shining light. He said he knew Jones was his Bernadette because “she didn’t just look – she saw.” This was the first of several collaborations and I believe Jones was at her best under his direction.
“The Song of Bernadette” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET
“Since You Went Away” (Dir. John Cromwell, 1944)
I mentioned this film above but I believe it’s one of the best films about war and its impact on families at home Hollywood has ever produced. The all star cast is stellar and its themes are relatable even today.
“Since You Went Away” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 5:30 a.m. ET
“Duel in the Sun” (Dir. King Vidor, 1946)
David O. Selznick’s attempt at making another Gone With The Wind doesn’t come close but this seductive western is a relic worth watching. Nicknamed “lust in the dust” by the censors and media for its frank portrayal of sex, the film’s overblown production history has overshadowed this film. I think Jones does a good job as the sensuous Pearl, a woman who wants to be a “good girl” but can’t shake the temptation of her vices. The film features in all star cast including Gregory Peck, who is loathsome as a villain, Joseph Cotten who plays his brother, Lillian Gish, Charles Bickford, Lionel Barrymore and Butterfly McQueen. A head’s up that this film is an unapologetic product of its time. It’s definitely something.
“Duel in the Sun” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 3:00 a.m. ET
“Love Letters” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1945)
“Love Letters” reunites Jones with Joseph Cotten who appeared in “Duel in the Sun” and “Since You Went Away” with her. The duo made four films together and she considered him one of her favorite costars. I always enjoyed the camaraderie between these two. Jones plays an amnesiac victim with two personalities who Cotten falls for. She pulls of this dual role with dream like fragility that would serve her well in when she re-teamed with Cotten and director William Dieterle for “Portrait of Jennie.”
“Love Letters” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 11:00 p.m. ET
“Portrait of Jennie” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1948)
“Portrait of Jennie” is one of the most unique films to come out of the studio era. This fantasy romance has Cotten playing a struggling artist and Jones as Jennie, a sweet and mysterious woman who inspires his work. I won’t give up too many details because I’m afraid to spoil the film but I will say it’s unlike any of the classic Hollywood films of its time.
“Portrait of Jennie” airs Tuesday, September 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET
“Cluny Brown” (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)
Jones didn’t have many opportunities for comedy, this and “Beat the Devil” are her only comedy films and it’s a shame because she had chops. In this unnderrated Ernst Lubistch film, she’s irresistible as a naive maid who’d rather follow in her uncle’s footsteps and become a plumber. Charles Boyer lays on his usual charm as a Czech writer who falls for her. The film also features a young Peter Lawford in an early role. It’s a sweet comedy that will make you wish Jones made more of them.
“Cluny Brown” airs Tuesday, September 6 at 1:00 a.m. ET
“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (Dir. Henry King, 1955)
Based on the true story of a Eurasian doctor who falls in love with an American war correspondent in Hong Kong, Jones and William Holden heat up the screen in this Cinemascope production. This is a flawed film with a script that has dialogue that makes me shake my head and Jones playing a half-Asian but I love this movie. I really buy the chemistry between the two leads and Jones looks so beautiful in gorgeous Chinese dresses. The film is groundbreaking because it was shot on location and also featured many Chinese actors except for Miss. Jones so I want to give credit where it’s due there and I must say the cinematography is breathtaking. The film also featured the popular title song “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” that won an Oscar.
“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” airs Tuesday, September 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET
I’m so excited for Jennifer Jones month on TCM. Unfortunately I work nights so I won’t be able to see as many of the films featured in real time but I will be tweeting as often as I can so join the conversation and let’s celebrate all things Jennifer Jones.