Wow, a storm of responses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the ugliness of its characters (and how they snuff out the only bit of goodness in the title character) is pretty much the whole point of the story.
and a good reason not to bother with such stories, why surround myself in endless petty meanness like the world of that story? I don’t much care for Henry James as an author either. De Havilland was very good in the role and I’d even venture that Richardson was also quite impressive in his own way. But in terms of revisits it is extremely low on any priority list. I’ve already seen it on film, so it’s doubtful I’ll ever return to it. to explain this a bit, if I watch a movie I respect parts of but overall don’t care for—particularly movies whose greatest fault is that I found them boring—I will in general be completely open to watching them again in the proper setting, in a theatre with an audience on film. I’ve found many films are improved upon by seeing it as it was meant to be seen rather than in low res home video on a postage stamp sized screen (and I would call a 100” screen postage stamp sized compared to the size they are supposed to be seen in).
I seriously don't know how anyone who saw the Song of Bernadette could ever say that "King’s direction is anemic and perfunctory"-- and then turn around and praise King's completely artless Wilson!
I didn’t praise King’s direction on Wilson, I praised Wilson. King’s direction of Wilson is equally anemic. I think Wilson is more Zanuck’s achievement than King’s and that King was more ‘ridden’ by Zanuck than many of Zanuck’s other prestige picture directors. What is anemic and perfunctory about Song of Bernadette is how the characters are staged, how they act and react. It’s very staid and unimaginative. The actors manage to imbue life into these representations, but they aren’t being unified by the director imo. The excellence of the lighting and camera movement I attribute to Arthur Miller.
Visually, Wilson is more interesting because of how it using Technicolor expressively. Entire scenes are dressed in different dominant colors that build subtext into the scene. This is remarkable to see in a Hollywood film, particularly in early Technicolor, when the mandatory Technicolor advisors frowned on that sort of ‘unreal’ use of color. The Archers are praised for implementing this precise technique in Black Narcissus, yet it was being implemented in the dreadfully ‘industrial and soulless’ (I love scare quotes) studio system as well. How mysterious a discrepancy to be ignored!
I’m also very impressed with the great Barbara McLean’s cutting in Wilson, both her montage and the overall structure of the film I found to be quite impressive. Song of Bernadette has very good cutting as well, same editor, of course.
And I think that Alexander Knox gives a great performance, one of the great ones of the 1940s, and while Jennifer Jones is excellent as Bernadette, Knox is far better and since he is working with a better screenplay he also gets better lines, delivering many a crackling rejoinder throughout the film that consistently delighted me.
And I’ve said all this without mentioning King once. I think the direction is the weakest element in both films. In both films I see more of Zanuck, Miller, McLean, the actors, and the screenwriters than I see anything from King.
You found The Heiress a bore but you were on the edge of your seat with 12 O'Clock High? Seriously?
It’s been a while since I watched 12 O’Clock High and I’d forgotten King directed it. But yes I remember finding the film fantastic. At the time I was reading Partners in Command a dual biography of Marshall and Eisenhower, that may have influenced my perception of the film in many ways—I intend to revisit it relatively soon.
The Heiress is my favourite film, but Matt's right to suggest that it's a bit of a grower - I've often had this experience with Wyler's films (especially Wuthering Heights, The Letter, Best Years, Carrie) of finding them rather cold and unengaging at first, but going back to them later on and finding all sorts of hidden depths. Wyler was one of the very subtlest directors working in Hollywood in those days, brilliant but un-showy, restrained to the point of being potentially quite alienating, if you're not in a receptive mood. But still waters run deep.
I agree with you on Wyler, in fact there are probably only two Wyler films I’ve seen that I don’t like, Wuthering Heights and the Heiress. Wyler is a tremendously underrated director partially because he is so very subtle, and partially because his texts are very resistant to critical recasting and his oeuvre is extremely varied—as you would expect from any non-obsessive compulsive artist—which makes him resistant to critical gestures of containment, for example such as Sarris-style auteurism. (I’ve always resented that Sarris used Hawks and Wyler as contrasting examples in his essay in order to prove something about how one was an artist and the other wasn’t. All he did was prove that he was good at making Sarris look ‘smart’ and good at reworking films radically or ignoring counter evidence in order to fit his agenda.
Wuthering Heights is a film, btw, that I hated on first viewing and eventually saw it a second time on film. It was a better experience, but only marginally, it’s still incredibly miserable to be stuck with such hatefulness and degradation as the world of the story embodies. It was sort of self-inflicted torture for two hours, sitting there watching it again—although I did realize I like the opening with the characters as children much more than any other part of the film. So I doubt I will be revisiting The Heiress a second time, it’s too much like Wuthering Heights anyway, I just do not care at all for that sort of flagellating story.
Gigi - I hate this film. Seriously. Find it ridiculous. Don't think it deserved any of its Oscars (even song - I would give it the AA for Best Song but for "I Remember It Well" not "Gigi"). I don't think it's a bad film - just a relentlessly mediocre one that can't be saved by good supporting performances from Chevalier and Gingold (they deserved noms and didn't get them).
I like Gigi, even would vote it this year (though I do waffle a lot on whether Gigi or Defiant Ones is stronger), but it is sort of laughable that “Gigi” won best song when there were much better alternate possibilities. I first started to watch this film on TCM and was repulsed at the seeming pedophilic implications of Maurice Chevaliar leering his way around a park of children singing about how much he wants to make love to little girls. So I turned it off. Then I was complaining about the film later and my boss piped in with how much he loved it because he’d played the Chevalier part on stage, and then he sang the song. I started to revise my opinion, considering I shouldn’t even have an opinion because I hadn’t watched the whole film. And a year or two later I did sit down to watch the whole film and was greatly impressed at just how subversive it is (and yes, Thank Heaven for Little Girls is part and parcel of that subversiveness).