Jennifer Jones passed away today capping off a year that saw the passing of many icons. I'm sure when all is said and done Jennifer Jones will be overshadowed by the likes of Michael Jackson, Bea Arthur and Farrah Fawcett, among others. I, however, shed a few tears this morning. I can't think of another actress that I have loved for longer and in such a wide range of roles.
Her personal life was messy and tragic and she retired from films too soon for my taste. What's left, for all of her fans and newbies alike, is a powerful filmography available on DVD and frequently seen on television. The magic of Jennifer Jones is that she looks like the girl-next-door, but her performances show that she's anything but. Her performances are full of sexuality, passion and raw emotion. In her best roles (hell in almost all of her roles) she wears her heart on the sleeve. As a viewer you can't help but fall in love with her, over and over again. Here are five of her most essential movies. Enjoy!
- The Song of Bernadette (1943) - A title card at the beginning of the film proclaims "Introducing Jennifer Jones." It's only half-true, as Jones had appeared in several films under her real name prior to 1943. But no one remembers those films and everyone remembers The Song of Bernadette. The film follows the life of Bernadette Soubirous (the nun soon-to-known-as St. Bernadette) who spoke to the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Jones practically glows in this performance and it has nothing to do with the lighting. Her face conveys innocence, piousness, joyousness and pain. Her "debut" performance earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress and probably convinced more than a few Catholic girls to become nuns.
- Portrait of Jennie (1948) - This film is the reason I love both Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten. They had made two movies together at this point (Love Letters and Duel in the Sun) but none can equal the bittersweet love story in this film. Cotten stars as a painter in search for inspiration and Jones stars as his ghostly muse. This film is perfect for all the hopeless romantics out there.
- Duel in the Sun (1946) - Watching this film in 2009 is hard. Jennifer Jones plays a bi-racial Native American in full Technicolor. It's not as offensive as black face, but I'm sure it can be pretty offensive to someone who is Native American. If you can get past that, what you're left with is an incredibly lush movie. Striking scenery, tortured love affairs, sibling rivalry, and gunfights. Jones is flat-out sexy in this movie. Her character and her performance are passionate - with all the positives and negatives that the word implies.
- Love is A Many-Splendored Thing (1955) - When people think of this movie, there a number of things that come to mind. Jones and William Holden in swimsuits, passionately kissing. The chart-topping theme song. What you probably forget is that the timeless romance is actually an extra-marital affair. Holden's character is married, which doesn't really stop their passionate affair from taking place. Another must-see for all the hopeless romantics.
- Since You Went Away (1944) - Every actor you've ever heard of seems to be in this movie. Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple, Joseph Cotten, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead. The movie is really about how Claudette Colbert deals with WWII while her husband is away fighting. It's a great film that illustrates what women went through during WWII - when they became single mothers, head-of-households, and generally kept America going. What the movie ends up being about is - say it with me - a tortured romance between Jennifer Jones and her then-husband Robert Walker that invents the "running after a train while saying goodbye" cliche.
**There are so many other wonderful films to explore - A Farewell To Arms, The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, Madame Bovary. This is a personal list chosen for personal reasons.