Although not stunningly beautiful in the traditional Hollywood way, Jennifer Jones (1919-2009) nevertheless had a unique type of beauty: down to earth, natural, somewhat wild and untamed. I did not even know much about her until I saw her recently in 1947 Western, Duel in the Sun, where she plays a half Native American, half white woman torn by both racial prejudice and her lover for a difficult rogue, played by Gregory Peck. Next I saw her in Ruby Gentry, where again she plays a somewhat wild, highly sexual creature dealing with social stigma and unattainable love. She gained her fame earlier in her career, playing a totally different type of character than the sultry temptress, in The Song of Bernadette, eventually winning an Academy award for that role as the saintly Bernadette.
What so intriguing about these older films is how effectively sensuality, sexuality and overall erotic passion are portrayed. There was a certain time in the post war years and before the 1960’s when sexuality was explored but without the need for gratuitous sex that later became relatively standard in all films with adult themes. And yet how much more effective are the earlier presentations of erotic passions, when love and sex and desire had to be conveyed within the stricter standards of the film codes of the time. In all drama it is simply more powerful to leave some things to the imagination, to hint at rather than graphically depict sex, to draw us into the emotional and psychological turmoil that often accompanies and is the result of the unbridled desires and intense passions of difficult love.
Jennifer Jones was a great actress at portraying the darker, sultry side of love and desire. Like all the other actresses of her time, she had to learn to convey these emotions through good acting, rather than simply taking her clothes off, as is unfortunately required of too many actresses today. As much as I enjoy seeing a nude female, I still rate ability of a woman to convey sexuality through seductive innuendo and imagination a higher quality than one who can simply show us her breasts and vagina or simulate sex in a big (or low) budget film.