Johnny Belinda (1948)
Title: Johnny Belinda (1948)
Genre: Country | Drama | Genre | USA |
Johnny Belinda (1948)
|Genre||Drama | USA ||
Dr. Robert Richardson, a dedicated young general practitioner, seeks to establish himself in an isolated fishing village on Cape Breton Island off the Nova Scotia coast. The population is poor and the struggling physician generally gets paid for his efforts in barter. When he meets Belinda McDonald, a young deaf mute callously dismissed by family and neighbors as “the dummy,” he alone senses her innate intelligence. He overcomes the initial skepticism of her flinty, gruff father and indifferently cold aunt, who operate a hardscrabble grist mill and farm, and devotes himself to teaching the young girl sign language and lip-reading. Hopes are even raised that she might even eventually qualify for a medical procedure that might improve her condition. Her optimism is crushed, however, when she raped by Locky McCormick, a brutish local fisherman. Traumatized, she is unable to communicate the outrage to her family, who are baffled and angry when they learn she is pregnant. The local gossips…
Every great actress has one signature role, the film for which she's forever identified because of the amazing impression she leaves on the screen. Rosalind Russell has Hildy Johnson in "His Girl Friday," Judy Garland has Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," and Jane Wyman has Belinda MacDonald in "Johnny Belinda." Without saying a word, Wyman speaks volumes as the lonely deaf mute who learns about love and tenderness from doctor Lew Ayres as well as fear from bully Stephen McNally. She shines in every scene and creates one of the most touching characterizations ever put on screen. Moments such as her discovery of music and her sign-reading of the Lord's Prayer are beautifully done with a skill exceeding those of the best silent screen stars. Her Oscar was richly deserved.
Wyman, though, is not alone in creating this great film. Ayres, Charles Bickford, Agnes Moorehead and Jan Sterling all give complex, layered performances that make each character believable and memorable. And "Johnny Belinda" would probably not be as powerful or moving without the exceptional black-and-white photography and Max Steiner's lovely score, one of his finest, which underscores every moment. Warner Bros. deserves extra credit for taking on a delicate subject (the rape of a deaf character was hardly typical screen fare in the 1940s) and handling it in a tasteful manner.
Ultimately, the movie is a showcase for Jane Wyman who rightly became Warner Bros.' top female star upon its release. She and the film are unforgettable.
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