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Wyman has the role of her career as a naive, deaf-mute young woman in a small Canadian town in the 19th century who is raped by a local hoodlum. She won an Oscar for her word-less performance, beating out Olivia De Havilland for "The Snake Pit." There are also fine performances from Ayers as a kindly doctor who takes interest in Wyman, Bickford as her tough father, and Moorehead as her aunt. The location cinematography is beautiful and it is sensitively directed by Negulesco. Other than a somewhat melodramatic courtroom scene, it is quite understated and surprisingly mature in handling a controversial subject, given the era in which it was made.
Dr Richardson (Lew Ayres) plays a likable doctor who spends time
teaching a deaf, mute farm-girl Belinda (Jane Wyman) to communicate in
sign language and falls in love with her. She is referred to by
everyone in the village as the "Dummy" and even her father Black
MacDonald (Charles Bickford) has no belief in her intelligence. He is
won over when he sees her rapid improvement thanks to the doctor. The
village bad guy McCormick (Stephen McNally) rapes her when he gets her
alone and she becomes pregnant. The baby is born and McCormick wants
what is his so pays Belinda another visit....
The story is filmed at an excellent location where the loneliness on the farm is conveyed effectively. Even more effective is when this loneliness is given an extra element of gloom when the storm appears and the animals need to be brought in. We also get a mist descending and a tragic confrontation between Black and McCormick. It's powerful film-making and the stand-out scene for me. It brought home the injustice of the situation and really got me rooting for the bad guy to get his come-uppance. Another memorable scene is the rape scene where we hear a very discordant attempt at violin playing by McCormick while poor deaf Belinda thinks that something wonderful is being created. It's another powerful moment and also a good reason to support the tag of "vile din" that could replace the term "violin".
The cast are fine with my favourite characters being Bickford, McNally and Jan Sterling as McNally's girlfriend "Stella". Whenever these characters appeared you felt that the film was going somewhere. Unfortunately, the film drags in parts - scenes of niceness just go on for too long.
There are a few dodgy Irish/Scottish accents now and then. Why not employ Irish actors or Scottish actors if that was the accent that they were after. Or better still, do what Lew Ayres did - just talk normally! There are also a few almost laughable moments when Wyman is using sign language and I couldn't help but think "They are taking the p*ss here!" but on the whole, the film gets away with it. The scene where Belinda signs "The Lord's Prayer" and after each mime we are encouraged to pause as the rest of the cast speak the words is just excruciatingly crass.
The story also has a major flaw in that no-one seems to be interested in finding out who the father of Belinda's child is. What's more, her father has the solution in his hand as he gives a book with everyone's coded name to Belinda to her so she can pick out the offender. This is never followed up and it makes the situation a complete nonsense. A further confusion comes with the role of Lew Ayres in that we are told he has suffered in a relationship before yet we are given no reason as to what this suffering entailed. Instead of giving his character some depth, I found that his actions were a straightforward case of having the hots for someone. And I definitely would have assumed he was the rapist - something which is not dwelled upon enough. Bickford's character would have clobbered him one in real life. Also Jane Wyman, while pretty, just looks a little plain - the wardrobe department could have given her a tight outfit to wear that showed us her bum or something like that so that we can understand McNally's attraction to her. I call into question her desirability although I understand that rape is apparently more about power and control.
Overall, the film is OK if a little slow in parts.
One of the best movies I've ever seen! Jane Wyman obviously put her all
into this movie and definitely deserved the Oscar she got!
It makes you want to cry and it makes you want to smile. I highly recommend it!
IF you ever want to see a movie that shows how to use the expression of your face for effect THIS is the movie. Miss Wyman who has always shown such class in her life. After all being the first Mrs.Ronald Reagan is not an easy station in this life. She comes across with a touching and beautiful performance that richly earned her an Academy Award. She does get excellent support from Ayres, Bickford, Moorehead BUT it is her movie. Ron and Nancy could never gave half of that kind of performance.
Contrary to what everyone else is saying about this movie, I only found it very frustrating. A deaf mute girl is raped and the only one that seems interested in finding out "who done it" is her father and he is quickly talked out of it by a doctor that has befriended the girl and taught her how to communicate with sign language. This doctor says: what good would it do her to bring this whole thing out and drag her through the mud? Plenty, I think- especially when she ends up pregnant and there is lots of mud dragging to go around. I was astounded when, upon finding out she is pregnant, this girl is happy to have a new friend- apparently the morals of the time had not sunken in that unmarried women don't have babies and that rape is wrong and the perpetrator needs to be brought to justice. They never tell this girl that what happened to her was wrong- if she didn't know- and she needs to let them know who so that this man can be prosecuted. I also kid of felt that Jane Wyman looked a little dazed thought the whole movie- like not much was getting though to her- which is the premise that her family was fighting against- that she was not mentally hampered in any way- just deaf mute. I have my doubts.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I always enjoyed movies featuring Lew Ayers. Just a straight sincere actor reading his lines with integrity, plausibility. I started watching the Dr. Kildare movies which were prominent during the late 1930's opposite veteran wheelchair bound actor Lionel Barrymore. Forthright and determined Mr. Ayers always got his message across in all his movies. Standing up for what's right at all cost. As for this film Johnny Belinda nestled in a Maritime setting with Cliffs,crashing waves and sprawling farms Dr. Robert Richardson (Lew Ayers)new to these parts is summoned into action because of a pregnant heifer despite not being a Veterinarian. Dr. Richardson notices off to side a quiet woman named Belinda after her Mother who died while conceiving her. Her gruff Father Black McDonald(Charles Bickford) tells the Doctor that shes dumb and has little intelligence. Black give her a book with instructions . The book is filled with symbols for each task. Black points to the particular symbol and Belinda follows the job to the letter. On the contrary the good Doctor protests that Belinda has a tremendous learning capacity and is not in the least a simple minded deaf girl. The Doctor takes Belinda under his wing and teaches her sign language as Black and his sister Aggie (Agnes Moorehead), are intrigued with the symbol for Butterfly. The McDonald's don't leave their farm very often but the Doctor starts taking Belinda to town as his affections grow for her as this lovely silent woman is absorbing everything in a short time. Meanwhile Dr. Richardson's secretary played by Jan Sterling has her fancies for the good Doctor as she resents the idea of deaf mute and Doc together. On another front loud mouthed and demonstrative Locky McCormick a regular customer of the McDonald's get's drunk while attending the town's Dance. Locky notices Belinda by the musicians feeling the music and lifting her skirt and dancing to the beats. That capture his attention as he follows her to her farm and rapes her. Belinda become despondent as Dr. Richardson gets her examined and he learns that she's pregnant and was raped. Rumors fly around this seaside village as rumors begin to get ugly and even murder is added to the story. Everything ends up at courthouse when a custody battle ensues. This picture has everything and captures the human emotions to the limit. Steven McNally who plays the town scoundrel Locky gives a credible performance. As a matter a fact the entire cast is worthy of outstanding performances which leaves this film instilled in my mind to this moment. An unforgettable film!
I was drawn to "Johnny Belinda" primarily to see how a film made in
1948 would tackle the subject matter of rape and unmarried pregnancy,
and the answer was....pretty frankly.
Jane Wyman won her Oscar for playing the deaf mute Belinda who pulls from resources of strength no one gives her credit for having when the small-minded town she lives in decides she isn't capable of taking care of her infant child, the product of a sexual assault perpetrated by one of the townsmen. The film isn't especially long, but it sure covers a lot of ground, starting with a kind doctor (Lew Ayres) opening up a new world to Belinda when he teaches her how to communicate through sign language and culminating in her trial for murder. Along the way, expert character actors like Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead deliver terrific performances, and Jan Sterling, one of my all-time favorites, shows that not all the townspeople are completely hard-hearted when she's faced with the prospect of separating a mother from her child.
"Johnny Belinda" cleaned up in terms of Oscar nominations in 1948, earning a whopping twelve. But Wyman's Best Actress win was the only award the film actually took home. It nabbed nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Jean Negulesco), Best Actor (Ayres), Best Supporting Actor (Bickford), Best Supporting Actress (Moorehead), Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction (B&W), Best Cinematography (B&W), Best Film Editing, Best Dramatic/Comedy Score, and Best Sound Recording. Incidentally, it was only the second movie at the time (the first being "Mrs. Miniver") to be nominated for Best Picture, Director, all four acting awards, and writing.
"Johnny Belinda"'s condemnation of small-mindedness feels newly relevant in today's social and political climate. I'm not sure whether to be depressed by that knowledge (ugh, will nothing ever change?) or comforted by it (well at least generations of people before me have experienced the same thing).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jane Wyman's breakout performance (Best Actress Oscar) as a deaf- mute
also stars Lew Ayres, Agnes Moorehead, and Charles Bickford (all three
were Oscar nominated).
Ayres plays small town Dr. Robert Richardson, who takes a professional interest in Belinda McDonald (Wyman), teaching her sign language, even though her own father Black (Bickford), and his sister Aggie (Moorehead) resist it.
The doctor's relationship with his student leads to love, and she "blossoms". This attracts unwanted attention from Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally), who rapes her causing the town to suspect that Dr. Richardson is responsible (e.g. since she can't speak out to tell the truth). Further tragedy follows, causing Belinda to need a defense attorney (Alan Napier).
The film, its director (Jean Negulesco), its Writing (Irma von Cube and Allen Vincent earned their only Academy recognition adapting Elmer Harris's play), Editing (David Weisbart's only nomination), Sound, Max Steiner Score, and B&W Art Direction-Set Decoration and Cinematography were all nominated for Oscars.
In post-war Cape Breton (Canada), a doctor's efforts to tutor a
deaf/mute woman (Jane Wyman) are undermined when she is assaulted, and
the resulting pregnancy causes scandal to swirl.
As others have noted, an actor or actress may have just one role that really defines them and shows their best. This film offers us the chance to see that with Jane Wyman, who gives us a very strong performance. Being deaf / mute may not sound hard, but she gets the look down, and makes the sign language look convincing (at least to a layman).
This is short of a dark story for the 1940s, and I give everyone involved a lot of credit for making it. Also, thank you to the Academy for honoring it. This is truly a great film, from the script to the acting and beyond.
Inspired by true events, this curiously titled drama focuses on the rape of a deaf-mute girl and her subsequent ostracism, thought to be incompetent as a mother by the citizens of the her small town. While the film was nominated for an incredible twelve Oscars back in its day, the film is best known nowadays for Jane Wyman's Best Actress win and she does not disappoint. Wyman conveys volumes without uttering a word and while Lew Ayres is ineffectual as a young doctor who teaches her sign language, the movie has a couple of very strong supporting female performances from Agnes Moorehead and Jan Sterling, both of whom go from just tolerating Wyman to actively sympathising with her. Ripe with melodrama, the overall story is far less engaging here than the individual performances and the film takes an inexplicable amount of time to warm up; the rape does not occur until over half an hour in with lots of awkward comic relief along the way such as Ayres talking to himself and Wyman's father learning how to sign the word 'butterfly'. That said, the film has distinct novelty value as a 1940s movie to broach the subject of rape, and while Production Code was no doubt the chief factor, the film benefits greatly from how the rape is implied but never explicitly shown. Whether it is credible how quickly Wyman bounces back from the rape is another question altogether, but with her limited education, the film handles this quite nicely. She is so innocent and so altruistic in her thinking that she can only smile when she learns that she will soon become a mother.
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