Johnny Belinda (1948) Poster

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"It is hard to get born, and it is hard to die."
clanciai1 December 2017
This is to some great degree a Scottish film, since most of the characters have Scottish names and even speak with a Scottish accent, and the location is Nova Scotia in Canada. Also the general mentality is more Scottish than anything else, and the environment could have been the Hebrides in the closeness of the ever present threats of the sea and the vast almost desolate grounds of the wild flat islands. But that is just the frame of the drama.

Many films have been made on the subject of the hardships of gravely handicapped or invalid people, preferably girls, like Arthur Penn's "The Miracle Worker" 1962, the film with Louis Jouvet on André Gide's best novel "The Pastoral Symphony", Siodmak's "The Spiral Staircase", "Mandy", "David and Lisa" - the list is endless, and it is practically without exceptions in the fathomless interest and high quality treatment of human vulnerability and sensitivity. Jean Negulesco's screening of "Johnny Belinda" is one of the very best examples.

There was a flood of Oscar nominations in 1948, but I don't think anyone would have disagreed with awarding that year's Oscar to Jane Wyman and the best film of the year. It is so startlingly real and convincing all the way, the realism is total, and the drama couldn't be more gripping.

A deaf and mute girl gets raped by a bully and gets pregnant by the way as the worst possible complication for a case like hers in a small village of provincial prejudice and gossips. Fortunately there is a gentleman doctor at hand, who with delicate diplomacy gets the better of the situation.

Lew Ayres didn't make many pictures, and he is almost only remembered for this one and "The Dark Mirror" two years previously with Olivia de Havilland as twin sisters, one of them psychotic, another tricky situation. Lew Ayres is such a winning and sympathetic character, that he could well have made another Ronald Colman, but these two great noir pictures he made was quite enough to establish his reputation for good.

Charles Bickford as the farmer and Agnes Moorehead as his wife add to the poignancy of the drama, both play characters with limitations, which serve only to enhance the power of their performance. Also the other villagers are quite convincing and real, and there is much in this film reminding of the Norwegian war drama "The Edge of Darkness" with Errol Flynn as another fisherman, although that's a completely different story, but the environment and mentality are the same.

In brief, this is a timeless drama of incapacity and weakness and the struggle to overcome the complications therein. Jean Negulesco directed many outstanding films, but this was maybe the very best one.
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Dr. Kildare meets the silent Girl in Nova Scotia
thejcowboy2211 May 2017
Warning: 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!
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Frank Subject Matter in 1948
evanston_dad20 December 2016
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).

Grade: B+
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Playing a deaf-mute, Jane Wyman wins the Best Actress AcademyAward
jacobs-greenwood2 December 2016
Warning: 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.
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Scandal and Plot
gavin694212 July 2016
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.
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Innocence and Altruism
sol-18 April 2016
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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Three people in a sea of stereotypes
Irie2124 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The performances by the principle actors-- Jane Wyman as deaf mute Belinda, Charles Bickford as her father, and Lew Ayres as the doctor-- are flawless, and the writing of their characters raises this film above the level of melodrama-- or, rather, almost does.

"JOHNNY BELINDA" is based on a true and tragic story that took place in on Prince Edward Island, back before the automobile. The movie (and the original stage play) radically fictionalizes one episode in the life of Lydia Dingwell-- rape and subsequent pregnancy--using it to make points about morality. The screenplay ends well before the rest of Lydia's story is told: she died in poverty, and is buried in an unmarked grave near a lot of other Dingwells in a cemetery in Bay Fortune, PEI.

Those details do not matter to the film, of course, which is fiction. No such harsh reality flavors the screenplay, but an understanding of hardship does. It is expressed, unfortunately, only by those three characters. All the rest of cast -- even Agnes Moorehead as Belinda's spinster aunt-- are reduced to playing stereotypes of the shallowest order.

I want to forgive it, because the movie was not an easy one to get through Hollywood's rose-colored lenses. No doubt the writers had to wrap the story of rape and murder in the most simplistic black-and- white terms possible, and the most pious. At one point, Wyman actually delivers the entire Lord's Prayer in sign language, surrounded by mourners, at her father's deathbed. Even her Oscar-winning performance could not lift that prolonged scene above the level of tedium.

Such compromises, of course, inevitably compromise the overall quality of the film. What could have been a great movie-- it rises to greatness because of Wyman in particular, and elements of the screenplay-- is more like an historic artifact of Hollywood as it struggles out of the censorship of the Hayes era. But "Johnny Belinda" is only step in the right direction-- a baby step following a rape.
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Depressing! Depressing! Depressing!
Dalbert Pringle9 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Well, I, for one, don't much care whether actress Jane Wyman did win an Oscar for her "Best Actress" performance here in this film, or not - I still rate Johnny Belinda as one of the most sordid and deeply depressing pictures that I've ever seen, bar none.

This film's story is so relentlessly awful from start to finish, that I can't possibly imagine how anyone could ever consider this as entertainment. I mean, I certainly wasn't in the least bit "entertained" by this one's story.

The fact that Johnny Belinda's story was based on a real-life incident doesn't help matters much at all, either. In fact, from my perspective, it makes matters much worse when one realizes that, yes, people really are this horribly awful to one another in real life, as well.

19 year-old Belinda MacDonald is an extremely shy deaf-mute who, being a victim of circumstance, has very little self-esteem. Belinda lives with her dirt-poor father and aunt in a run-down, little dwelling on the outskirts of a small, isolated, fishing village, some miles away from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Belinda's father and aunt treat her pretty much like nothing but an imbecile, never paying her much mind or care. A kindly, sympathetic doctor in town takes an unselfish interest in Belinda and devotes much of his time to teaching her the necessity of sign-language and lip-reading.

One dreadful day, while wandering around aimlessly near the woods, Belinda is attacked and, yes, savagely raped by a brutish, local fisherman named Rocky McCormick.

Being the totally frightened creature that she is, Belinda remains completely silent about this traumatic incident and as a result becomes even more withdrawn than ever. When it is soon discovered that Belinda is, in fact, very pregnant, the crap really hits the fan when (courtesy of the simple, ignorant townsfolk) the caring doctor is the one who gets blamed for raping Belinda.

Johnny Belinda's oppressively bleak story is truly an ugly one. Its cast may be strong, but this, alone, just isn't sufficient enough to pull this one's wretched story out of the mire and muck of a "real-life" human tragedy.

It's hard to imagine that a film of this sort was actually made in 1948.
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Schmaltzy, yes, but wonderful acting, cinematography, music
Alan J. Jacobs2 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw Johnny Belinda for the first time, and it's wonderful cinema. I kept being reminded of later films I admire, and see where they could have learned elements of their style. The face, that beautiful face of Jane Wyman, how expressive, how poignant! No wonder Reagan fell for her, she was glorious, and without saying a word. And I was watching also the shadows and light, and thought, how very European, and in fact it was by a Romanian-born director, Jean Negulesco. Its setting had elements of the American west, but it was set in Cape Breton, Canada, and portrayed families that fished and farmed and had little contact with the rest of the world. It portrays, a bit melodramatically, small-town prejudice and ignorance, and tackles the issue of rape rather bravely for the time. The Lew Ayres character was a bit too goody-goody for my taste, not much nuance, but he carried off the role well. I've now got to see him in the Dr. Kildare movies.
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Rape can cause Pregnancy? What stupid things they once believed.
jeffhaller12511 April 2013
It is a good movie. The photography is beautiful and the performances are all quite good, though Jane is all wide-eyed and demure. Not a lot of variety there. The courtroom scene at the end is just not dramatic and that is the film's weakest part.

But the thing that will always hurt this film now is that by 2012 we learned that it is not possible for a woman to become pregnant because of rape so the dramatic edge is gone. It seems like a more innocent world today. Think, back then a woman not only had to feel the humiliation and anger from rape but had the fear of being pregnant. Such an easier world we live in now that that can no longer happen.
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Touching Without being Sappy
dougdoepke7 January 2013
To me the Academy Awards are much more a matter of industry politics than real artistic achievement. Here, however, that's definitely not the case. Wyman's deaf mute is one of the more moving portrayals that I've seen in some 60-years of movie watching. She manages to express more with her eyes alone than most actresses do with their entire emoting. Thanks to Wyman, it's a rare glimpse into a delicate soul, though I do hope she wasn't being paid by line of dialog.

In fact, the entire cast is outstanding, though visually McNally and Sterling approach caricature in his dark looks and her blonde cheapness. Of course, the topics of rape and a wedlock baby were pretty explosive stuff for the Production Code of the time, but the writers handle the material deftly. At the same time, the murder of MacDonald (Bickford) is often overlooked in terms of the Code. After all, the murder goes unrecognized in the courtroom accounting and in that sense goes unpunished even in an expanded moral sense.

Something should also be said about director Negulesco's compelling visual compositions. Happily, so many of the interior frames are arranged richly in detail, while the moody landscapes reflect a perceptive artistic eye. All in all, we get both an atmospheric fishing village and a series of eye-catching visuals both of which expertly complement the storyline.

No need to echo more aspects of this much-discussed film, except to say that Hollywood managed here to overcome one of the industry's biggest pitfalls—a kind of soap opera that's truly touching without being sappy. Thank you, Warner Bros.!
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Psychological drama that shows great feelings.
psagray7 July 2012
It is based on the eponymous play by Elmer Blaney Harris, inspired by real events. Directed by Jean Negulesco, was filmed in Fort Bragg, Mendocino and the northern coast of California. Nominated for 12 Oscars, won 1 (actiz). Won 2 Golden Globes. Produced by Jerry Wald, opened on 14-IX-1948.

The main action takes place in Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia / Canada)), over about 2 years (1947-1948). It tells the story of Belinda McDonald (Jane Wyman), deaf children sick, about 18, who lives and works in his father's farm Black (Charles Bickford), the care of her aunt Aggie (Agnes Morehead). The population of fishermen on the island they professed little appreciation for his work as farmers, atypical in place.

The great director Jean Negulesco offers this wonderful film in black and white and which won the "Oscar" of interpretation Jane Wyman, seconded by a few big players that further enrich this story of good feelings. This drama is very interested in you, not only the great performances, but also for the great script that contains this production of Warner Studio 1948.

Music by Max Steiner, highlights the idyllic world that surrounds "Belinda" and introduces dramatic passages in the rape scene and ends with a melody that glosses over the fragility of the protagonist. His initial loneliness is expressed through beautiful cello solos. The photograph recreates the drama inside the girl with frames, shadows, and planes, of great beauty. The script divides the book into three parts: the initial isolation, the discovery of communication and the fragility of the girl in the final third. Wyman's interpretation is memorable, in a character that combines absence, tenderness and pain. They are excellent co-stars. Directed by Jean Negulesco, creates a work that exudes natural and truthful drama. The trial scene is offered in bright ellipses. Of the violation is resolved with the implication of a black cast.

"Johnny Belinda" surprised by the moral of the story and a great deal of positive values it contains. The film, beyond the psychological drama, it shows the capabilities of people with disabilities.

A classic film of great success at a time where the movie shone Hollywwod all its glory, and that after many years deserves seen by their high quality in all aspects.
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blanche-21 August 2011
"Johnny Belinda" is a triumphant story on several levels. The first is obvious - a beautiful but edgy story for 1948 about a deaf mute (Jane Wyman), the ignorance of many around her, and the discrimination against her when she has a child out of wedlock. The child is the result of rape, but no one knows that.

The second is the incredible acting by the entire cast: Jane Wyman (who at 31 looks like a teenager), Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford, Agnes Moorhead, Steven McNally and Jan Sterling. They are each in their own way very powerful.

The third is the fantastic direction by Jean Negulesco, who really seemed to have his heart and soul into this.

The fourth is the vindication of Lew Ayres, whose career was over when he became a conscientious objector in World War II. He was MGM's Dr. Kildare but the series quickly became Dr. Gillespie. People understood conscientious objectors better in the Vietnam era; during World War II, it wasn't understood. Ayres did serve as a medic in World War II. When he came back, Warner Brothers cast him in this, and he won an Oscar.

The story of a lonely young woman living on a farm in the desolate Cape Breton and the doctor who takes an interest in her, teaching her sign language, is a beautiful one. The screenplay by Irma Von Cube and Allen Vincent is stunning. This film swept the 1948 Oscars, and with good reason. Highly recommended.
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Feel those vibes
Alex da Silva1 May 2011
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.
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Classic Production Touches & Cast Suffers From Script
DKosty1234 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This film has great black & white cinematography which reminds the viewer why black & white can look as great as color. The cast is superb with kudos to Wyman & the doctor. So why is it a near miss as a classic? The script seems a bit contrived. Rather than challenging the viewer by keeping the rapist a mystery, it pretty much tips the hand who the rapist is going to be well before the rape. Even though the film does not have the rape happen at the beginning of the film which departs from the often formula for this plot, it takes a ponderously slow time building up to it.

The towns folks are gossiping about the baby & the person they think is the father. But there is little depth to the towns people. They appear to be crass for no good reason. The ending is too feel good Hollywood with a character suddenly developing a conscience at the trial to reveal the truth about who the father of the child is.

While he film has outstanding elements, it does not measure up to the rest of it's parts with this script.
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The Quiet Girl
lugonian23 January 2010
JOHNNY BELINDA (Warner Brothers, 1948), directed by Jean Negulesco, is not exactly the one about an individual character named Johnny Belinda, but that of Belinda MacDonald, a deaf mute girl who gives birth to a child she calls Johnny. Although quite confusing in regards to name reference, there's nothing confusing about the dramatic theme taken from a 1940 stage play by Elmer Harris that served not only as one of the finest movies from the 1940s, but a poignant and touching performance by Jane Wyman.

As the story unfolds with off-screen narration about of the residential workers in Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia, Canada, the plot leads towards its introduction of Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres), a young medical doctor whose taken up residence in the area, with Stella Maguire (Jan Sterling) acting as his secretary who has a secret crush on him. One evening, Aggie (Agnes Moorehead), a poor farm woman living with her brother, Black MacDonald (Charles Bickford), comes to Richardson's home for assistance with her pregnant heifer. During the delivery, Richardson notices a quiet girl in the darkness, Belinda (Jane Wyman), McDonald's daughter, holding a lantern. Told by her father that she's a deaf mute, the doctor takes it upon himself devoting his time educating Belinda in teaching her sign language and lip reading. A quick learner, Belinda proves herself a capable student. One night as her father takes Aggie to visit with her sick sister, Belinda, home alone, is approached by the drunken Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally), one of her father's steady customers, who takes advantage of the situation by making his attack on "the dummy." Afterwards, MacDonald, who notices daughter acting strangely, advises Richardson for help. Feeling Belinda depressed in her own quiet world, he decides taking her to the city for a medical examination. Discovering from the doctor (Jonathan Hale) of Belinda's pregnancy, Richardson does everything in his power to make her life more easier. After giving birth to her boy, Johnny, matters become more complex as the gossiping villagers, believing Richardson to be the father, put him locally out of medical practice and discontinue purchasing wheat from the MacDonalds.

With changing tastes in regards to types of movies audiences wanted to see during the post World War II years, tough and graphic "film noir" suspensers and/ or Technicolor musicals were the prime factors of the time. For its melodramatic theme and doses of sentiment, JOHNNY BELINDA seems like an outcast from the silent film era. Jane Wyman's Belinda, whose sensitive portrayal and fragile face could very well have been the sort of role awarded to Lillian Gish under D.W. Griffith's direction had such a product been possible in the twenties. JOHNNY BELINDA does parallel somewhat with Griffith's silent classic, WAY DOWN EAST (1920) set in a poor rural community with a tragic heroine (Gish) who falls victim of gossip after giving birth to a child fathered by a cad. JOHNNY BELINDA, goes a step further with its child-like deaf girl who falls victim of rape, a sequence handled quite discreetly.

Regardless of Academy Award nominations for Lew Ayres (Best Actor); Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead (with Scottish accents down to the rolled Rs) in the supporting category, the most worthy award went to Wyman whose convincing character portrayal without uttering a single sound ranked one of the best accomplishes ever captured on screen. Once seen, it's hard to forget such key scenes as Belinda's rhapsodic discovery of music at the village dance; the tapping of her feet to the "felt" musical beat; her facial expression of happiness, sadness fear and courage; the reciting the Lord's prayer completely in sign language at her father's funeral; Belinda's tense trial for murder, and Max Steiner's unforgettable musical score. Ayres is a natural as the kind doctor, a role reminiscent to his "Doctor Kildare" portrayal in the medical film series for MGM (1938-1942), with mustache adding to his mature features. Stephen McNally does exceptionally well as the most unsympathetic character, along with Jan Sterling, in her motion picture debut, as his bride whose crucial scenes coming much later in the screenplay.

With several TV adaptations to JOHNNY BELINDA over the years, the most recent being the 1982 remake with Richard Thomas and Roseanna Arquette, the original remains quite a moving and unforgettable experience if movie watching. Distributed to home video in the 1980s, and years later on DVD, it's commonly presented on Turner Classic Movies. As JOHNNY BELINDA paved the way for Jane Wyman with better leading roles ahead, nothing can really compare to the one as the quiet girl. (****)
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A Richly Conceived Masterwork!
jpdoherty30 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Warner Bros. JOHNNY BELINDA (1948) is yet another highly regarded and unforgettable Hollywood classic offering from its Golden Age! From the exemplary performances to the brilliant low key monochrome Cinematography to its arresting music score JOHNNY BELINDA quite rightly deserves a revered place in the history of the Hollywood film! From a successful play by Elmer Harris it was stylishly written for the screen by Irmgard Von Cube and Allen Vincent and strikingly directed by Jean Negulesco.

The story centers on a drab and shabby deaf mute girl Belinda MacDonald (Jane Wyman giving the performance of her life) who with her father (Charles Bickford) and her aunt (Agnes Moorhead) endeavour to eke out a livelihood on a post war Nova Scotia farm. She is befriended by a young doctor (Lew Ayres) who takes her under his wing to teach her sign language. Later the girl is brutally raped by an unscrupulous villager (Stephen McNally) becomes pregnant and has a child. Throughout her predicament she is supported by the compassionate doctor. Finally when the baby's father tries to take the child for himself Belinda kills him. She is arrested for murder but when it comes out who the rapist was and that she killed only out of defence of her baby she is exonerated. Wyman is quite stunning as the hapless girl and rightly deserved the Acadamy Award she received for her adroit performance! Excellent too was Charles Bickford in his nominated role as Belinda's father and even better was Agnes Moorhead (sporting a perfectly clipped Scottish accent) who won a nomination as Belinda's erstwhile crusty aunt Aggie. Nominated also was genius Cinematographer Ted McCord whose wonderful coastal imagery at Mendocino and Pebble Beach locations in California were nothing short of breathtaking!

Another stunning aspect of this exceptional motion picture is the music by the great Max Steiner! There is a distinctive Scottish flavour permeating the score which aptly points up the Nova Scotia setting. For instance in the marvellous Main Title the composer makes reference to Robert Burns' "O Poorith Cauld" as well as the Canadian national song "Maple Leaf Forever" which is altogether very appealing when heard over the film's beautiful aerial shot of the pretty fishing village at the opening of the picture. The highlight of the score is, of course, the winsome and thoroughly engaging lullaby the composer wrote for the infant Johnny. First heard when the doctor informs Belinda "you're going to have a baby" and then when the child is born. This inspired hum inducing theme - the score's most memorable tune - is then heard throughout the rest of the film soaring to uplifting beauty in the closing scene. Other splendid cues are for the moving sequence where Belinda recites The Lord's Prayer in sign language at the wake of her slain father and in stark contrast the music for the violent rape scene where stabs of screaming and shrieking strings, in their topmost register, drive home the brutality of the moment. This was the genius that was Max Steiner! Ever the consummate dramatist and film's emphatic musical commentator! 1948 was a banner year for the indefatigable composer! Besides JOHNNY BELINDA - which garnered him an Acadamy Award nomination - he also scored ten other pictures which included such masterworks as "The Adventures Of Don Juan", "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" and "Key Largo".

JOHNNY BELINDA was remade three times for television in 1967, 1969 and again in 1982. Each version was quickly dismissed and are now totally forgotten unlike Warner's awesome 1948 original which has and will continue to stand the test of time!
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Jane Wyman's Finest Hour
JLRMovieReviews7 April 2009
Those eyes. Those eyes tell the story of love, loneliness, and a soul who wants to give and feel needed. The story of deaf-mute Jane Wyman goes beyond what most of today's movies could ever do. Agnes Moorehead (who should have won the Oscar) and Charles Bickford are simply wonderful, with Jan Sterling, good as the lady in love with the kind doctor. The scenes between Belinda and her father are very touching. I love the scenes between Belinda and the doctor, as they communicate and she learns the words for tree and day, etc. Seeing this always makes me want to know more about sign language. It's not only an entertaining movie, but the viewer learns what it's like to be in Belinda's world. This film shows how we are all connected to each other and how the most important message isn't merely conveyed in words. Those who have not been blessed to see this masterpiece need to right the wrong and buy this DVD today, and see Jane Wyman at her Oscar-winning best.
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Superb performances all round in this wonderful classic gem
Jem Odewahn4 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I found this to be a very interesting film for the 40's for it's strong subject matter, and the performances. Jane Wyman won the Best Actress Oscar here, and she's superb (though I still would have given the nod to De Havilland for "The Snake Pit", but that's strictly my opinion). Lew Ayres underplays beautifully. I would love to see some appreciation for this actor, I thought his performances in this, "The Dark Mirror" and "All Quiet On The Western Front" were all natural, subtle yet exemplary. Bickford and Moorehead are quite wonderful, and not forgetting Jan Sterling and Stephen McNally...did this typecast him forever as villain? I'm sure it did...

I also thought it was beautifully told. There are many moments it could have slipped into pure melodrama, but there is a level of restraint to Jean Negulesco's work. I also found it to be deeply honest, and I loved the relationship between Belinda and the doctor. Instead of just inviting sympathy for her plight, we are also intrigued by his loneliness and how he needs her to help him, too. Their scenes together, particularly near the end, are very touching.
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Humanity At it's Very Best & Absolute Worst and proof (in Miss Wyman's Eyes) That Still Water Runs Deep!
John T. Ryan12 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Director Negulesco and his whole creative team worked together as one in a concerted effort to make this into the fine example of the Cinematic Arts of the Late 1940's Post War Era. Where it would be easy to turn this Play into corny near-Melodrama or an overly preachy and sanctimonious lecture to the public at large; it is well maintained inside rather understated parameters.

Instead, in JOHNNY BELINDA (Warner Brothers-First National, 1948), we have a fine, sensitive and one of a kind film that ANYONE can enjoy regardless of age, sex, race or station in life. The choice of players in the story is most strikingly right-on in creating realistic screen portrayals; sprung from the written page.

Starting with Miss Jane Wyman who, without benefit of having any dialogue, creates a multi-faceted Personality of many, mostly unseen qualities; who is forced to live in a silent world and is pigeon-holed into being thought of as a low intellect persona non grata.

Making fine use of a wide array of excellent facial expressions, body language and pantomime; Miss Wyman is able to get her character's personality and plight across to the audience just as well or even better than use of the spoken word would have accomplished.

IT is apparent from the scene when we first encounter the character of Belinda in the barn scene, assisting her Father (Mr. Charles Bickford) with the lantern; that a modified version of Silent Film Acting Technique was to be employed. We use the term "modified" as what we see in her speechless acting is refined, somewhat subdued and lacks that bigger than life "Operatic" grandeur that characterized so many performers of the Silent Screen Era had displayed. Emil Jannings, Greta Garbo, the Barrymores (Ethel, Lionel & John), Valentino and (especially) Lon Chaney were all leading exponents of the form; which would come to be seen as "Overacting" or "Ham", once sound was added to the Cinematic Equation.

Miss Wyman's natural beauty and hauntingly unforgettable eyes are the main means of conveying a depth of personality that no one in the World seemed to recognize. No one, that is, until: Enter new town Doctor, Robert Richardson (Mr. Lew Ayers).

Mr. Ayers characterization is one of that who is truly noble and serious about upholding that Hippocratic Oath, to which he has pledged his undying support. But alas, he is also a truly red-blooded young man (if you get my drift) and has all the needs and desires that makes the male what he is by nature.

The good Doctor first of all, notices the plight of the poor, neglected Belinda and pities her; but takes positive action in seeking to have her Father, Mr. Black McDonald send her to Special School for Classes for the Deaf. The Classes work and it becomes obvious during the interim that Dr. Richardson is falling in Love with the handicapped young Lady.

AS for Belinda, she has been smitten ever since her first meeting with the young Dr. Richardson and almost immediately shows indications of her own infatuation. But the road is never easy as neither the Town nor Belinda's Aunt Aggie (Agnes Moorehead) approve of any relationship between the Town Doctor and Miss Belinda McDonald; even they suggest that there are improprieties going on between the two. Of course, as we the viewers with the nearly omnipotent point of view know that it is not true.

Another local resident, Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally) has been seen as pushy, gruff, disrespectful and totally ruthless. He has been a threatening, bullying monster in his dealings with Mr. McDonald's Grain Mill; but he suddenly takes notice when Belinda begins to fix her self up, communicates via signing and begins to enter in with and participate in community activities, such Community Dances.

Locky gets Belinda off by herself, and when his dalliance is not met with enthusiasm or any acceptance even; he rapes her. She is left pregnant; through no fault of her own. Once again, the Town busy-bodies declare that it is Dr. Richardson who is the bad guy here.

Meanwhile, Locky who has been wooing a young local Lass, announces their engagement. And just who is the Lucky Girl? It's Towns girl, Stella (Miss Jan Sterling, in about as fine a performance as she ever gave).

The Baby is born and named Johnny (hence the title!) and again, the local gentry start the whispering campaign; this time in plotting to have the baby legally taken from the young Mother. But the pompous and arrogant Locky McCormick just can't stay away and when he blurts the truth to Mr. McDonald, the blackguard Locky kills him.

When the Murderous Rapist later attempts to take the baby Johnny, Belinda shoots him dead and is put on trial for Murder, herself. After a veritable Mt. Everest of circumstantial evidence piles up against her and things seem to be the most grim, the goodness in the now Mrs. McCormick (Jan Sterling, remember?) has a change of heart and confesses in Open Court that her husband had bragged to her that the baby Johnny Belinda was his son.

IN a wonderfully quaint and beautifully filmed fade-out scene, Belinda and Dr. Richardson leave together; to Live Happily Ever After! THE END! A WARNER BROTHERS-FIRST NATIONAL PICTURE.

THE mounting of the Production, set in the Canadian Maritime Province of Nova Scotia was done on the California Coast of the Northern Part of the State; but not once did our mind say, "California", but rather we could feel a chilling Noreasterly blowing in or the damp and penetrating fog chilling our bones and penetrating our joints.

Although a work of Fiction, the Play's Storyline does bear a striking resemblance to the real life story of Helen Keller; who of course was both blind and deaf. Perhaps the story of the deaf & blind girl served as inspiration. POODLE SCHNITZ!!
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Engaging Drama of Small Town Dynamics.
Robert J. Maxwell11 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to believe now, but when this was released in 1948 it was considered a movie strictly for adults, too shocking for kids and teens. Today of course we see it differently. Life is rough on this Newfoundland farm, run by the MacDonalds -- Charles Bickford and his sister Agnes Moorehead. Jane Wyman, as Belinda, is Bickford's deaf, simple, sweet daughter. Lew Ayres is the compassionate local doctor who teaches Belinda sign language. Steven McNally is a rugged and impulsive farmer who marries the blond Jan Sterling, who has a crush on the doc. A little complicated, eh? Too bad for her, but despite Wyman's inability to speak and hear, Wyman looks mighty attractive in her own simple way. She's got her hand on a fiddle during a polka, beginning to understand what music is, and she moves her feet from side to side in a dainty, tentative way. This attracts the testosterone-driven and drunken McNally who follows her home and rapes her in the barn. (In 1948, it would have been an "assault" or an "attack".) Wyman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy, Johnny, whom Wyman and her family learn to love.

The small town is full of small minds. Gossip abounds, just like today's internet. Is the doctor responsible? He's been spending a lot of time at the MacDonald farm. Pretty soon, things get worse for the troubled family. Bickford is killed by McNally, although everyone believes the death was the result of a solitary accident. Wyman and Moorehead are denied credit at the store. The doctor's trade falls off and he's forced to move to a far-away city. Here's how the community mind-set works. Two elderly ladies are discussing a third who "had her arteries cut out." "Oh, no!," exclaims one of them, "It wasn't her ARTERIES -- it was" -- and she leans over and whispers into the other's ear.

In the end, the town passes an ordinance or something that gives McNally and his wife custody of the child. McNally seems to regard the child more as a possession than an object of affection. He enters the MacDonald farmhouse, brushes Belinda aside, and rushes upstairs to grab the kid. She shoots him in the back and at the murder trial, Belinda has little to say (or sign) except, "I want my baby." McNally's wife breaks down and admits that McNally was the brutish heavy in the whole business. Belinda is free to leave the court with her baby and marry the now-returned Doctor Ayers.

The photography is genuinely striking and Max Steiner's score is as plain and appealing as Jane Wyman's Belinda, who smiles through every crisis and is never angry at anyone. The location is boldly evoked, although what's evoked looks more like the Monterey peninsula than Cape Breton. There's not a sour performance in the lot. Agnes Moorehead is memorable in a role that requires her to project a wide range of emotions. McNally isn't really evil. He's just weak and selfish. Lew Ayres' role is a stereotype. He's the good man, the guy the audience wants to see married to Belinda.

If this sounds like the kind of romantic drama you often find on LMN, that's because it is. At least the themes are the same. Production values are higher. The execution is far superior, far more mature, "adult" -- but not in the 1948 sense.

I don't know why the title of the film is "Johnny Belinda." The name is never used in any dialog. Johnny is the baby, and Belinda MacDonald is the mother. If anything, it should be "Johnny MacDonald." But in Hollywood during the 1940s there were a spate of movies, mostly poor, the titles of which used the construction "Johnny" Something -- "Johnny O'Clock," "Johnny Apollo", "Johnny Eager", "Johnny Lucky," "Johnny Angel," "Johnny Chiliastic," "Johnny Bricoleur," "Jonny Satyriasis" "Johnny Solipsistic." Well, okay, I made some of them up, but the trend was real.
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Very Good
Michael_Elliott27 February 2008
Johnny Belinda (1948)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

A doctor (Lew Ayres) tries to cute a mute woman (Jane Wyman) but when she's raped and ends up pregnant it causes problems in the small town. I really hadn't heard too much about this film except for Wyman winning the Oscar for her performance but it's certainly one of the stronger films of the decade. The only real problem is that it drags near the one hour mark and it's rather predictable but other than that this here is a very strong film. Wyman is terrific in her role and she gives one of the best performances I've seen from any actor playing a deaf person. Ayres is also very good in the film as are Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead as the father and aunt to the deaf girl. Stephen McNally nearly steals every scene he's in and certainly ranks as one of the greatest villains in history.
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A Wonderful All-Around Film
ccthemovieman-131 January 2008
This is a great storytelling and movie-making rolled into one and I can see why it was up for so many Academy Awards in its day (when they rewarded the best movies.)

Jane Wyman seems to get the most attention here but I was totally impressed not only with her but all the actors, the director and the photographer. All excelled in this film, I thought - a great effort all-around.

Wyman and Lew Ayers were terrific in the leads, playing endearing characters who were easy to become involved with and root for in this story. Wyman, like Dorothy McGuire in "The Spiral Staircase" (1945) and Alan Arkin in "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" (1968), plays a deaf mute effectively with haunting, expressive facial features. I hope people don't overlook Ayers' extremely warm performance as the doctor who truly cares for this woman. Ayers plays a very decent man and does it with a lot of dignity.

Charles Bickford was powerful, too, as Belinda's father and ditto for the always-entertaining Agnes Moorhead, playing Belinda's sister. I can't leave out the "villains," either: Stephen McNally, who really looks his part, and his reluctant bride Jan Sterling, an underrated classic-era actress.

Jean Negulesco's direction provided numerous interesting low and high-angle camera shots and cinematographer Ted McCord made the most of it, including some great facial closeups. To be honest, I am not familiar with either of these two names but I was very impressed with their work here. Oh.....having Max Steiner doing the music didn't hurt, either!

The film gets a little melodramatic at times but it's never overdone. The story flows nicely. No scene - pleasant or unpleasant - overstays its welcome. You get a cohesive blend of heartfelt sentiment, romance, drama and suspense. In addition, the DVD transfer of this film is magnificent. I would like to have seen some behind-the-scenes features with the disc, but the film was so good I am not complaining.
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flat melodrama
T Y29 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This movie stands out as being more beautifully photographed than typical dramas of the time. Granted, its 'Noir' peers are nothing to sniff at, but this is more directly filmed, only occasionally breaking into the Noir dynamic range, with dark blacks and striking compositions. It's a regional Noir drama, reminiscent of Clash by Night.

Unfortunately the photography is all that recommends this corny retread of The Scarlet Letter. The earnestness of every character is overbearing. The movie cheats all of its characters of depth with continual narrative cop-outs. At a potentially explosive scene, where Belinda might be harmed, the doctor arrives the very second he's needed to prevent the expected outburst, which should have been one of the movie's major dramatic moments. Gee, he sure is a swell guy! Belinda has only two modes, 1) pleasant/approval-seeking and 2) hurt. She's utterly neutral, a device to wring pity out of viewers and hang a sermon on. But pity isn't dramatically very interesting. And any unpleasantness or rage she's entitled to (and which would make her three dimensional) is erased from the script.

All that's left to film is a mathematical balancing of moral points and a conventional romance. The actors are all over the map trying to suggest a Nova Scotian accent... Irish brogues, Canadian dipthongs, Scottish, Cockney, upper class British, American. What the hell... They should have tossed in Jamaican and pirate accents just for laughs.
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Well-Acted Drama
kenjha26 January 2008
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.
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