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Olivia de Havilland
Eighteen-year-old Esther has been deaf and blind since the accident which killed her mother. Wealthy Margaret Landi, a native of Esther's village in Ireland, is talked into helping to educate and possibly heal Esther. Margaret grows to love Esther as a daughter, but finds Esther's innocence threatened by sleazy promoters and her own sleazy ex-husband. Radiant performance by Heather Sears. Based on a book that nearly had Helen Keller's co-workers suing for libel due to perceived parallels between Carlo Landi and the husband of Annie Sullivan. Written by
Certainly this is one of Joan Crawford's best movies. She beautiful in the dated "Grand Hotel." She really acts in "The Women." She's fine in the high melodrama of "Possessed." She's very good in "Mildred Pierce." And "Sudden Fear" is a fine noir.
Apart from Ms. Crawford, for the moment, we have the plot: A child in Ireland is in a terrible accident, in which her mother dies. She becomes blind and deaf and loses the ability to speak as a result of the trauma. This, by the way, is the title character, not Ms. Crawford. That was also rare in her career and maybe a first here.
As someone very knowledgeable about the blind, I give this a very high rating. This is only a personal feeling but I prefer it to the famous "Miracle Worker," which to me is overwrought and, though based on a true life, not very accurate.
"The Story of Esther Costello" is accurate. The scenes at the school on Long Island to which Crawford takes Esther, well played by Heather Sears, are believable. The Braille is well researched, as are other aspects of her learning.
As Esther grows up, she becomes a very pretty young m=woman. Without giving away the plot, she is abused and raped. This is sadly still true of the lives of blind woman and women with other disabilities. They are taken advantage of by parents and other relatives, by schoolmates, and very often by spouses. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of disabled men.
Make no mistake: This is no arid treatise. It has its campy moments, as well as its legitimately exciting ones. Among the former are Crawford's swank no matter where she is and the irony of her becoming a sort of foster mother here in light of later revelations by her own daughter.
This is a painful movie but a very fine one.
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