Johnny Belinda (1948) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • 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 blame the doctor, and he and the McDonalds become pariahs, unable to earn a living in the provincial village. Matters come to a head when McCormick and his new wife pressure the local council to declare Belinda an unfit mother and declare them the baby's legal guardians.

  • In a small fishing village on the island of Cape Breton, Dr. Robert Richardson takes an interest in a sweet deaf mute named Belinda. He teaches her sign language and lip reading, and she soon falls in love with him. When Belinda is left alone one night, she is raped by the town bully, Locky MacCormick. When Robert takes her to see a doctor, it is discovered she is pregnant...

  • In post-war Cape Breton, a doctor's efforts to tutor a deaf/mute woman are undermined when she is raped, and the resulting pregnancy causes scandal to swirl.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • It is the story of a deaf girl, Belinda McDonald, who is befriended by the new doctor, Dr. Robert Richardson, who comes to the area of Cape Breton Island in far eastern Canada, at the end of the nineteenth century. The doctor realizes that, although she cannot hear or speak, Belinda is very intelligent. She lives on a farm with her father, Black McDonald, and her aunt, Aggie McDonald, and rarely goes into town. The family sells farm goods to the near by town, mainly flour. Her father and aunt resent Belinda because her mother died giving birth to her. Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda sign language, and what things are. Over time his affection for her grows.

    The doctors secretary, Stella McCormick, tries to get the doctor to court her. But, the doctor does not see her that way at all. After she figures out that he is becoming attracted to Belinda, she starts to resent both the doctor and Belinda.

    One of the family's customers, Locky McCormick, goes to the farm when Belinda is alone and rapes her. She becomes pregnant. When the town finds out that she is pregnant they suspect Dr. Richardson, because he has spent the most time with her. As time goes by, the pressure of the rumors finally cause the doctor to look for a new practice. He decides to marry Belinda and take her, and the baby, with him. He goes on ahead to find both a new place to practice and a new home for them.

    While he is away finding them a new home, McCormick, now married (to the Doctors former secretary, Stella), makes up his mind that he wants the child that is his. He goes to visit the baby and when Black McDonald sees him, he orders him to leave. After McCormick confesses to Black that the baby is his, and will come back and get the child, Black then proceeds to follow him, attempting to make him break and threatening to expose himself to the town. They fight, and McCormick throws McDonald off the cliff into the sea.

    Now Belinda and her aunt Aggie try to run the farm, but soon start struggling to pay the bills and keep the farm up. The town, at the urging of McCormick, has a meeting and declares Belinda "unfit" to care for the child. When McCormick and his wife come to take the baby, Belinda first makes Stella McCormick realize that she is smarter than the townspeople have given her credit for, and that she will not give up her baby without a fight. Then after Stella confronts Locky, and he confesses to her that the child is his, he goes in to retrieve the baby. Belinda tries to block his path; he shoves her down and heads up the stairs. She then grabs a shotgun, and shoots and kills him. Belinda is arrested and goes on trial for murder. At the trial Dr. Richardson tells how McCormick was the one that raped Belinda, and that she was protecting her property and family. The court dismisses this as the doctors love for her, but then finally Stella, holding old deep romantic feelings for the doctor, says that it is true, that her husband had confessed the truth to her on that day. Belinda is set free for protecting her baby and home.

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