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...
Jane Wyman ... Belinda McDonald
Lew Ayres ... Dr. Robert Richardson
Charles Bickford ... Black McDonald
Agnes Moorehead ... Aggie McDonald
Stephen McNally ... Locky McCormick
Jan Sterling ... Stella McCormick
Rosalind Ivan ... Mrs. Poggety
Dan Seymour ... Pacquet
Mabel Paige ... Mrs. Lutz
Ida Moore ... Mrs. McKee
Alan Napier ... Defense Attorney
The movies had been talking for 20 years when Johnny Belinda came out in 1948. Those first Oscars were awarded for silent films and it took 20 years for another Oscar to be awarded for a performance without a single word of dialog.
Jane Wyman, who for the first ten years or so of her film career, played a lot of second leads, proves she could have competed with Mary Pickford or Gloria Swanson in the silent era, got an Oscar for her career role as Belinda McDonald. Belinda is a deaf mute who gets raped and impregnated by the town lout and because of what she is, she can neither name her attacker or speak out against the small minds that inhabit the town she lives in.
The story takes place in one of the Canadian isles off Nova Scotia and it begins with the arrival of a new doctor, Lew Ayres in town. One night he gets a call for a veterinary problem from farmers Charles Bickford and his sister Agnes Moorehead. While there he meets Bickford's mute daughter, Jane Wyman.
It's a rough life on that farm which doesn't yield much for creature comforts. Rough of course for Wyman, but also rough for Bickford who brought his sister in to help raise the child after his wife died in childbirth with Wyman. They're hard people, but they have a tender side also which is brought out as the film develops.
Johnny Belinda brought home a flock of Oscar nominations, for Ayres as Best Actor, for Bickford as Best Supporting Actor, for Agnes Moorehead as Best Supporting Actress, for the film itself, for Director Jean Negulesco. But only Wyman got the prize on Oscar night.
The closest performance I can think of to Wyman's in more modern times is that of Hilary Swank as trans-gender Brandon Teena. Swank hasn't the education to articulate her feelings either just as Wyman doesn't until Ayres teaches her to sign, still an audience made of statues will understand and be moved.
In addition to those already mentioned, look for fine performances from Stephen McNally as the lout and Jan Sterling as his wife.
But most of all look to be terribly moved by Jane Wyman.
Belinda (Wyman) lives in a small fishing village with her father (Bickford) and her aunt (Moorehead). She has one slight problem though. She's deaf and her guardians never really taught her how to understand and associate with the outside world.
That all changes when a doctor (Ayres) comes to town. He takes a liking to Belinda and begins to teach her sign language. She learns how to read lips and ends up being a very good pupil. But when the doctor goes away on business, he returns to Belinda and finds a shocking discovery while taking her to a doctor in another town.
Stephen McNally and Jan Sterling are supporting characters and they give fine performances. But the real stars here, are the four ones that were nominated for Oscars. Agnes Moorehead is one of the most interesting and mysterious characters, Charles Bickford is the one that you'll be rooting for, Lew Ayres will make you feel special, and Jane Wyman will give you one of the greatest performances of the '40s and possibly of all time.
The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards. This is a fantastic thing for any film. Sadly, it was only awarded the Oscar for Best Actress. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if it had had more of a success like it should have had.
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.