Cast & Crew
Soon after Dr. Robert Richardson arrives in the farming and fishing community on the small island of Cape Breton near Nova Scotia, Aggie McDonald begs him to assist in the birth of a calf. Aggie lives with her brother Black, a poor, proud farmer, and his deaf and mute daughter, Belinda. Although the McDonalds and the villagers consider Belinda mentally retarded, Robert teaches her sign language and lip reading. When Black learns that he can communicate with his daughter, a bond grows between them. One evening, a group of young people, including belligerent Locky McCormick and his girl friend, Stella Maguire, Robert's assistant, come by the farm to pick up some flour. An impromptu dance breaks out, and Robert places Belinda's hand on the violin so that she can feel the vibrations. Her tentative attempts to dance briefly attract Locky's attention. Later, having been rejected by Stella, who secretly loves Robert, a drunken Locky rapes Belinda. Belinda becomes withdrawn afterward, and Black begs Robert to find out what is wrong with her. Robert convinces Black to allow him to take Belinda to town for diversion. While there, Robert brings Belinda to an ear specialist for an examination and learns that she is pregnant. Back at Cape Breton, he reveals her secret to Aggie, but does not tell Black, fearing his anger. Black has become very proud of his transformed daughter and, accompanied by Robert, brings her to church for the first time. Locky and Stella attend the service as well, to hear their wedding banns read, and Belinda's reaction to Locky gives Robert cause to think that he may be the father of the child. He says nothing, however, and after the baby, whom Belinda names Johnny, is born, the townspeople, believing that Robert is the child's father, ostracize him and the McDonalds. Robert offers to marry Belinda, but Black dissuades him, stating that Belinda will understand that he does not love her. When Locky appears during a storm, Black suddenly realizes the identity of Johnny's father, and assaults Locky, who pushes Black off a cliff to his death. When a lack of patients forces Robert to leave town, he promises to send for Aggie and Belinda as soon as he is established. Meanwhile, certain that Belinda is incapable of caring for her child, the townspeople decide to take the baby from her and give him to Stella and Locky, who have since married. Stella changes her mind, however, when she sees how much Belinda loves Johnny. Locky then tells Stella that he is determined to take the child because he is the baby's father. When he comes after the baby, Belinda shoots and kills him. At Belinda's murder trial, Stella initially refuses to disclose the reason why Locky was killed, but finally tells the truth, and Belinda is acquitted.
Betty Lou Delmont
Leo F. Forbstein
Irmgard Von Cube
Best Art Direction
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Johnny Belinda - Johnny Belinda
Meanwhile, back at Warners, producer Jerry Wald was trying to persuade studio boss Jack Warner to buy Johnny Belinda, a hit play about a deaf-mute country girl whose bleak existence is improved when she is befriended by a doctor. A brutal attack leads to joy, then tragedy, setting off the story's climax. Warner complained that Johnny Belinda had no commercial appeal. "Who wants to see a picture where the leading lady doesn't say a word?" But Wald was one of the studio's top producers, and had successfully guided Joan Crawford to an Oscar® in Mildred Pierce (1945). So Warner grudgingly agreed to let Wald make the film version of Johnny Belinda (1948). None of the studio's big stars were right for the role of Belinda. Teresa Wright would have been perfect, but she was under contract to Goldwyn, and the loan-out fee would be expensive. Although Jane Wyman was not a top-tier star, and was too old for the part, Wald decided she could handle it.
Wyman needed some good news -- her personal life was in turmoil. Married since 1940 to Ronald Reagan, she had recently given birth prematurely, and the baby died. She and Reagan were also having marital problems. While her career was on the upswing, his was in the doldrums. As president of the Screen Actors' Guild, Reagan was deeply involved in union and national politics, which bored her to tears. Wyman was glad to set aside her problems and get involved in a challenging project.
Johnny Belinda also came at a good time for director Jean Negulesco, and for Lew Ayres, who would play the doctor. Negulesco had just been fired from The Adventures of Don Juan (1949) because he and star Errol Flynn didn't agree on how the character should be played. Johnny Belinda was a project Negulesco much preferred. Ayres had been a conscientious objector during World War II, and distributors had boycotted his films until MGM dropped his contract. Ayres served in non-combatant duty during the war, but had a hard time rebuilding his career afterwards.
To prepare for Johnny Belinda, a consultant was hired to teach Wyman and Ayres sign language, and Wyman also learned lip reading. Wyman spent time observing a young girl who had been born deaf. But even with all the preparation, there was still something missing from Wyman's performance. She realized that because she could hear, a certain realism was lacking in her expression. So a doctor devised wax earplugs for her to wear which blotted out noise.
The story was set in Nova Scotia, and Johnny Belinda was shot on location in Fort Bragg, a small town on the rugged coast of northern California. Back in Hollywood, Jack Warner was not happy with the footage he was seeing. "They're up there shooting fog and a bunch of damned seagulls!" he exclaimed. In fact, Negulesco claimed that Warner hated the film so much that he fired Negulesco. And Warner let the film sit on the shelf for nearly a year before releasing it.
By that time, Jane Wyman had filed for divorce from Ronald Reagan. But the acclaim she received for her performance helped ease the pain. Archer Winsten's review in the New York Post was typical: "Jane Wyman gives a performance surpassingly beautiful in its slow, luminous awakening of joy and understanding." At Oscar® time, Johnny Belinda received twelve nominations, including Wyman as Best Actress, as well as Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Supporting nominations for Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead. Producer Jerry Wald received the Irving Thalberg memorial award for the high quality of his productions, due in part to the acclaim Johnny Belinda had received. Wyman won the film's only competitive Oscar®, and her acceptance speech was brief and to the point: "I accept this award very gratefully - for keeping my mouth shut. I think I'll do it again!"
Director: Jean Negulesco
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Irmgard von Cube, Allen Vincent, based on the play by Elmer Harris
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Editor: David Weisbart
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Robert Haas, set designer William Wallace
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: 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).
BW-103m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Johnny Belinda - Johnny Belinda
Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda on DVD
Things tale a new and interesting change for the McDonalds with the arrival of the town's new doctor, Robert Richardson (Lew Ayers). The McDonalds call for the doctor when their cow begins to give birth, and although it's not exactly in his line of work Richardson does what he can. During the birthing process, Richardson notices that something is not quite right with Belinda: she seems interest but not particularly attenttive. Black confirms that the girl can neither hear nor speak. This is a topic in which Dr. Richardson has shown a growing interest for many years, having seen how lives can be changed by learning even rudimentary sign language. Richardson doesn't waste any time: he introduces Belinda to a few bits of sign language, and she proves to be an alarmingly apt pupil. The doctor shows Black the little bit of communication she's been able to achieve, and Black is so delighted that despite the fact that it takes all of the McDonalds from dawn till dusk to run the farm, Black welcomes the doctors' frequent visits.
Belinda begins to blossom as the doctor helps draw her out of her isolation and into a world where she can communicate at least with those in her household. But there is more than just the lost isolation for Belinda: there is also a personal transformation as she gains confidence, and her inner beauty breaks through to the surface. This new-found beauty does not go unnoticed by town lout Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally). With the doctor away on business, and the other McDonalds equally occupied with farm work, Locky breaks into Belinda's room and rapes her.
After this horrific incident, nothing appears to have changed. Belinda herself wears the same beatific smile: she makes no attempt to communicate with anyone about what has happened. It isn't until Richardson takes Belinda to a colleague to double-check his owns findings on another matter, that he learns the shocking truth. When Black learns of what's been done to his child, he immediately wants to question her, but Richardson explains that she appears to have wiped the incident from her memory – and the best thing they can do is focus on getting Belinda through the pregnancy. Dr. Richardson takes care of her at the McDonald's Farm throughout her pregnancy, and when she finally gives birth it is to a healthy baby boy she names Johnny.
Of course, the moment the townspeople find out about the pregnancy, tongues start wagging about who the expectant father might be, and the town as a whole opts for Dr. Richardson as prime suspect. Richardson isn't bothered by the talk because, as he tells Black, he would like to marry Belinda. But Black feels that that would be a marriage out of generosity rather than love. The situation remains at a stand-off until Locky stops by the McDonald Farm to buy some goods, and sees the baby for the first time. Without thinking, he remarks on the fact that the boy is the spitting image of his father. Black understands immediately what this means, and Locky takes off across the cliffs, with Black in pursuit. Their confrontation ends with Black going over the cliff.
Now that Black is dead, hard decisions have to be made about where Belinda and Johnny will go – but this is something that Richardson happily decides to take care of himself. With Black no longer around to offer objections, Richardson makes his feelings known to Belinda, and then heads off to Toronto to look into the prospects of setting up a medical practice there.
With Richardson in Toronto and Aggie away with distant relatives, the holier-than-thou townspeople once again try to get their own back on the McDonalds. In a hastily assembled town meeting, the Town Officials decide that Johnny shouldn't be left in the care of someone who is mentally deficient (a mis-diagnosis from Belinda's childhood, which has haunted her despite the fact that her problem was deafness/muteness). And the town has already selected the perfect couple to whom the child should be given: Locky McCormick and his new bride, Stella. Armed with the official papers that will allow them to take Johnny, Locky takes Stella and races out to the McDonald Farm to get the baby. Flushed with excitement over his victory, Locky slips up again and tells Stella that he is actually Johnny's father. But his biggest mistake in this fateful enterprise is not taking into account the level of resistance with which he will be met.
Nominated for eleven Academy Awards, Johnny Belinda is an extraordinary film with four flawless central performances, beginning with Wyman, who is unforgettable as Belinda, a role that initially requires her to convey her emotions through her eyes and facial expressions. In the scene where the doctor first tries to show Belinda that is possible for her to communicate, Wyman makes the struggle to understand and the subsequent revelation breathtakingly real. Her performance is one of small nuances and broad strokes, the latter coming when Belinda signs The Lord's Prayer as a group of friends mourning the death of her father recite it. There is something at once balletic and defiant.
Legendary character actor Charles Bickford had one of his meatiest roles as Black McDonald. Bickford seamlessly makes the character a combination of absolute patriarch, warm-hearted father, and fierce family protector. Agnes Moorehead gives another strong performance as the spinster-sister Aggie, who "never had much time for Belinda:" a situation that changes once some lines of communication have been opened. Lew Ayres also gets one of his best roles as Dr. Richardson, the model of a compassionate doctor. All three co-stars were nominated for their performances.
The source material for Warner Bros.' new DVD is in remarkably good shape, with no damage or deterioration, and only a couple of individual shots where the picture is grainy. The image is beautifully contrasted throughout. The audio is also in splendid shape, with rich tone quality and deep bass. Extras include the vintage short The Little Archer, and the film's theatrical trailer.
For more information about Johnny Belinda, visit Warner Video. To order Johnny Belinda, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda on DVD
He's a... something even you can't pronounce!- Stella McCormick
Probably something not fit to mention.- Locky McCormick
I have to get cash somewhere, and you and some of the others are the only ones who can afford it.- Dr. Robert Richardson
Jane Wyman's Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech is reportedly the shortest on record: "I won this award by keeping my mouth shut and I think I'll do it again."
News items in Hollywood Reporter add the following information about the production: Warner Bros. paid between $50,000 and $65,000 for film rights to Elmer Harris' play. Delmer Daves was initially scheduled to direct the film. Some scenes were filmed on location at Fort Bragg, CA and at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. The film marked the motion picture debut of actress January Sterling. Stephen McNally, using the name Horace McNally, acted the role of "Dr. Richardson" in the stage production of the play. Jane Wyman won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Lew Ayers was nominated for Best Actor, and Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. Jean Negulesco was nominated for Best Director. The film also received nominations for Best Picture, Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Music and Sound Recording.