Cast & Crew
Barbara Ann Sanders
On her first day at a small black elementary school in the South, Jane Richards, a fourth grade schoolteacher, takes a particular interest in C. T. Young, a polite but bored child, who has consistently taken two years to get through each grade. After class, Jane asks C. T. about his family and learns that he has eight brothers and sisters. Although C. T. also claims that his father has a big job at the mill, Jane sees in her records that Mr. Young is a part-time laborer. Later, Jane realizes that C. T. does not have money for lunch and arranges for him to get a free one through the school.
After school, C. T. walks hand-in-hand with his friend, Tanya Hamilton, and warns his dog not to catch any birds, noting that they, too, have a right to live. Tanya convinces C. T. to attend Sunday school, which Jane also teaches, and after Jane states that God created everyone in His image, C. T. asks what color God is. Jane skirts the question by declaring that all men are brothers, but when C. T. wonders why they do not act like brothers, she explains that God is always willing to help mankind when asked. During a multiplication lesson, Jane sees that C. T. is drawing instead of listening, but nonetheless compliments him on his picture. Although Jane gives C. T. his first passing grade, a "C" for "Desire to Learn," he takes the report card without opening it.
Outside, the children taunt C. T. and Tanya, and a fight ensues. Jane separates the children, and after she rebukes C. T. for fighting on the same day he received his first good mark, he looks at the report card with pride. At Christmas, C. T. gives his adoring mother a jar of honey he collected from the beehive he tends, and she is grateful, knowing that he keeps the bees to raise money. After New Year's, C. T. further impresses Jane when, unlike the other children who brag about their Christmas gifts, he describes the good acts he did for his family and others. Soon after, during dress rehearsal for a performance of The Sleeping Beauty , Tanya becomes ill and is diagnosed with viral pneumonia. Jane comforts C. T., who cries that if there is a God, he will not let Tanya die. Tanya does die and C. T. stays away from school for a time. When he finally returns to the playground, he becomes embroiled in a confrontation with a group of boys and brawls with one of them until the principal, Mr. Williams, intervenes. As punishment Jane orders C. T. to sit in the front of the classroom and instructs the other children not to speak to him until he says he is sorry, but he vows never to apologize.
In the third quarter, C. T.'s performance deteriorates drastically. When he helps another boy work out multiplication problems on the blackboard, however, Jane changes his "F" to an "A." Later, classmate Booker T. Jones asks C. T. to go to the circus with him, but C. T. still refuses to tell Jane that he is sorry and insists that he does not care about the circus, prompting Jane to conclude that she has failed C. T. During a rest period, however, C. T. again proves himself after a swarm of bees flies into the classroom window and causes the other children to panic. C. T. puts the queen bee into a jar and, while covered with the other bees, takes her to a hollow tree in the woods.
He then presents Jane with a butterfly cocoon that he had been saving for Tanya. As the class watches, the butterfly emerges from its cocoon, inspiring Jane to comment that everyone they know and love will be born again. Later, while alone with Jane, C. T. tells her that he loves her, then runs off with his dog as she watches from her window.
Barbara Ann Sanders
Patti Marie Ellis
Carolyn Ann Jackson
Willa Pearl Curtis
James Ellis Smith
Sol Baer Fielding
A. Arnold Gillespie
Edwin B. Willis
Bright Road was adapted from a Christopher Award-winning story by West Indian schoolteacher Mary Elizabeth Vroman. Though the studio only gave it a 19-day shooting schedule, they still put a good deal of talent behind the cameras, with Alfred Gilks, a recent Oscar-winner for An American in Paris (1951), shooting the film and composer David Rose, currently scoring a major hit as on-camera musical director for television's The Red Skelton Show, composing the score.
The leading roles provided a showcase for the film's stars. After almost a decade of minor film appearances, Dandridge had scored with a very sensual performance as a jungle queen in Tarzan's Peril (1951) and a very sexy nightclub act. For Bright Road, however, she had to dress down as a low-income schoolteacher whose primary interest is her students. Ironically, it was also one of the few films in which she got to sing with her own voice; for her later big-budget musicals she was dubbed by more operatic singers. Her co-star, Belafonte, was just beginning to build his reputation as a singer when he signed to make his film debut as the principal in love with Dandridge. He, too, would have to downplay his sexuality for the dramatic role. A year later, the two would team in the much more torrid Carmen Jones, which made Dandridge the first African-American performer nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Belafonte's career would take off in 1957 when he recorded "Day O" and created the '50s rage for calypso music.
Playing a concerned schoolteacher hit a little close to home for Dandridge. Her daughter by dancer Harold Nicholas was severely brain damaged, and during her marriage she had put her career on hold while researching ways of caring for the child. One day, the sight of the healthy African-American children playing on the set proved too much for her, and she fled to her dressing room in tears. Director Gerald Mayer offered his sympathy, which led to a long friendship (some suggest an affair) for the two.
Mayer had his own problems. As the nephew of studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, he was the victim of reverse nepotism. Not wanting to show favoritism, his uncle had kept him in low-budget pictures for years, earning him the studio nickname "Keeper of the Bs." With little access to the kinds of high-profile properties necessary to build his career, Mayer turned to television, where he became a reliable director for such series as Gunsmoke and The Fugitive and produced The Millionaire and The Nurses. Bright Road would prove to be the highlight of his big-screen career.
Producer: Sol Baer Fielding
Director: Gerald Mayer
Screenplay: Emmett Lavery
Based on the Ladies' Home Journal story "See How They Run" by Mary Elizabeth Vroman
Cinematography: Alfred Gilks
Score: David Rose Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu Cast: Dorothy Dandridge (Jane Richards), Philip Hepburn (C.T. Young), Harry Belafonte (School Principal), Barbara Ann Sanders (Tanya), Robert Horton (Dr. Mitchell), Maidie Norman (Tanya's Mother).
BW-69m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The film's working title was See How They Run. According to a February 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was renamed to avoid a conflict with an unrelated stage play titled See How They Run. Before the opening credits, Dorothy Dandridge introduces herself and several of the other leading actors, and gives some information about the characters they play. Throughout the film, Dandridge's voice-overs convey the inner thoughts of her character, "Jane Richards." The opening credits state that the story "See How They Run" won the Christopher Award. According to the film's pressbook and news items, first-time author Mary Elizabeth Vroman based her story on her personal experiences and wrote it while teaching in Montgomery, AL. Vroman, born in Antigua, West Indies, sent her story to Ladies' Home Journal along with a pleading letter, and the magazine printed both. After M-G-M purchased the rights to her story, Vroman spent six weeks working with scriptwriter Emmet Lavery. According to a April 14, 1952 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, Vroman was the first African-American woman to be awarded associate membership in the Screen Writers Guild. However, the Writers Guild of America West-as the West Coast branch of the writers' union was renamed-was unable to confirm this. Hollywood Reporter news items add Barbara McAdams, Elverse Ragin, Doris Ake, Clarisse Armstrong and Artensia Creal to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The film was shot completely on the M-G-M lot.
Reviewers noted that Bright Road was the first non-musical film made by a major studio to feature a predominately black cast. (The only non-black actor was Robert Horton, who played the doctor.) Producer Sol Baer Fielding, in a Hollywood Citizen-News interview, stated about the story, "It could take place anyplace and to a boy of any race. But some of the events have more significance because they happen in a Negro community." In a Los Angeles Daily News interview, Vroman stated, "Love solves more problems than anger. That is why this isn't an angry story. I didn't want to prove anything, I didn't want to agitate anything. I merely thought-if people could know these children as I do, they would be certain to love them all." New York Times praised the film as "an honorable endeavor to say something fair and meaningful about the emotional maladjustment of children who sense the sting of hardship and bigotry," but criticized it for its "caution and reluctance to come out bluntly and say the dismal things about racial and economic pressures that are vaguely and overtly implied in the theme and the contour of the story." Saturday Review (of Literature) called the film "a syrupy piece that manages to beg a good many questions" and noted that "by so narrowly focusing the range on the 'do-good' and by seeing so little evil there is an occasional air of unreality."
Bright Road marked the screen debuts of Harry Belafonte and eleven-year-old Philip Hepburn, who had six years of stage experience and had acted on Broadway. Dandridge, better known at the time as a café singer, stated in the film's pressbook, "When M-G-M first offered me this part, I hesitated. I didn't think I could do it. It didn't seem to be me. But then I realized that this story would do more to promote understanding between people than any picture Hollywood has made, and I determined to accept the challenge." According to the pressbook, Dandridge's sister Vivian visited the set and then stayed on as a hairdresser, before being asked to replace an actress unable to report for work. Barbara Ann Sanders, who played "Tanya," was the daughter of actress Lillian Randolph. The film won an Urban League award for "contribution towards interracial cooperation," and Fielding was awarded the George Washington Carver Institute Merit Plaque. According to Daily Variety, the film had a limited exhibition in 1953. The film was re-released in 1957 after Dandridge and Belafonte became more well-known. According to modern sources, the song "Suzanne" was a revision of an old folk ballad known as "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down." Belafonte wrote the song with Millard Thomas and recorded it for RCA Victor Records.
Released in United States Spring April 1953
Released in United States Spring April 1953