Sunday, April 17, 2011

Film Review: Johnny Belinda

Hey Guys, I have watched a lot of movies recently (nothing new, just older stuff) and in a burst of inspiration, I got back into my film reviewing groove for the first time in a while.
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Johnny Belinda (1948):

Thiz film is the tale of an ostracized deaf girl, Belinda (Jane Wyman), in a remote corner of the world who finds hope through a caring doctor. The good doctor (Lew Ayres) is new in town and despite the her father’s inability to pay (living with his sister, he’s one of the poorer residents of the town), he teaches her sign language.

It’s an uplifting and engaging story, but it does take some surprisingly dark turns for a movie from 1948. For instance, Belinda gets raped and impregnated. I would have expected slightly more repercussions over the rape thing. It’s the kind of non-derivative plot point I admire that after Belinda is raped, the doctor convinces the dad not to direct his energy towards anger at the mystery perpetrator but rather towards comforting the daughter and it shows how strong Belinda is that she’s never let herself get caught up in victimhood too much. Still, the film rushed things a little too fast when Belinda’s emotional trauma from the incident seems to be cured over the course of a single conversation and a suggestion by the doctor that they go into town. It also seemed like a very plausible and worthwhile idea to go after the rapist. Although he eventually got his, it was a little disconcerting that the villain
went unpunished for so long in the movie.

The strength of the film is in the relationships between Belinda, her aunt, her dad and the doctor. Although the young woman develops closer bonds with her father (Charles Bickford) and Aunt (Agnes Moorehead) through her maturation, it’s really about the relationship between the young woman and the doctor (Lew Ayres) if we’re going by who gets top billing in the opening credits. Their relationship definitely straddles the line between platonic and romantic love. In the middle of the film, the doctor suggests to the dad he marry the daughter to save her the shame of being a single mother, but the dad says that it’s no use if he doesn’t love her. It doesn’t seem that particularly evident that he’s later willing to marry her except for economic necessity (there’s one sort of half-kiss between them) and, ironically, that doesn’t take anything away from the film’s storybook ending.

Jane Wyman won a well-deserved Oscar for the film as Belinda even though she didn’t speak a word on screen. She’s the first husband of Ronald Regan and their marriage was being strained at the time because both of their acting careers had plateaued. Wyman’s marriage was already through by the time she won the Oscar, but winning did give her plenty of consolation after a reportedly rough year. Also, Agnes Moorehead slept with JFK (and famously spilt the beans that he wasn’t a good lover) which means two actresses in this film had sex with presidents. Bit of trivia for you.

One other thing that strikes me about this film is that it’s set in Nova Scotia, Canada, but it seems like some of the actors and actresses weren’t informed of this, because they’re talking in Irish accents.

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