Warner Bros. JOHNNY BELINDA (1948) is yet another highly regarded and unforgettable Hollywood classic offering from its Golden Age! From the exemplary performances to the brilliant low key monochrome Cinematography to its arresting music score JOHNNY BELINDA quite rightly deserves a revered place in the history of the Hollywood film! From a successful play by Elmer Harris it was stylishly written for the screen by Irmgard Von Cube and Allen Vincent and strikingly directed by Jean Negulesco.
The story centers on a drab and shabby deaf mute girl Belinda MacDonald (Jane Wyman giving the performance of her life) who with her father (Charles Bickford) and her aunt (Agnes Moorhead) endeavour to eke out a livelihood on a post war Nova Scotia farm. She is befriended by a young doctor (Lew Ayres) who takes her under his wing to teach her sign language. Later the girl is brutally raped by an unscrupulous villager (Stephen McNally) becomes pregnant and has a child. Throughout her predicament she is supported by the compassionate doctor. Finally when the baby's father tries to take the child for himself Belinda kills him. She is arrested for murder but when it comes out who the rapist was and that she killed only out of defence of her baby she is exonerated. Wyman is quite stunning as the hapless girl and rightly deserved the Acadamy Award she received for her adroit performance! Excellent too was Charles Bickford in his nominated role as Belinda's father and even better was Agnes Moorhead (sporting a perfectly clipped Scottish accent) who won a nomination as Belinda's erstwhile crusty aunt Aggie. Nominated also was genius Cinematographer Ted McCord whose wonderful coastal imagery at Mendocino and Pebble Beach locations in California were nothing short of breathtaking!
Another stunning aspect of this exceptional motion picture is the music by the great Max Steiner! There is a distinctive Scottish flavour permeating the score which aptly points up the Nova Scotia setting. For instance in the marvellous Main Title the composer makes reference to Robert Burns' "O Poorith Cauld" as well as the Canadian national song "Maple Leaf Forever" which is altogether very appealing when heard over the film's beautiful aerial shot of the pretty fishing village at the opening of the picture. The highlight of the score is, of course, the winsome and thoroughly engaging lullaby the composer wrote for the infant Johnny. First heard when the doctor informs Belinda "you're going to have a baby" and then when the child is born. This inspired hum inducing theme - the score's most memorable tune - is then heard throughout the rest of the film soaring to uplifting beauty in the closing scene. Other splendid cues are for the moving sequence where Belinda recites The Lord's Prayer in sign language at the wake of her slain father and in stark contrast the music for the violent rape scene where stabs of screaming and shrieking strings, in their topmost register, drive home the brutality of the moment. This was the genius that was Max Steiner! Ever the consummate dramatist and film's emphatic musical commentator! 1948 was a banner year for the indefatigable composer! Besides JOHNNY BELINDA - which garnered him an Acadamy Award nomination - he also scored ten other pictures which included such masterworks as "The Adventures Of Don Juan", "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" and "Key Largo".
JOHNNY BELINDA was remade three times for television in 1967, 1969 and again in 1982. Each version was quickly dismissed and are now totally forgotten unlike Warner's awesome 1948 original which has and will continue to stand the test of time!
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