Film / Johnny Belinda

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She's deaf! It's inspiring.

Johnny Belinda is a 1948 drama film directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres.

Ayres is Dr. Robert Richardson, the new doctor who arrives in a fishing village in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. His secretary Stella takes a shine to him, but the doctor ignores her attentions. He is too busy taking an interest in the case of Belinda McDonald, a young deaf-mute woman who lives with her aunt and her widowed father. Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda how to read, how to read lips, and how to communicate with sign language. He then takes her to a specialist who delivers the sad news that Belinda's deafness can't be cured, as well as the very suprising news that Belinda is pregnant. The town gossips all assume that Dr. Richardson is the father, but the real father is Locky, a local fisherman who raped Belinda.

Adapted from a hit Broadway stage play of the same name, Johnny Belinda won Jane Wyman an Academy Award for Best Actress, in what was regarded as a surprising upset over Olivia de Havilland for The Snake Pit. Wyman became the first person to win an acting Oscar without uttering a word onscreen since Emil Jannings and Janet Gaynor won for Best Actor and Actress at the first Academy Awards in 1927. Wyman's Oscar is probably the earliest example of the tendency for Inspirationally Disadvantaged Oscar Bait performances to win the little gold statuette.


This film provides examples of:

  • Audience Murmurs: Audible in the court room when the plot thickens.
  • Break the Cutie: The rape leaves Belinda in a broken state.
  • Child by Rape: Belinda seems untroubled by Johnny's origin.
  • Cute Mute: Belinda, all the way.
  • Death by Childbirth: Belinda's mother in the backstory. Belinda's father resents her for it.
  • Defiled Forever: Dr. Richardson is accused of having "shamed" poor Belinda.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After the Trauma Conga Line (see below), Belinda is finally acquitted and goes off to start a new life with Dr. Richardson.
  • The Empath: Showcased as a Disability Superpower. When her father falls from the cliff, Belinda knows immediately that something was wrong and intuitively leads the doctor to the site of the accident.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: When the doctor takes Belinda to the city, they encounter a marching band with bagpipes.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "She looks right spry for a woman who's just had her arteries cut out."..."Not her arteries, Mrs. Lutz."
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Someone as uneducated and ignorant of the world as Belinda might not even know what abortion is, but still, she's pretty happy about having her rapist's baby. Of course, abortion was illegal anyway.
  • Gossipy Hens: All the nasty old ladies of the town who make catty gossip about Belinda, her baby, and her supposed relationship with the doctor.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: She's deaf and mute! She's learning to read and raising a child! Isn't that inspiring?
  • In the Back: How Locky gets it from Belinda's shotgun. He totally had it coming, though.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Well, naturally you get pregnant after your first time, which is a rape.
  • Loose Lips: Locky unintentionally spills the beans about his fatherhood when Belinda's father is around.
  • Murder by Inaction: Or maybe just straight-up murder. But Locky's fight with Black by the edge of the cliff leads to Black slipping off the edge, clawing for a handhold. Locky just watches as Black falls off the cliff to his death.
  • Nephewism: Belinda was raised by her uncle after her mother died in childbed.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: All strings are being pulled when Stella comes to collect Johnny. Belinda is unsuspecting and kindly welcomes Stella, offering her food and beverage. The heartiness affects Stella and she cannot bring herself to carry out the order and begs Locky to call off the whole thing.
  • Opening Monologue: Dr. Richardson gives an opening speech introducing the setting to the audience.
  • Poor Communication Kills: As the doctor explains, Belinda had blocked out the rape. Her not coming through to anyone about Locky's deed creates all the drama in the second half of the movie. It certainly would have helped her case in court.
  • Rape as Drama: Rape was a topic rarely dealt with in Hollywood films, at least not since The Hays Code was enforced.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: All we see is a desperate expression on Belinda's face as Locky approaches, then the scene cuts to black for obvious reasons.
  • Reading Lips: Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda to do it. As is usual in fiction, she gets unrealistically good at it.
  • Red Herring: The father's business ledger. We are told Belinda can identify all of the customers by their sign. When it seems this information would come in handy to identify the rapist, the book is brushed aside and never brought up again.
  • Sacrificial Lion: The death of the father. It pushes Locky into the pure evil category, helping the audience to feel good about his murder.
  • Secondary Character Title: Johnny has very little screen time for himself.
  • The Speechless: Belinda is a deaf-mute. Her aunt comments on how weird it is when Belinda goes through childbirth in silence.
  • A Storm Is Coming: "A storm's comin' in", says Belinda's father Black. This is shortly followed by the confrontation with Locky that ends in Black's death.
  • Three-Month-Old Newborn: New-born Johnny looks at least three months old.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Your mother dies in childbirth. You go deaf from an illness shortly thereafter. You get raped. Your father falls off a cliff and dies. The town tries to take from you your child by rape. You have to shoot your rapist to keep him from stealing your baby. Then you're tried for murder.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Stella mentions to Locky that Belinda could never tell on him which he takes to heart.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/JohnnyBelinda