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Film / Johnny Belinda

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She's deaf and mute! It's inspiring.
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Johnny Belinda is a 1948 drama film directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres.

Dr. Robert Richardson (Ayres) has recently set up practice in a small fishing village on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. His secretary Stella (Jan Sterling) takes a shine to him, but the doctor ignores her attentions. He is too busy taking an interest in the case of Belinda MacDonald (Wyman), a young deaf-mute woman who lives with her widowed father Black (Charles Bickford) and her spinster aunt Aggie (Agnes Moorehead). 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 surprising news that Belinda is pregnant. The town gossips all assume that Dr. Richardson is the father, but the real father is Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally), a local fisherman who raped Belinda.

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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.


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This film provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Hand Signals: Belinda is taught sign language by Dr. Loomis, and thereafter communicates with it.
  • 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 father and aunt after her mother died in childbirth.
  • 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 clean 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. Of course, they might not have believed her anyway.
  • 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. However, it's justified as she's said to have blocked it out beforehand.
  • Sacrificial Lion: The death of the father. It pushes Locky into the pure evil category, helping the audience to feel good about Belinda shooting him.
  • 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: Newborn Johnny looks at least three months old.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Your mother dies in childbirth. You go deaf and mute due to an illness shortly thereafter. You get raped. Your father falls off a cliff and dies. The town tries to get your baby from you. You have to shoot your rapist to keep him from stealing your baby, and kill him. Then you're tried for his murder.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Stella mentions to Locky that Belinda could never tell on him, which he takes to heart.

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