DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Johnny Belinda (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Feb 1, 2006.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Johnny Belinda

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1948
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 102 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Standard
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase

    The Feature:
    With the recent announcement of Academy Award nominations, Warner Home Video is rolling out the red carpet, releasing seven of their Oscar winning pictures – each of them debuting on the DVD format for the very first time. Included in the group are: Cimarron (1931), The Champ (1931), Captains Courageous (1937), The Good Earth (1937), Kitty Foyle (1940), Lust For Life (1956) and the featured film, Johnny Belinda (1948). The collection of titles garnered a total of eleven Academy Awards and sport some of the biggest Hollywood names including Spencer Tracy, Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Louise Rainer, Paul Muni, Ginger Rogers, Jane Wyman and Kirk Douglas, just to name a few. The single disc DVD’s will sell for $19.97 SRP.

    Lew Ayres, looking a lot older and wiser than he looked in the great All Quiet on the Western Front, plays Dr. Robert Richardson, a kindly doctor who moves to a coastal Nova Scotia town to get away from unnamed problems. It's the kind of town where he's called out on a late-night emergency to deliver a calf, and where he's paid in trout-fishing privileges instead of cash. Ironically, the film takes place in a small town on Nova Scotia’s, Cape Breton Island, yet filmed in Mendocino California. Nowadays, such an undertaking would be set in the small Californian town yet filmed in Nova Scotia.

    On a visit to the farm of the taciturn Black McDonald (played by Charles Bickford), he meets and becomes interested in McDonald's daughter Belinda (played by Jane Wyman), a deaf-mute who serves as little more than a pack animal. People call her "dummy," and everybody thinks she's too stupid to learn anything. Especially critical is McDonald's sister Aggie (played by Agnes Moorehead), who cautions Robert to "stop puttin' those grrrand idears into her head" after he teaches the girl sign language and how to read lips. Her progress is amazing, and soon she's transformed from a dirty and overworked outcast into a beautiful and vivacious young woman.

    Belinda's transformation catches the eye of Locky McCormick (played by Stephen McNally), a local tough and ne'er-do-well who wants to marry Dr. Richardson's assistant Stella (played by Jan Sterling) because she's inherited a pile of money from a dead uncle. Locky's not averse to straying from his beloved, nor is he above raping Belinda when his pathetic entreaties — in a superbly creepy and well-done scene involving his attempts to play a violin for her — fail to win her over. She doesn't rat him out, and she seems to quickly recover from the attack, but soon enough there are signs that she's pregnant, a fact that Robert discovers when he takes her to a hearing specialist in the big city. Because Belinda won't name the man who attacked her, the townspeople quickly assume that Robert is the man responsible. Things get especially hairy when Locky realizes that the baby, named Johnny Belinda by his mother, is the product of his attack.

    The handling of the deaf-mute issue is a little kid-gloved, but the issues of rape and its aftermath are surprisingly daring – particularly, considering the period. The actions taken by the townspeople "on behalf of" Belinda, whom they can't see as a human being, are especially grim and disturbing, leading to the unexpectedly violent climax of the film. All is smoothly handled by jack-of-all trades director, Jean Negulesco, who received his only Oscar nomination.

    Wyman won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, making her the first in a long line of actresses winning Oscars for not talking in sound films (Patty Duke won Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker, and Holly Hunter won Best Actress for The Piano). Her performance is outstanding; her expressive face, and especially her huge eyes – all express a range of emotion that many actors can't achieve with words.

    Speaking of Oscar nominations, this film almost set a record for futility. It garnered twelve nominations but only Wyman won. It was nominated for just about every category it could qualify for including, Best Picture, Director, Actor (Ayres), Supporting Actor (Bickford), Supporting Actress (Moorehead), Screenplay (Irma von Cube and Allen Vincent), Cinematography (Ted McCord), Art Direction/Interior Decoration, Score, Sound Recording, and Editing. It lost Best Picture to Hamlet. The star’s Oscar acceptance speech is also said to be one of the shortest on record as Wyman stated, "I won this award by keeping my mouth shut and I think I'll do it again."

    The Feature: 4.5/5

    Not sure what, if anything, has been done here in terms of restoration or cleanup but overall, I was mostly pleased with this transfer shown in it’s proper standard aspect ratio.

    The film has a rather coarse look to it and is mostly free of specks or other distracting dirt or scratch marks. Grayscale was also mostly pleasing as blacks were exceptionally deep and full, while whites were usually crisp – with a vast array of everything gray in between.

    There is some exceptionally pleasing – and impressive facial detail. Quite a few scenes were shot with close-ups on Ayers, Bickford and Moorehead and the level of detail shows very well. As we would expect, Wyman’s close-ups appear diffused. Image detail here was quite striking.

    The image is mostly stable with only occasional shimmer – nothing to report in terms of authoring or compression issues although a hint of edge enhancement is noticeable from time to time.

    All in all, a very nice effort.

    Video: 4/5

    Overall, a very good job as the monaural soundtrack has been handled quite well. While there is only the slightest hint of hiss, the track is basically clean and free of any other noisy distractions.

    Dialogue is strong and bold and always clear. Max Steiner’s wonderful score is rendered beautifully and is never overbearing or found competing with the dialogue. Not much to speak of in terms of dynamics beyond a few church bells and boat motors, however the track is adept.

    A basic monaural track with very little to complain about.

    Audio: 3.5/5

    Special Features:
    Not much here in the way of special features. The disc looks like this:
    [*] The Little Archer is an interesting inclusion. This is a WB Technicolor short which features young Melvin, a four year old – expert marksman with a bow and arrow. Hey, I said it was an interesting inclusion… Duration: 8:35 minutes.
    [*] The Theatrical Trailer has also been included and is in reasonably good shape. Duration: 2:36 minutes.

    Special Features: 2/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    Johnny Belinda is a film I’d never seen before, although I’d heard a great deal about it. I had a particular interest in it since the film was set in a place where my parents originally hailed from. Dealing with subject matter that was controversial - even in this day and age - the film’s director, Jean Negulesco, did a wonderful job at keeping the film from entering a sappy melodrama – something he wasn’t always able to do with his later 20th Century Fox films. The film stays genuine and never delves into the dreaded, “wonderful for the times” feel.

    Johnny Belinda is a touching and moving film that takes its time and doesn't rely on strident melodramatics to tell its story. There’s not much in the way of special features, however, the film itself has been handled almost flawlessly. Fans of Johnny or classic fare should be happy to add this new addition to their libraries.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


    Release Date: January 31st, 2006
  2. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

    Apr 14, 2003
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    Bolton, Lancashire
    Real Name:
    Nice review Herb [​IMG]
  3. Barry_B_B

    Barry_B_B Second Unit

    May 14, 2001
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    Great job Herb; I hadn't seen this since the '70's, makes me want to pick it up for the library!
  4. PatW

    PatW Screenwriter

    Dec 25, 2003
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    Nice review Herb. I too will probably be picking this one up. I remember seeing this with my mother years ago and being affected by it. I hope I like it as much as I did back then.
  5. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

    Jul 19, 2002
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    i caught about 10 minutes of this on TCM a while back.
    it looked good and i stopped watching only because i wanted to insure that i didn't compromise my first exposure to the material by watching it distractedly on a little 13" set.
    i was excited to see it get announced and it was the first title i picked up tuesday (even before Lust For Life, another anxiously awaited release).

    haven't sat down to watch it entirely yet, but a spot check of the transfer revealed what looks to be a very satisfying image.

    looking forward to finally sitting down with this one.
  6. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

    Dec 31, 2003
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    Thanks for a well written review Herb.

    One bit of useless trivia about this film....Ronald Reagan said he was going to name Johnny Belinda "co-respondent" in his divorce from Jane Wyman.

    For those looking for a bargain on this, Costco has it for $11.99 (along with the other Oscar winners).


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