Johnny Belinda (1948): Jane Wyman Oscar Winning Performance

Extremely popular at the time, Jean Negulesco’s earnest, well-made but outdated melodrama, “Johnny Belinda,” is the tale of a deaf-mute girl (Jane Wyman in her Oscar-winning turn), who is raped, bears an illegitimate child, and then saved by a kind doctor (Lew Ayres)
When the saga begins, Belinda is the unwanted daughter of stoic and stubborn New England framer, Black McDonald (Charles Bickford), who continues to blame her for the death of her mother at child birth.

Dr. Robert Richardson (Ayres), a kind medico who travels from town to town, befriends Belinda and teaches her sign language, while criticizing the community members who label her “a dummy.” A local bully named Stephen McNally (Locky McCormack) gets drunk one night and rapes the shy, innocent girl, who’s afraid to tell anyone.

When she delivers the baby, people assume the father is Dr. Richardson, and losing respectability, he is kicked out of town in disgrace for violating the girl.

Since the story takes place on the New England coast, the movie was shot in California’s Mendocino, an area that approximates the book’s rough and ragged setting, and indeed, Ted McCord’s black-and-white imagery captures the mood of the place, its frequent fogs, heavy rains, and strong blowing winds.

With the help of the Oscar, Jane Wyman established herself as a major Hollywood star, after playing small or secondary roles for a decade, including Ray Milland’s frustrated girlfriend in Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend,” three years earlier.

Oscar Nomination: 12

Picture, produced by Jerry Wald Director: Jean Negulesco Screenplay: Irmgard Von Cube and Allen Vincent Actor: Lew Ayres Actress: Jane Wyman Supporting Actor: Charles Bickford Supporting Actress: Agnes Moorhead Cinematography (b/w): Ted McCord Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Robert Haas; William Wallace Film Editing: David Weisbart Sound Recording: Nathan Levinson Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy): Max Steiner

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

In 1948, “Johnny Belinda” competed for the top Oscar with Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, which won Best Picture, Actor, and other awards; the ballet-drama “The Red Shoes,” which broke box-office records in the U.S.; the melodrama “The Snake Pit,” with Olivia de Havilland; and John Huston’s brilliant crime drama, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” with an all-star cast, headed by Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s father, Walter Huston.

The most nominated picture, and thus the biggest loser, was “Johnny Belinda,” receiving 12 nominations, but winning only one Oscar, Best Actress for Jane Wyman as the deaf-mute girl Belinda McDonald.

The major awards were spread rather evenly among the five nominees. “The Red Shoes” deservedly won the technical awards in color, a distinction that increased the number of winning films.