Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda

Jane Wyman, the star of movies and television received her second Best Actress nomination and only Oscar for playing Belinda Macdonald, a deaf, but very intselligent girl, who's raped by a local bastard whom she later shoots in the movie Johnny Belinda. Wyman also received a Golden Globe for her performance and yet she thought that she would surely lose to Irene Dunne. She should not have been so pessimistic as the Academy found her to be the Best Actress that year.

Johnny Belinda is a brilliant movie, which I enjoyed much more for the second time and right now I can understand all its nominations. It might even get my vote in the Best Picture category. The acting is truly top-class: Lew Ayres gives a very subtle and memorable performance as the local doctor teaching Belinda, but Agnes Moorehead and especially Charles Bickford also stand out in their roles. The directing and the screenplay are both flawless and they are excellent jobs.

And there's Jane Wyman. Boy, I was almost in tears when I was watching her. For the first time I loved her, but did not notice that she was THIS brilliant. I mean, she's so utterly heartbreaking and lovely that I she made me literally speechless. She says so much simply with her face (she does not have a single line in the movie, but this is probably one of the most difficult characters one can receive). Wyman is a big emotional dynamite in this movie that sometimes she becomes almost unbearable to watch.

The biggest achievement of Wyman was that she was not afraid to show a darker side of Belinda. This is also a typical deglam role, but unlike Olivia de Havilland, Wyman does not use this to prove how beautiful and great she is. Easily put: her acting was not so forced that I saw her sweating. She gently pampers your heart with her charm, loveliness and most of all her very expressive face. Throughout the entire movie I felt a certain warmth in my soul.

It's also amazing how well she solved the development of her character. First she's like a scared little animal, who has potential in herself, but cannot express herself. Then she becomes more certain in herself and learns until she becomes a very intelligent woman who's able to take care of her child.

And we get to witness these change through very memorable, heartwarming and even terrifying sequences. Her most famous scene is probably the one where she's raped, which is in my opinion almost unbearable to watch despite the fact that it lasts for about 5 seconds and it doesn't show anything rough. But the true fear which one can notice in her eyes is alone Oscar-worthy: it's so chilling and harrowing that one will never forget those 5 seconds. The worst thing about it is, that we know what that awful man does to her, but she doesn't understand a thing about it, only that she's being hurt.

Belinda's innocence however doesn't fade completely. She remains a kind, lovely girl, but the fear and this horrible experience completely poisoned her. She's almost oddly believable and credible in these scenes: Wyman's stardom becomes unimportant, we cease to believe that it's her acting. She totally lived Belinda's character, breathed with her.

And yet I say that this is NOTHING compared to her greatest scene, where she's praying in sign language: it's such a gutwrenching, heartbreaking and tearjerking experience that is almost impossible to describe. That's probably one of the best-acted scenes that I have ever seen. It's really no exaggeration to tell that Wyman hit such heights with this role that it's almost impossible to top.

I have already mentioned how fearlessly Wyman revealed the darker side of this character: when Belinda feels that her baby whom she loves more than anything or anyone is in danger, she's not even afraid to kill anyone. Wyman show the instincts of a mother, who's merciless, if she has to protect her son.

So to sum up, I saw a great performance, which aged well and was much better for the second time. My admiration has dropped a bit in time but I still have to admit how great she is in this movie.
So what do you think? This was our last nominee. So conclusions tomorrow! :)


Fritz said...

Mmh, I thought she was great but not brilliant. For me, it was all a little too simple. Where did you see a darker side in her character?

Still, great review that shows your enthusiasm perfectly!

Louis Morgan said...

Sound like she will be first.

dinasztie said...

Fritz: Thanks. Well, I meant that she was not even afraid to kill for her son.

joe burns said...

She will win! My guess for your ranking:

1. Wyman

2. Stanywyck

3. Bergman

4. Dehavilland

5. Dunne

Anonymous said...

De Havilland won the NY Film Critics Award for "The Snake Pit" and the following year for "The Heiress." She ranks much higher in my estimation than those of you who post here--certainly not in fourth place as on the above list.

Her Virginia Cunningham in "The Snake Pit" was an extremely difficult and complex role and she was absolutely heart-breaking in the part, really submerging her own personality to become Virginia. She and Jane were the chief runner-ups for the award in 1948, not Dunne, Bergman or Stanwyck.

A better grasp of film history is needed here. De Havilland had already won for "To Each His Own" two years previously, so the Academy gave it to Jane Wyman this time.

Giovanna G. said...

Yes she's great and very,very modern, without a single jesture that doesn't look natural and true. Also great director and cast...I watched it and burst into tears !!! This is great,great cinema, BECAUSE it looks so simple!!!