Johnny Belinda (Negulesco, 1948)

Johnny Belinda (Jean Negulesco, 1948)

An older man steps outside his house while the winds of an oncoming storm whistle around his ears. At a steady walking pace, he follows a younger man who he has just demanded leave. The younger man, continually looking over his shoulder, continues to walk, speeding up as he goes. The only sound is the wind; the sights include the unhinged fence, nearby water, and beaten walking path, all clouded with dust. The older man has just learned that the younger man is responsible for the rape of his daughter over a year prior. When the two come face to face, he tells the younger man that he is following him into town so he can publicly shame him. This is when it was confirmed for me that what I was seeing was a complex piece with characters acting as unpredictable individuals and not formulaic standards. (At the moment of revelation in the house, I fully expected a vengeful attack.)

At every turn there were actions, responses, and decisions that I didn’t expect, some which delighted me, some which caused me to shake my head. But Negulesco never praises or judges his characters; he just gives us the framework to do with it what we will. For this reason, I found the final scene extremely disappointing and out of place. It bring an otherwise nearly perfect film down a notch. But for the most part, the rich complexities of the characters, the beautiful cinematography, and the sympathetic protagonist (played wonderfully by Jane Wyman) are amazing to watch.  8.75/10


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