Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1951. Universal International Pictures. Screenplay by Robert Buckner, based on the novel by Baynard Kendrick. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Robert Buckner. Music by Frank Skinner. Production Design by Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran, Bertram Tuttle. Costume Design by Rosemary Odell. Film Editing by Russell F. Schoengarth.
Arthur Kennedy is best known to classic film fans as a character actor in films like Peyton Place and Lawrence of Arabia, but among his accomplishments (which included a Tony Award for the original production of Death of a Salesman) was this rare leading role that lead to the only one of his five Oscar nominations in the leading category. He plays a World War II sergeant who is on patrol in France with two subordinates (one of them played in a brief performance by a young Rock Hudson) when they are ambushed by a decoy and Kennedy is shot in the head. He wakes up in the army hospital and is informed that he has permanently lost his sight, which he reacts to with violent, self-destructive anger.
Given some time and the thoughtful training of his doctors and therapists, Kennedy eventually learns to cope with this sudden change in his life, figuring out how to get around and be relatively self-sufficient, even finding love with one of the town’s nicest “nice girls” (played by a lovely Peggy Dow). He is also forced to learn about things to which he was blind before he was shot, namely when he befriends an African American soldier in his ward named Joe (James Edwards) and, being a good ole’ boy from the south, ruins a wonderful relationship by holding on to his intolerance.
A trip home to see his parents and reunite with the girl he left behind when he shipped off to battle is the real test for our hero, in which the people closest to him are forced to reckon with their willingness to accept him as he is, and he must decide if he still wants the path that he had always planned for himself.
Some aspects of this film play as corny now, Kennedy isn’t particularly convincing as sightless and the emphasis placed on showing just how thorough the American army is at taking care of its veterans often has touches of propaganda, but director Mark Robson, who had yet to achieve the glory of The Bridges At Toko-Ri or The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness, does a magnificent job of keeping the story focused on the development of a very individual character who never becomes a manipulative symbol.
The message about treating the disabled as capable individuals who deserve equity, and the bold treatment of societal racism, don’t feel dated at all, and the romance at the heart of the story between Kennedy and Dow is touching and heartfelt.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Arthur Kennedy); Best Sound Recording
Golden Globe Award: Best Screenplay
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Arthur Kennedy)
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition