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Bright Victory (1951) follows the emotionally wrenching tale of a blinded World War II veteran who struggles with accepting his physical affliction and his changed relationships with those around him. The film, based on the novel by Baynard Kendrick, refuses to sink into sentimentality and instead offers a sometimes unflinching look at a physical handicap, rare for the era it was made.
Arthur Kennedy earned a Best Actor Oscar® nomination for his portrayal of Sergeant Larry Nevins, who is blinded by a German sniper's bullet in North Africa. (The movie's other Oscar® nod was for Sound Direction). During Nevins' rehabilitation, he learns to adapt to a world he cannot see with the help of beautiful but strong-willed nurse Judy (Peggy Dow), who refuses to let the veteran wallow in self-pity. Something that was once a simple task, like shaving every morning, now becomes a skill he has to re-learn step by step. During this learning process, Nevins must also re-think his views of race. His racism is put to the test by a fellow veteran at the hospital, played by the underrated black actor James Edwards (Home of the Brave (1949), The Manchurian Candidate, 1962).
When Nevins leaves the shelter of the hospital, he learns that although he is starting to accept his disability, others in his life -- including his hometown girlfriend played by Julie Adams -- have difficulty doing so. Bitterness returns but Nevins ultimately decides to go back to the hospital and Judy and face the long struggle to acceptance with his blindness.
Though often restricted to Western roles, Kennedy got a chance to utilize his genuine acting skill with some heavy-hitting movies, such as Bright Victory, Champion (1949), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He never won an Oscar® but was nominated five times, losing to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen the year he was nominated for Bright Victory. Kennedy got his start playing Shakespeare in various American theaters, and would later be among original casts for Arthur Miller stage productions, including Death of a Salesman.
To get into character as the blinded veteran in Bright Victory, Kennedy wore black contact lenses to obscure his sight and experience the loss of one of his senses. Critics hailed the resulting performance, and -- even though the Academy Award eluded him -- he won other acting trophies, including that year's New York Film Critics Circle Award.
Dow, who played the nurse who falls in love with the blinded Nevins, was once a medical student in real life. Getting her start on the big screen in 1949, she quickly landed high-profile roles in movies such as Harvey (1950) and You Never Can Tell, (1951) but left her burgeoning career after marriage. Rock Hudson also makes a small appearance in Bright Victory, receiving 18th billing for playing a corporal.
To make Bright Victory as realistic as possible, director Mark Robson (The Bridges at Toko-Ri, 1955, Peyton Place, 1957) filmed many scenes on location at the U.S. Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania and hired some of the blind veterans there as extras and film advisers. The director's even hand and Kennedy's Oscar®-nominated performance resulted in a film that tackles the subjects of disability and racism with dignity and one that still resonates with viewers more than 50 years later.
Producer: Robert Buckner
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Robert Buckner, Baynard Kendrick (novel)
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Film Editing: Russell Schoengarth
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Arthur Kennedy (Larry Nevins), Peggy Dow (Judy Greene), Julie Adams (Chris Paterson), James Edwards (Joe Morgan), Will Greer (Mr. Nevins), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Nevins), Rock Hudson (Corporal John Flagg).
BW-98m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox