The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bright Victory

Some of my favorite war movies focus almost exclusively on the actual combat and fighting in war. Some of the best focus on the post-war lives of the soldiers. What about the soldiers who were wounded and/or traumatized by what they saw and experienced? The most obvious choices include The Best Years of Our Lives, The Men, Born on the 4th of July, but 1951's Bright Victory belongs in that grouping.

Working with a forward artillery unit laying telephone wire in 1943 North Africa, Larry Nevins (Arthur Kennedy) is struck in the side of the head by a German sniper's bullet. His optic nerves are destroyed, and doctors don't believe that surgery will ever restore his sight. Back in the states at a rehab facility, Nevins goes about the slow work of learning how to live as a blind individual. In a weird way, he has to re-learn how to be a regular person, relying on his other senses, using a walking stick. He has help along the way from other wounded vets (similarly blinded) and one girl, Judy (Peggy Dow), who he hits it off with immediately. All the while though Larry is worried about the reaction he'll get back home, especially from fiance, Chris (Julie Adams). 

Released in 1951 from director Mark Robson, 'Bright' is an impressive, well-made movie. Filmed in black and white, it's a meat and potatoes kind of movie. The focus is more on the personal level than any sort of large-scale action. This is Larry's story as he learns how to live as a blind person. We sees his reactions and how he copes; anger, frustration (even attempting suicide once), acceptance and finally a desire to work at it and move on with his life. It was filmed on location at Valley Forge Medical Center -- a nice touch for authenticity -- and detours once or twice to some cool Philadelphia locations. Why focus on the bigger picture when the smaller, more focused picture is more effective?

One of the best things going for 'Bright' comes from its honesty in exploring Larry's plight. He's born and raised in Florida, and living in the deep South, he's developed a racist streak right up his back. However, if you're blind.....Yeah, exactly. Voice inflections aside, how can you tell if someone is black or white? Working through his therapy, Larry strikes up a fast friendship with similarly wounded black soldier, Joe Morgan (James Edwards). Larry doesn't realize it though, one day making a statement about 'n***ers' being moved into the ward. And let the fireworks fly. The developing feeling in Larry is highly effective in its simplicity. It takes a life-altering incident to change his mind, but he starts to realize 'what difference does skin color make?' For a movie in 1951 years ahead of the Civil Rights movement, that's a profound message.

Casting Kennedy as Larry is a match made in heaven. Arthur Kennedy could be a despicable villain like nobody's business. More than that though, he's a great actor, and this is a part that allows him to show off his range. He's more than believable in the part, and when he's going through the life of a blinded veteran, it doesn't feel forced. His relationship with Dow's Judy is interesting without being too cute, and the dilemma he feels about what he said to Joe and also what awaits at home helps develop the character. The racist aspect gives an added dimension to the character too, all for the positive in a great part for Kennedy.

Also look for Will Geer and Nana Bryant as Larry's parents waiting back home in Florida, Joan Banks and a pre-Mr. Howell Jim Backus as Judy's sister and brother-in-law, and Richard Egan and Murray Hamilton as two blinded vets Larry meets in the rehab ward with John Hudson play Cpl. Flagg, a non-com working with the wounded vets. If you watch early, you can also see Rock Hudson in a bit part as one of Larry's repair crew working in North Africa.

An underrated WWII movie that deserves more of a following. Moments like Egan's soldier meeting his wife and son (who's he never seen/met) are perfection in their honesty. That's the feeling the whole movie gives off. It isn't aggressively shoving a story and message in its face. It's content to be what it is. An effective, well-told and well-acted story with some great performances. You can watch the entire movie HERE at Youtube.

Bright Victory <---Youtube clip (1951): *** 1/2 /****

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