Blogathons

Seeing with the Heart: Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory

Love will see you through

Larry Nevins (played by Arthur Kennedy) is shot in the head by a German sniper in West Africa whilst in a landmine riddled zone. At first, none of the medical practitioners at the first military hospital he is taken to are sure about the condition of his eyes, and Larry grows increasingly desperate as time goes on. Finally, he is transferred to a hospital for blind soldiers, where he is told that his sight cannot be recovered. Larry is distraught over this news, feeling as if his entire life has come to a halt.

But the doctors and wardens who work at the hospital explain to Larry, and the other men who have been blinded in the war, that their lives are in fact not over, and that their bodies are adapting to their sightlessness. As time goes on, Larry is taught all the essential skills necessary to live his life without sight, such as eating, walking with a cane and becoming more aware of his surroundings through the use of touch. He is then asked to complete a series of exercise that will test whether or not he has a rare kind of spatial awareness, which includes being asked to walk towards a wall and stop as close to it as possible without hurting himself. It is proven that Larry possesses this rare spatial awareness, which he describes as being able to sense near objects, such as a wall, through a sensation on his face. The doctors hypothesise that this ability is due to sound waves bouncing off the nearby object and Larry being able to sense these sound waves. Larry is buoyed by this success, and becomes more and more efficient in his everyday routines.

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But Larry does not want to tell his parents, who live in a small town in the Southern part of America, that he is blind. He is eventually forced to do so by one of the senior wardens, who phones his parents, necessitating that Larry tell them the truth. When Larry is angry at being made to do this, it is revealed that the warden is also blind, and does in fact know how Larry feels. Back home, Larry has a fiancée, who is considered the best “catch” in town, due to her beauty, refinement and wealth. But Larry begins to develop an attachment to Judy (played by Peggy Dow), a local woman who is often kind and helpful to blind servicemen.

During this time, Larry also becomes best friends with Joe Morgan (played by James Edwards). But Larry is not aware that Joe is an African American, and when one of the other blind servicemen says that there will be three new men joining their ward, Larry says that he heard they were “niggers” and that he was unaware that black men were allowed in the ward with white men. Joe is extremely hurt by the realisation of Larry’s deeply bred racial and social prejudices, and wants nothing more to do with him. The other servicemen are cold towards Larry afterwards, and one of the wardens tells Larry that he needs to realise that he cannot hold onto his prejudices, because the world is so different for him now, everyone sounds the same, and therefore are the same.

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Larry and Joe

Larry tells Judy that he is scheduled to go home, and then onto another facility in Avon, Connecticut, where he will be taught even more advanced skills in order to pursue more demanding tasks. She takes him to her brother in law, Bill, and sister, Janet’s, house, where Larry has an extremely good time, and is temporarily able to forget his falling out with Joe and his imminent return home. Judy’s brother in law also tells him about a blind lawyer who has an extremely successful career, and has won almost all of his cases. Larry is doubtful that he could ever be so successful as a blind man, but is given some hope.

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That night Judy confesses her love for him, but he says that he cannot be with her because of his need for security and the familiar, and his commitment to his fiancée, Chris (played by Julie Adams).

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Larry returns home, where his parents try to act as if everything is normal, but Larry snaps at his mother when she remarks that the war has changed “our negroes”. He and his father go for a drink, and have a serious conversation about the seemingly innate prejudices in the South and how it will be a long struggle for them to adjust to and accept Larry’s blindness.

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Larry then attends a home coming party being held for him at Chris’ parents house, but things do not go well when people forget to tell Larry if they have changed things around, causing him to put out his cigarette in a plate of food, and due to his future father in law’s thinly veiled hostility and disparaging attitude due to Larry’s blindness. It soon becomes clear that Chris’ father means to give him a menial, unfulfilling job for Chris’ sake, but nothing else. Larry tells Chris that he wants to move away and make something of himself that is not on his father in law’s charity. He also tells Chris that it will always be difficult, that she will have to help him with tasks everyday of his life due to his disability. Later that night, after Larry has waited hours for her, Chris admits that she does not want to move away from everything she knows, nor does she feel capable of committing her life to the care of a blind husband. Larry is deeply disappointed, but accepts her decision.

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He leaves for the train which will take him to the Army Blind School in Avon, Connecticut. But before this, Bill takes Larry to see the blind lawyer. During their meeting, the lawyer tells Larry how invaluable the support of his wife has been, and how she goes to all of his court cases and tirelessly tends to his daily needs. Larry feels even more hopeful after having met with the lawyer, but is still unsure about his future due to his separation from his home and the past. When he gets to the train station, he finds that Judy is there waiting for him. They happily reunite and kiss each other. Larry promises that he will make something of himself so that he and Judy can marry, with Judy promising in turn that she will visit him as often as she can at the School in Avon.

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When Larry boards the train, he realises that Joe is there, too. He asks Joe how his furlough was, before asking for his forgiveness and saying that he wants them to be friends again. Joe agrees, and they go and sit in the train together.

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An Incredible, Inspiring Film

When I first found out about the Arthur Kennedy Blogathon, I had no idea who he was. When I did some research on him because I wanted to be part of the blogathon, as I have always enjoyed discovering new actors of classic cinema, I realised that I had in fact seen him in multiple films and not realised it, but that he was in fact wonderful in everything I saw him in. I then came across Bright Victory, one of the few films in which Arthur starred and played the lead role. I was extremely intrigued by the storyline, which I felt was very original, topical and progressive for the time in which it was made.

I am happy to say that I was not at all disappointed. This is one of the best films I have ever watched. Everyone’s performances are wonderful and natural. Peggy Dow is so beautiful and earnest in her portrayal of the lovely, selfless Judy, who loves Larry so much that she wants to dedicate her life to supporting him. The actors who play the other blinded servicemen are incredible, and I could not tell who were the actual blind servicemen who acted as advisors on the film, and who were seeing actors portraying blind characters. Julie Adams is as lovely as ever as Chris, and it was good to see her in such a different role from her star making turn in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is not one false note in this movie, and that is because all the performances are of the highest calibre.

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Now to talk about the star of this blogathon: Arthur Kennedy. He was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for this film, one of several nominations, which he unfortunately never won for. I cannot praise his performance in this film enough. The way in which he shows the shifting viewpoint of his character and how he has to come to grips with not only his physical blindness, but the blindness he has experienced his whole life due to his prejudices, is absolutely incredible. There is not one moment where he is not believable as a man grappling with the challenges of losing his sight, and having his long held beliefs punctured. His scenes with Peggy Dow are particularly enjoyable, especially when he touches her face with his finger tips and seems to lean into the sound of her voice. At the end of the film, when he is reunited with her, I cried with joy and wonder at how they interacted with each other in such a believable way, as if their minds and hearts were connecting.

It is also the little things that makes his performance so flawless. Like when he is upset about being forced to tell his parents the truth about his condition, and ploughs into the desk. Or when he has to do the spatial awareness test and approaches the wall with such believable trepidation and concentration. Or when he is heartbroken at Chris’ decision, and accidentally hits the front hall table with his hip. He also missteps at the train station when his parent’s pick him up, and there is nothing forced about his gait in that moment. Another thing that particularly impressed me is how not only Arthur, but all the actors, “looked at” the other characters as if they were “seeing” through them. Often in films you see actors looking over the heads of others, which is unbelievable because no blind person knows where the top of someone’s head is, and they don’t stand in that kind of uncomfortable posture.

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This is a film, and a performance, that you cannot miss. The film is available on DVD, which I managed to get a hold of. Do yourself a favour, invest in one of the best films you will ever watch not only about coming to cope with disability, but also coming to grips with the fact that people’s minds are often crippled by prejudice and unfounded hate without having any physical disability that causes them to not see the world as clearly as they could.

 

 

This is my contribution for the Arthur Kennedy’s Conquest of the Screen Blogathon being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit her blog for more information and to read everyone’s posts.

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8 thoughts on “Seeing with the Heart: Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory”

  1. I loved reading your excellent and heartfelt article on Bright Victory. This was a movie of which my late father was particularly fond. He was a great fan of Kennedy’s and would often mention this role. It is truly a most inspiring and fascinating film with excellent performances all around.

    Tomorrow on Arthur Kennedy’s birthdate I will be posting my take on the movie and I hope you will have the opportunity to read it. One of the best things I have found in the blogging world is sharing our thoughts on the films that have touched us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patricia. I’m so glad that you enjoyed what I had to say about the film 😊 It’s lovely that you and your dad got to share such a wonderful film. I’ll be sure to read it, as I absolutely agree that that is indeed such an important part of the conversation on film.

      Like

  2. As I am an American. middle-aged, educated black man, our views on the depiction of race relations in the U.S. are likely not going to perfectly align. That’s a discussion for another time, because all it would do here is detract from talking about what a great film this is.

    Liked by 1 person

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