Poster from the Golden Globe winning film Johnny Belinda

hfpa archives

A taboo theme – rape – became a landmark in the convoluted trajectory of Romanian-born director Jean Negulesco through Hollywood. Born in a poor family in Romania, Negulesco left home at age 12, became a dishwasher in Paris, worked as an orderly in a field hospital; during World War 1, learned drawing and painting, emigrated to the US and landed a job as a sketch artist and, soon, art director on the Paramount lot. His first big job in Hollywood was, precisely, designing a rape scene for a Paramount movie in a way that would not trigger the enforcers of the Hays code.

Hired by Warner Bros, Negulesco was a successful contract director when he took over the adaption of Elmer Harris’ play (based on true facts) about Belinda, a young deaf and mute woman in a small, isolated community, who is raped and has a child, with complex consequences. Up and coming contract player Jane Wyman took the main role, with Lew Ayres – famous for creating the character of Dr. Kildare in a series of MGM pictures in the early 1940s- playing once again the good doctor who befriends the young woman.

The film opened in September to good reviews, but failed at the box office, leading to Negulesco’s immediate firing from Warner’s. Sweet revenge awaited him, though: Johnny Belinda won two Golden Globes – best motion picture, tied with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - and best actress for Jane Wyman – and Negulesco went on to a successful stint at 20th Century Fox.