The Christophers, the Christian inspirational group founded in 1945 by Father James Keeler established their awards to honour writers who "affirm the highest values of the human spirit" in 1949. The ongoing awards recent winners include the pilot for the popular series This Is Us.
Educator and writer Mary Elizabeth Broman (1924-1967) was awarded in 1951 for her short story See How They Run. which was published in the Ladies Home Journal. Its subsequent adaption for the movies by MGM made Ms. Broman the first African-American female admitted to the Screen Writers Guild.
Dorothy Dandridge stars as Jane Richards, a rookie teacher at a rural school. Jane is filled with her newfound knowledge, and a mix of assuredness and worry as she approaches her first class. Harry Belafonte plays Mr. Williams, the school principal who is supportive while tempering Jane's enthusiasm with reality.
Special among Jane's students is troubled student C.T. Young played by Philip Hepburn. C.T. has spent two years each in his previous classes and Jane hopes to discover what makes C.T. click and make this his first class to successfully complete in one year.
C.T. may not be a happy student, but he is a very good boy; helpful at home, an entrepreneur who raises bees to sell honey, a talented artist. Nothing Jane tries seems to reach C.T. as the only person he relates to is lovely Tanya Hamilton played by Barbara Ann Sanders (Randolph). The kids are sweet on each other and their devotion is a charming thing to observe.
Through the course of the school year, including Sunday School, we get to know the class with all their cliques and quirks. The funny kids, the silly kids, the well-to-do and the have-nots. All are impacted by the joyfulness of holidays and treats, and an unexpected tragedy. The ensemble of child actors playing Miss Richard's students is outstanding and truly touching.
Bright Road has a brief 68-minute running time and the movie features musical interludes from our talented leading players. Dorothy Dandridge leads her class in a version of Church in the Wildwood, and Harry Belafonte's principal relaxes after hours with his adaption of the folk song Suzanne. The score by David Rose is light-hearted and vivacious, and once the movie is seen, is an integral part of the memory.
The director, Canadian born Gerald Mayer (a Louis B. relative) directed few movies (Dial 1119 and The Sellout are often on TCM), but a lot of episodic television from Mission Impossible to Mannix to Room 222, etc. The cinematographer is Oscar winner for An American in Paris, Alfred Gilks.
Chief among the supporting cast are Maidie Norman as Tanya's mother and Robert Horton as a doctor. Their roles are small, yet important and both take their opportunity to shine.
Bright Road is a "little" movie that makes its way into the viewer's heart and becomes one of those cherished film experiences. You can't help but come to love the children of the class, and admire the caring Miss Richards.
TCM is ringing the bell for classes at 9:45 am on Friday, April 13th for their screening of Bright Road. Don't be late.