Sunday, February 17, 2019

ARTHUR KENNEDY'S CONQUEST OF THE SCREEN BLOGATHON: Bright Victory (1951)


Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon tribute to Arthur Kennedy on the occasion of the 105th anniversary of his birth. Click HERE for the tributes to the fine actor.


Arthur Kennedy
1914-1990

John Arthur Kennedy made his Broadway debut in the short-lived Marc Connelly play Everywhere I Roam in 1938. Through the years, his Broadway roles would include such Arthur Miller classics as Chris in All My Sons, Biff in Death of a Salesman, for which he was awarded the Tony in 1949, and John Proctor in The Crucible. He also starred as Thomas Becket in Jean Anouilh's Becket opposite Laurence Olivier as Henry II in 1961. 

Arthur Kennedy made an impressive film debut in 1940 with James Cagney in City for Conquest. His film career would not include any trophies from the Academy, but he would be nominated for five Oscars. Four of the nominations were in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category for Champion, Trial (Golden Globe winner), Peyton Place, and Some Came Running. His sole Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination was for the 1951 film Bright Victory.

Arthur Kennedy stars as Sergeant Larry Nivens in Bright Victory. We meet Larry in North Africa in 1943 with two fellow soldiers played by Rock Hudson and Kenneth Harvey. Larry is a garrulous character and through his conversation, we learn of Larry's sentimental attachment to the girl back home and his cynical attitude toward her rich father. Larry also has rather foolhardy bravery as when the trio ignores MPs orders to avoid a restricted area due to mines. It is not mines they encounter but German snipers who kill one and permanently damage Larry's optic nerves.

Donald Miele, Peggy Dow, Richard Egan, James Edwards
Arthur Kennedy, Murray Hamilton

The flight home reveals Larry's nervous energy as he tries to avoid thinking of his injuries. He meets another soldier from his home state of Florida played by James Edwards but cuts off the conversation when he realizes the man is African American. Both of these men are on their way to Valley Forge Hospital which opened in 1942 to deal with the war wounded.

Larry is in a ward dedicated to blind soldiers. Like the rest of the men, Larry will go through stages of grief at the loss of his sight. However, the combination of expert staff, training and the support of the other men in the ward, the soldiers learn to adapt to their new normal. Larry goes from a bungled suicide attempt to pride in his achievements and making new friends. Among his fellow patients and staff, you will spot actors Richard Egan, Murray Hamilton, and Robert F. Simon.

Arthur Kennedy, Peggy Dow

Peggy Dow plays Judy Greene, a U.S.O. volunteer in nearby Phoenixville. Judy is well-thought of by everyone, and after a rocky introduction, she and Larry become close. Judy works as a bank teller and introduces Larry to her sister and brother-in-law. Larry is amazed to find himself enjoying life and considering career choices. Judy has fallen hard for Larry but he still has feelings for the girl back home and the security he finds in the memories of life before his blindness.

Judy: "No, no, no. It isn't pity. I know that down deep inside. I didn't want to tell you. I never meant to. I tried to stop it believe me. But whenever I saw you, whenever you touched me, there it was."

James Edwards (fourth billed after the leading ladies) plays Joe Morgan, the soldier who was rebuffed by Larry on the plane. They literally run into each other at Valley Forge and not recalling the earlier meeting, they become inseparable as friends. Larry's old prejudice raises its head when there is talk about new patients arriving and Larry comments that he didn't realize the hospital accepted "that kind". Not only has he hurt Joe, but from that time on Larry is shunned by the other members of the ward until the time for all to part for their homes prior to further treatment at another facility.

Will Geer, Nana Bryant, Arthur Kennedy

Will Geer and Nana Bryant play Larry's parents. They are anxious about the reunion and Mrs. Nevins prattles on about local gossip and about their former maid Ella May, Larry recognizes the attitude he displayed toward Joe. It is easier to spot your own shortcomings when you observe them in others. Larry's emotional growth is in progress.

Larry: "Dad, I'm sorry I hurt mother's feelings but I couldn't help it. My best friend at Valley Forge was a negro, Joe Morgan. I didn't even know he was black until one night I said something to him that tore us wide apart. When mother talked about Ella May it reminded me how she never let me play with negros when I was a kid and how she taught me to think about them. That's why I blew up at her."

Mr. Nevins: "She taught you those things because she was taught them, son. I was too. The whole world is changing and you more than we because you helped to change it."


Julie Adams, Arthur Kennedy

Julie Adams plays Chris Paterson, Larry's fiancee. Her father played by Minor Watson wants the wedding called off, but Chris won't hear of it. Larry and Chris spend weeks reuniting and planning for the future. What they find is that they have both changed and that the past alone won't give them the future they need. Larry discovers he wants more in his life than a charity job at a barrel factory.

The journey to the Avon facility in Connecticut includes a stop at Philadelphia where Larry lays plans for a future career in law thanks to new friends, Judy's brother-in-law played by Jim Backus and a blind lawyer played by Larry Keating. Larry also accepts the opportunities to reconnect with Judy, and with Joe. Both are willing to forget the past and start anew with Larry.

Larry: "I told you I wanted security, remember? Well, I was looking for it in all the wrong places. Nobody can ever give it to you, Judy. That way it costs too much. You gotta make it for yourself or it's no good."

Judy: "I know that. I knew it then."

The future, however it may turn out, is in Larry's own hands with only one guarantee - it won't be easy, but it will be worth it.


Lights Out, a novel by mystery writer Baynard Kendrick (1894-1977) published in 1945 was the basis for the film Bright Victory released in 1951. Philadelphian Kendricks enlisted in World War One by traveling to Canada. A friend's blinding in the war and a visit to the St. Dunstan Hospital in England piqued his curiosity about the training required for blind patients and the patient's coping abilities.

So intense was Kendrick's interest in the subject that he created the popular blind fictional detective, Duncan Maclain. MGM would produce two films based on the character starring Edward Arnold. Later, he would create the blind insurance investigator Longstreet (1971-1972) for television. Kendrick was an instructor to blind soldiers during World War 2, which inspired this novel. He also belonged to organizations that supported the blind, as well as being one of the founding members of the Mystery Writers Association of America.

Arthur Kennedy gives us all of Larry Nevins, his bravery, his fear, his prejudice, and his emotional growth. Most admirable is Larry's persistence in overcoming himself and his circumstances. It is something he has in common with his fellow patients at Valley Forge.

The producer and screenwriter of this movie for Universal-International was Robert Buckner, a Warner Brothers veteran. Mr. Buckner's work on Bright Victory won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America award.

Bright Victory was directed by Mark Robson who got his start in the Val Lewton unit at RKO. Adding to the realism of the story, Robson chose to film Bright Victory on location at Valley Forge Hospital, Phoenixville, and the Broad Street Station in Philadelphia.

The sequences at Valley Forge are fascinating to watch as the patients are trained in practical skills such as Braille and maneuvering streets, and learn how to adjust through the subtle attitudes of the staff and the camaraderie of companions.

Mark Robson previously worked with James Edwards in Home of the Brave, and with Arthur Kennedy in Champion. Robson and Kennedy's future collaborations would include Trial and Peyton Place, all of these titles garnering the actor Oscar nominations.

Lest we begin thinking that the sterling performance of Arthur Kennedy as Larry Nevins was yet another case of "always the bridesmaid and never the bride" the New York Film Critics Circle Award came his way.


Leading ladies:


Peggy Helmerich of Tulsa, formerly Hollywood actress Peggy Dow.


1926 - 2019

Julie Adams visited the Classic Film and TV Cafe.



















12 comments:

  1. I bet Arthur Kennedy is terrific here, not only as a man battling blindness, but battling his own prejudices as well. He is an actor tailor-made for this kind of role.

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    1. The well-written script gave Kennedy a lot to play with, and he was a man whose talent could enhance even a poor script.

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  2. "Most admirable is Larry's persistence in overcoming himself and his circumstances." Agree! I also love the scene at the hospital where he learns how to live a normal life despite his blindness. Excellent article Patricia! I love this film so much and you've captured what makes it great. Thanks a lot for your contribution to our blogathon!

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    1. Thank you, Virginie. Arthur Kennedy is one of those actors my movie buff dad introduced me to and I have been a fan for many years. It was a pleasure to revisit and write about this special movie.

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  3. His performance in BRIGHT VICTORY is generally regarded as Arthur Kennedy's best and you'll get no argument from me. I also found the scenes at Valley Forge to be fascinating. Really, you couldn't have picked a better film for this blogathon.

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    1. Thank you. I hadn't seen Bright Victory for years until the past year, and I was impressed anew with Arthur Kennedy, and the entire film.

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  4. This movie sounds like an absolutely must-watch. Unfortunately I haven't seen it but will track it down.
    Arthur Kennedy was one of the most underrated actors ever, maybe because he was seldom flashy.
    Margot (having trouble signing in)

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    1. It sounds to me as if technology is out to get you!

      Yes, it is well worth tracking down. TCM has shown it two times in as many years. I don't know why it hasn't become one of their "regulars."

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    2. Try using a different search engine. I get through using Explorer.

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    3. Aha! I knew you would find a way.

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  5. Paddy Lee, a very good write-up of a fine movie starring, hands down, one of the best character actors to ever grace the screen, Arthur Kennedy. I'm a long time fan of Kennedy, who I think never gave a bad performance. BRIGHT VICTORY is his best performance, in my opinion.

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    1. Indeed. In a lifetime of pitch perfect performances, Bright Victory with its multi-layered character and fascinating story presented a wonderful challenge for an actor of Arthur Kennedy's calibre.

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