I hadn't seen this film in 30 years, but watched it again last evening. I was mesmerized by several aspects of this classic (and ahead of its time) 1948 movie. Jane Wyman won the Oscar in this role where she makes not a single sound, not even in the throes of pregnancy. She is a deaf mute and never speaks, but imbues her character with a poignant tenderness and yearning which is extremely moving. There is no doubt that Wyman is an extremely underrated actress, because the pathos in this performance is moving indeed.
Lew Ayres gives possibly his best performance here. For other reviewers who say he's the weakest part of the movie, I don't agree; perhaps they need to see him in the classic 1930 offering, "All Quiet on the Western Front." In that film, Lew was gorgeous to look at it, but couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Here, he's vastly improved and deliberately underplays a character who is caring, decent, but essentially stoic and very still. I admit there isn't a lot of chemistry between Wyman and Ayres, but he projects a dignity and decency which shines through.
Agnes Moorehead and Charles Bickford deliver outstanding supporting performances. Their interplay and dialogue is interesting and they contribute to the flowing plot.
Aside from Wyman's stellar performance, the most interesting aspect of the film is that it is not dated in the least. The subjects of rape, an illegitimate baby and pre-marital sex were hardly common themes in movies of that era, and this film handles it with aplomb and class. The weakness of the film is that Belinda is assailed from all sides constantly; her lot in life is hard enough to begin with, but she is thrown one vicious curve after another. But not to worry, all comes out all right in the end.
This movie is worth watching solely for Wyman's outstanding performance. Watch her eyes and how she conveys such beautiful emotion in them. I have renewed respect for Jane Wyman after watching this moving drama.