Jane Richards (Dorothy Dandridge) is a new-to-the-profession teacher starting her very first job at a small elementary school. Her first class goes well, but she notices that one student, C. T. (Philip Hepburn), isn’t quite as engaged with the class as he could be.
Miss Richards learns that C. T. has a reputation as a “problem” child, not because he acts out but because he puts little effort into his school work. He’s consistently taken two years to get through each grade.
She sees the potential in C. T., a polite and sensitive boy with an interest in drawing. With the encouragement of Principal Williams (Harry Belafonte), Jane tries to help C. T. become a better student.
Gerald Mayer directs 1953’s Bright Road. This film marked the screen debut of Harry Belafonte.
Bright Road begins with an odd, trailer-esque introduction by Dorothy Dandridge, introducing herself as the actress behind the Miss Richards character and introducing the other stars of the film. We get a little preview of what’s to come before the opening titles (styled to look like they’re written in chalk) begin.
This is an interesting little film. Dandridge narrates many of her character’s thoughts as she teaches her first class, and throughout her efforts to help C. T. This narration allows the viewer to understand her perspective, her hopes for her students, her decisions.
The story is portrayed realistically and serves as a slice of life rather than an intense drama (though there are a few heartbreaking developments to the plot, and one or two over-the-top moments — THE BEES!).
A major asset to the film is the pair of Dandridge and Belafonte. The film isn’t a romance but man, do they have stellar chemistry! They would co-star once again in Carmen Jones. In one scene of Bright Road, Belafonte sings (the haunting ballad “Suzanne”) as Dandridge listens in, and then he invites her out for ice cream. She’s living the dream, basically.
Also on the positive is the character of C. T. He’s such a sweet and sensitive kid, and a thoughtful one, too. While the film doesn’t explore the issues of race deeply, in one Sunday school scene, C. T. wonders aloud why people treat each other badly if we’re all brothers and sisters. He also cares deeply about nature, and being kind to animals. He’s a likable young man, easy for the viewer to root for and sympathize with.
The story could be fleshed out more fully, but as it exists, Bright Road is a nice, sentimental movie with a lot of heart and a few enjoyable songs. The score: 3/5