Directed by Gerald Mayer
Written by Emmet Lavery
Mary Elizabeth Vroman
Starring Dorothy Dandridge
Barbara Ann Sanders
Music by David Rose
Cinematography Alfred Gilks
Edited by Joseph Dervin
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
April 17, 1953
Country United States
Box office $252,000
Bright Road is a 1953 low-budget film adapted from the Christopher Award-winning short story “See How They Run” by Mary Elizabeth Vroman. Directed by Gerald Mayer and featuring a nearly all-black cast, the film stars Dorothy Dandridge as an idealistic first-year elementary school teacher trying to reach out to a problem student. The movie is also notable as the first feature film appearance by Harry Belafonte, who co-stars as the principal of the school.
Jane Richards (Dorothy Dandridge) is a new teacher, beginning her career at a rural African-American elementary school in Alabama. One of the students in her fourth-grade class is C.T. Young (Philip Hepburn), who, although bright and generally not a troublemaker, is nonetheless markedly uninterested in school and has become accustomed to taking two years to advance through each grade level. Miss Richards becomes determined to get through to C.T. and have her class be the first that does not take him two years to complete, though the school’s other teachers have given up on him as “a backward child”. The school’s principal (Harry Belafonte) also harbors his doubts about C.T., but he admires Miss Richards’ enthusiasm and endorses her efforts.
Miss Richards’ efforts with C.T. begin to pay dividends and his grades improve somewhat, but all of her progress with him seems to be undone when Tanya (Barbara Ann Sanders), another student in the class and C.T.’s closest friend, dies after being stricken with a viral pneumonia. Devastated at the loss, C.T. runs away from school for a time, and even upon his return, immediately starts a schoolyard fight. Insistence that he apologize for his actions causes him only to completely withdraw and isolate himself from his teacher and classmates. Frustrated and saddened, Miss Richards’ must return to giving C.T. the failing marks that had been his previous pattern.
One day, however, she overhears C.T. helping another student with arithmetic, revealing to her that despite his stubborn refusal to participate in class since returning to school, he has actually been continuing to learn. Seeing this demonstration of knowledge, she is heartened and quietly changes his most recent failing grade to an ‘A’. C.T.’s reintegration into the class is completed when he calmly handles a situation in which a swarm of bees invades the classroom, following the queen bee which had flown in. As the other students, and even Miss Richards, panic and swat at the bees, C.T. calmly collects the queen and carries it outside with the swarm following him.
The school year ends with the Miss Richards’ class observing a caterpillar emerge from its cocoon transformed into a butterfly. Miss Richards notes that it is reborn, “just as you and I will be born again someday, and everyone we’ve ever known or loved”, and that witnessing the butterfly’s first flight represents “a wonderful promise of things to come.” As he leaves to begin his summer vacation, C.T. offers Miss Richards a final validation of the time she had invested in him by stopping to tell her that he loves her.
Dorothy Dandridge – Jane Richards
Philip Hepburn – C.T. Young
Harry Belafonte – School Principal
Barbara Randolph – Tanya (as Barbara Ann Sanders)
Maidie Norman – Tanya’s Mother
Rene Beard – Booker T. Jones
Howard McNeeley – Boyd
Robert McNeeley – Lloyd
Patti Marie Ellis – Rachel Smith
Joy Jackson – Sarahlene Babcock
Fred Moultrie – Roger
James Moultrie – George
Carolyn Ann Jackson – Mary Louise
Vivian Dandridge – Miss Nelson