I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a movie about pretty much every topic.
Interested in the creation of the first news wire service, Reuters? Check out “A Dispatch from Reuters” (1940) starring Edward G. Robinson in a wonderful performance and a terrific Max Steiner score. I hope that title is part of the rumored Edward G. Robinson DVD box set from Warner Home Video.
Interested in the man who found a cure for syphilis? Check out “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet” (1940) starring Edward G. Robinson in a wonderful performance and a terrific Max Steiner score. I hope that title is part of the rumored Edward G. Robinson DVD box set from Warner Home Video.
But I’m repeating myself.
Those interested in the early days of dentistry and the story of the man who created a working anesthesia for dental surgery will likely enjoy “The Great Moment” (1944). For the rest of us it’s pretty rough going, despite a strong cast and the writing/directing of the usually reliable Preston Sturges. It’s a rare misfire for Sturges, though it may not have been entirely his fault.
Sturges’ favorite leading man Joel McCrea stars as WTG Morton, a dentist experimenting with different types of ethers in hopes of finding one that will knock the person out so surgery can commence without pain. Pretty serious stuff here, though Sturges manages to include some comedy sequences here, mainly Morton’s first unsuccessful attempts at applying the ether or accidentally inhaling too much ether, which causes his wife (Betty Field) to think he’s been drinking too much.
Sturges claimed the film was taken out of his hands and re-cut, which makes sense because some scenes fade away into nothingness and there’s an odd flashback structure which is never resolved. Sturges was coming off an amazing, unbroken stream of hits which made him the darling of audiences and critics everywhere, but he’s on shaky ground here. Maybe he was reined in by the historical aspects of the story?
Highlights include William Demarest, who is on hand as Morton’s first successful ether-induced patient, and what would a Preston Sturges film be without his presence? Grady Sutton (the immortal Ogg Oggilby from “The Bank Dick”) has a hilarious scene when he goes into fits of uncontrollable laughter during a medical experiment.
All in all though, “The Great Moment” is an odd film, not particularly dramatic when it needs to be and not wholly funny in its comedy scenes.
One oddball aspect of “The Great Moment” is that it contains what I think is the only film representation of our 14th president, Franklin Pierce. Even odder is that he’s portrayed by Porter Hall. I’ve always pictured Pierce as tall and lanky but Hall is short and stubby. Hall was a well-known character actor but was best known for causing boos and hisses across the countryside in 1936 when he played Jack McCall, who shot Wild Bill Hickock (Gary Cooper) in the back in the enormously successful western “The Plainsman” (1936).
How many actors can claim to play one of the greatest cowards in western history and one of our worst presidents?
Rating for “The Great Moment”: Two stars.