Plot Summary

  • A Socialist Realist distortion of Dr. Paul Kammerer's experiments in the inheritance of acquired character(istic)s -- the (not entirely anti-Darwinian) conjecture that certain changes the environment produces in an individual may spontaneously appear in the next generation. As recounted in Arthur Koestler's The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971), Kammerer (1880-1926) claimed that darkened footpads he had artificially induced in a toad had been passed on to its offspring. When it was discovered that his critical specimen had been injected with ink (though why and by whom is still unknown), his credibility was destroyed and he apparently suicided. Richard Goldschmidt's synopsis of the film in "Research and Politics," Nature (1949), mocks it as Soviet propaganda in support of the inheritance of acquired characters: The importance attached to the subject is revealed by the facts that none other than the then all-powerful [People's] Commissar for [Public] Education, the highly cultured and intelligent Lunacharsky, is the author of the film, that his wife plays the leading lady and that Lunacharsky, playing himself, appears in one scene.... In a Central European University a young biologist (model Kammerer) is working. He is a great friend of the people and endowed with all the qualities of a Communist movie hero. Working with salamanders, he has succeeded in changing their colour by action of the environment. One day the supreme glory is achieved; the effect is inherited. The bad man of the play, a priest, learns of this, comes to the conclusion that the discovery will spell an end to the power of the Church and the privileged classes, and decides to act. He meets at night in a church... with a young prince of the blood whom he had succeeded in having appointed as assistant to Kammerer. (This is obviously a typical job for a German prince!) Here in the dark sacristy the plot is hatched. The prince (or the priest?) proposes to Kammerer that he announce his glorious discovery at a formal University meeting, and the scientist gladly accepts. During the following night the priest and the prince enter Kammerer's laboratory... open the jar in which the proof specimen of salamander is kept in alcohol, and inject the specimen with ink.... [A]t the University meeting... the young scientist... makes a brilliant speech announcing the final proof for the inheritance of acquired characters.... [Suddenly someone] takes out the salamander, and dips it into a jar of water. All the colour runs out of the specimen. An immense uproar starts and Kammerer is ingloriously kicked out of the University as an impostor. Some time later, we see the poor young scholar walking the streets and begging with an experimental monkey which had followed him into misery. He is completely forgotten until one of his former students... succeeds in finding him, finally, completely down and out, in a miserable attic. She takes the train at once to Moscow and obtains an interview with Lunacharsky..., who gives orders to save the victim of 'bourgeois' persecution. Meanwhile, the character of Kammerer has sunk so low that he decides to make an end of it. The very moment he tries to commit suicide, the Russian student returns with Lunacharsky's message and prevents him from taking his life. The last scene shows a train in which Kammerer and the Russian saviour are riding east and a large streamer reads 'To the land of liberty.'

    - Written by Anonymous


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