In 1860 Paris, chemist Louis Pasteur is considered a quack within the medical community for advocating that doctors and surgeons wash their hands and boil their instruments to destroy microbes that can kill their patients. He came across this belief when discovering microscopic organisms in sour wine, the organisms which could be killed if heated sufficiently. The belief among the scientific community at large is that the organisms are the result of disease and not the cause. This belief is despite the fact that thirty percent of women die in childbirth due to child bed disease, accounting for twenty thousand annual deaths in Paris alone. The debate takes Pasteur all the way to a meeting with Emperor Napoleon III and his physician, Dr. Charbonnet, who is one of the leading opponents of Pasteur. Several years later - France now a republic - much of Pasteur's reputation changes as a government sanctioned experiment with anthrax and sheep shows that a vaccine created by Pasteur proves ... Written by
An electrician for Warner Bros. studio came up to Paul Muni after an advanced screening of the film and told him that his 9-year old son asked him to buy him a microscope because of Muni's performance. Even though he went on to win the coveted Oscar Muni said that this was the greatest compliment he had ever received and that all other accolades meant nothing compared to that compliment. See more »
A newspaper is shown announcing that the government (of France) is appropriating grazing land. The text surrounding the featured item mentions dollars and the Bronx, indicating the text was likely taken from a US newspaper. See more »
Dr. Louis Pasteur:
[speaking to the Emperor]
Sire, the hospitals of Paris are pesthouses. There's scarcely a doctor in the city who's not carrying death on his hands and instruments.
Because of microbes, Monsieur? Your private menagerie of invisible beasts?
Dr. Louis Pasteur:
Exactly. Doctor Charbonnet could see them for himself if he took the trouble to use his microscope. He could watch them multiply into murderous millions. They breed in filth. They may start from the gutters of Paris tonight and by tomorrow claim some mother ...
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1936 was the career turning point year for Paul Muni. It was the year that he got the first of three biographical films at Warner Brothers that would forever give him his place in cinema history. The Story of Louis Pasteur (1827-1895) was also the film that got Muni his Academy Award for Best Actor that year.
It's hard to imagine the world of science and medicine without the contributions of Pasteur. He was a chemist and as such his scientific experiments when they encroached on the medical field was greeted with suspicion and hostility. His chief critic Dr. Charbonnet played by Fritz Lieber nearly sank Pasteur's work with a bold move that I cannot tell about, but will make you gasp when you see it on screen.
Josephine Hutchinson is Muni's ever faithful wife Marie and she does well by what is really a rather colorless part. It was the same for Muni in his biographical picture the following year of Emile Zola where Gloria Holden also had a part that called for little, but to look faithful. There is a nice subplot involving Donald Woods as an early convert to Pasteur's way of thinking wooing and winning daughter Anita Louise.
The film goes through Pasteur's main achievements of sterilization during medical procedures and cures for anthrax and hydrophobia. The story and screenplay which also won Oscars for 1936 is simple and straightforward enough for any lay person to follow.
There are several good performances of men of science who opposed and/or supported Pasteur's work, in some cases opposed then supported. Porter Hall, Akim Tamiroff, and Halliwell Hobbes who has a small part as Joseph Lister, the English scientist.
Pasteur fought hard for his ideas against the medical and scientific establishment of his day and lived long enough to receive due acclaim from his nation of France and the world. It's still an inspirational story about a man convinced of the rightness of his cause and having the wisdom and perseverance to see it through.
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