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In the winter of 1868, Eben Frost goes to a Boston pawnshop and redeems a silver medal, inscribed to "Dr. W.T.G. Morton, the Benefactor of Mankind, with the Gratitude of Humanity." Frost drives to a country farmhouse and gives the medal to Morton's widow, Elizabeth Morton who explains to her daughter, Betty, that Frost was the first person given anesthesia by her father, Boston dentist Dr. W.T.G. Morton. The story flashes back 20 years to find Morton being wildly acclaimed by medical students as the man whose discovery of "letheon" had forever ended pain as, before that day, even amputations were performed with the patient fully conscious. "Letheron", unknown to everybody but Morton and Elizabeth, is simply highly rectified sulfuric ether - cleaning fluid - easily obtainable at a pharmacy. By keeping the secret, Dr. Morton could be rich, but he had rather be poor than see a girl strapped to an operating table under the knife of Dr. Warren, and he reveals his secret to a group of ...Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Filmed April-June 1942, but not released until 1944. Preview audiences found the film confusing and it was taken away from Sturges by Executive Producer Buddy G. De Sylva and re-edited over the director's objections. See more »
In an unusual move, Preston Sturges decided to film "The Great Moment," a movie that tells the story of Dr. Thomas Morton's struggle to be acknowledged for his work in discovering anesthesia. The Sturges 1944 film (shelved for two years) starring Joel McCrea takes the point of view that Morton was a wronged man. In reading up on it, it seems that he was, and that a good deal of "The Great Moment" is accurate, probably until the very end.
Morton is a dentist seeking a way to practice pain-free dentistry. With the help of his mentor, Dr. Jackson, he eventually tries a form of ether that works, and he gives a name to his product. It was successfully used at the Massachusetts General Hospital for the first time in 1846. The problem comes in that, as with many inventions, other people claimed credit. Dr. Horace Wells, with whom Morton had worked, indeed used anesthesia in the form of laughing gas, but had a colossal public failure and after that, continued experimenting. Jackson, who claimed credit for telling Morton about the ether, later claimed he had invented the telegraph and a form of ammunition and was clearly unbalanced. The man who made anesthesia a practical tool of surgery was Morton, but he was unable to obtain a patent, and the fight about who really invented it raged on for years.
Joel McCrea is very likable as Dr. Morton, and Betty Field is wonderful as his long-suffering wife. Harry Carey turns in one of the best performances as Dr. Warren, the doctor who lets Morton use anesthesia on his patient. William Demarest plays a dental patient who has a pain-free surgery and after that, aligns with Morton. He's actually there more for comic relief.
"The Great Moment" works backwards, starting at the end and working through until Dr. Morton "ruins himself for a servant girl" - you'll be wondering what that's about all through the film. Actually, from my research, that part is pure hooey, and that's not why Dr. Morton lost control of his invention. The film is an uneasy mix of comedy and drama and, unlike other Sturges films, is a downer. Apparently this version isn't his cut. Sturges fans will be disappointed. I have to say, I was intrigued.
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