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Elizabeth Kenny, as a young nurse out in the Australian bush discovers an effective treatment for polio, but can't get official recognition or sanction for her techniques and theories. For more than three decades (while she tells her fiancée she can't marry him, and repeatedly confronts the pigheaded orthopedic specialist Dr. Brack), she is prevented from treating acute cases and is ridiculed, while she seeks formal recognition for the efficacy of her treatment.Written by
It was reported at the time that Elizabeth Kenny was paid $100,000 for the rights to her story by RKO. She then donated the amount to a trust fund set up for the benefit of seventeen nephews who were all in the Royal Australian Air Force at the time. And, it was stipulated in her contract with RKO that Rosalind Russell portray her in the film. See more »
While Dr. Brack stands in front of his bookshelves dismissing Elizabeth Kenny's unscientific terms, a cut from medium to long shot has him instantly move half a shelf to his left. See more »
Whatever you do, whatever happens, remember the people are more important than the system. That's true in government, they're fighting a war to prove it. And it's true in medicine. You've got that fight left Elizabeth. It's a big fight, it wont be easy, I wish I could help you.
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"Sister Kenny" (RKO Radio, 1946), directed by Dudley Nichols, stars Rosalind Russell in a respectful biography of Elizabeth Kenny (1886-1952), a Australian nurse who fought her entire life to bring her own methods of treating polio victims to international acceptance. For her performance as Sister Kenny (The title "Sister," which is often associated with that of a nun, is an Australian term for "Nurse"), Rosalind Russell, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress, and a worthy award, but lost to Olivia De Havilland in "To Each His Own" (Paramount, 1946).
The story, which runs almost two hours, opens with Elizabeth Kenny graduated to nurse, traveling to the Aussie where she encounters the ravages of infantile paralysis. She becomes so involved with her efforts to ease the pain of the children who have become polio sufferers that she finds little time for romance with Kevin Connors (Dean Jaggers). Sister Kenny develops a system of therapy based upon the maintenance of a bright mental outlook, to continue her effort to move apparently paralyzed muscles, continuous hot packs to the affected muscles, and the abandonment of all splints. While one of the most respected doctors in the medical profession, Dr. Brack (Philip Merivale), criticizes and ridicules Kenny's supposed unorthodox methods, it is Doctor Aeneas McDonnell (Alexander Knox), a Scottish physician, who believes in her ideas, but gets into trouble with the medical superiors.
In the supporting cast are Beulah Bondi as Mary Kenny; Charles Dingle as Michael Kenny; Doreen McCann as Dorrie, the little girl suffering from polio (muscle spasms) who becomes Kenny's first curable patient; among others. But it is Rosalind Russell, who has left a legacy in her career as "Auntie Mame" on both stage and screen, giving a standout performance covering a 40-year period in the life of Sister Kenny. One of the highlights in the story includes the now middle-aged Kenny's heated encounter with the inflexible Dr. Brack in the operating room in front of stadium of observing medical students, fighting for her rights to continue her own methods of treating children with polio. In spite of everything, nothing stops Sister Kenny, who gets to set up her own medical institute in Minnesota.
While not as famous as some of the 1930s bio-pics, including "The Story of Louis Pasteur" (1936) with Paul Muni, "Sister Kenny" is worth viewing not only as a history lesson but a look at the true story of one woman's struggle in proving her theory over what she believes to be wrongly treated by the medical profession, and standing up against them. In as much that it's quite obvious that the screenwriters rearranged portions of Kenny's life to give it a satisfying story, it avoids the usual clichés found in some other biographical dramas, with the final results being quite satisfactory. Another plus to the story are the authentic use of sets and costumes worn in the period for which the story takes place.
"Sister Kenny" is sadly an overlooked gem that is worthy of rediscovery. It's available on video cassette and DVD, formerly presented on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, currently on Turner Classic Movies. (***1/2)
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