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Friday, June 26, 2015

SISTER KENNY (1946)

Acclaimed scripter Dudley Nichols needed a John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann or Leo McCarey to tame his delusions of importance. Writing, directing & producing for himself, he made stiff, noble, deep-think projects that wrought melodramatic quicksand hunting up gravitas. (His next, and last film as director was a slice-and-dice abridgement of Eugene O’Neill’s MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA/’47.) A shame, since this hagiographic bio-pic has a good, if familiar, story to tell. Sister Kenny was a nurse in the Australian countryside, forced to confront a polio outbreak with little more than her own instincts & commonsense nursing. (A vaccine was still a decade away even when the film was released.) Yet, she had uncanny success using a rigorous treat-the-symptoms regime of physical therapy. The film charts over thirty years of struggle, personal sacrifice, official rejection & ineffective aging makeup on Rosalind Russell, too stiff & noble by half. Same goes for the film, with its flat staging & visually dead camera set-ups. (A farewell scene for longtime fiancé Dean Jagger is like taking a college course in bad mise-en-scène.) Occasionally, Nichols attempts to lighten the load with a dance or a bit of comic misdirection, but it never feels organic. Come to think of it, neither does most of the serious stuff.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: On paper it shouldn’t be any better, but MADAME CURIE/’43, with Greer Garson & Walter Pidgeon under Mervyn LeRoy off a Paul Osborn script (the likely redeeming element) actually comes off.

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