Kino Eye: Medical pioneers on film

Submitted by AWL on 22 June, 2021 - 4:47 Author: John Cunningham
Paul Munni as Louis Pasteur

Here’s a film about the man whose name is forever associated with vaccination — the Frenchman Louis Pasteur. The Story of Louis Pasteur (director William Dieterle, 1936) concerns his struggle to convince a conservative medical establishment that diseases are caused by bacteria.

He is opposed by Emperor Napoleon III’s personal physician Dr. Charbonnet. The Republican government which ousts Napoleon encourages Pasteur (actor Paul Munni) to continue his research which, in his experiments with anthrax, ultimately demonstrates the validity of his approach. One American review quipped: “If this story didn’t have a happy ending you might not be alive to see it!”

There is no feature film of Edward Jenner but his development of a smallpox vaccine is shown on the 2012 BBC series True Stories . In a similar vein, Semmelweis (directed by Hungarian Frigyes Bán, 1961) is about Ignác Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna. He pioneered the use of antiseptics and saved the lives of thousands of pregnant women, but was persecuted by the medical establishment, not least because of his Jewish origins. Vaccination was first developed in Constantinople and China but I know of no film that depicts that.

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