“You know I discovered the use of ether, don’t you?”
An 18th century dentist (Joel McCrea) discovers the use of ether as an effective means of anesthetizing pain during dental operations, but encounters resistance and anger when he tries to patent his discovery.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Betty Field Films
- Flashback Films
- Historical Drama
- Joel McCrea Films
- Preston Sturges Films
The Great Moment is surely the oddest entry in Preston Sturges’ estimable Hollywood career, given that the “biopic” genre was about as far removed from his standard milieu of satirical screwball comedies as possible. However, when one recalls that Sturges invented a “kissproof” lipstick in 1920 (!), his personal investment in telling the life story of a notoriously troubled inventor begins to make a bit more sense… Indeed, while The Great Moment doesn’t quite succeed as a classic Sturges outing, one stills feels oddly grateful that this story got made at all — and that it was given at least some semblance of the “Sturges touch”, rather than being told in standard (turgid) Hollywood fashion. Many of Sturges’ stock players show up in the cast, with William Demarest given an especially significant supporting role as the man who is first successfully operated upon by Dr. Morton (McCrea) while under the influence of ether; he and other familiar faces ensure that there’s a steady strain of comedic energy flowing through the film. Other scenes, unfortunately (including most with Betty Field as McCrea’s loyal, pretty wife), come across as disappointingly mainstream; Field’s opening flashback monologue, for instance, is laughably solemn.
Regardless of the film’s overall uneven approach to the material, however, you’re almost guaranteed to get caught up in the tale being told. While Dr. Morton’s story is presented from an unequivocally sympathetic point of view (the opening title card alone lets you know what Sturges’ opinion is on the matter), you’ll likely find yourself questioning his motives nonetheless: what is the right thing to do in a case like this, where one’s breakthrough discovery has the potential to prevent an enormous amount of suffering in the world? Meanwhile, the issue of multiple hands and minds inevitably playing a part in any medical “discovery” is respectfully handled; it’s made eminently clear that, despite Morton’s noteworthy role in persisting with his experimentation until he finally achieves success, he was not working or thinking in isolation.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joel McCrea as Dr. Morton
- An interesting depiction of the incipient development of anesthesiology
No, though it’s worth a look, and is must-see for Sturges completists.