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That Mothers Might Live

That Mothers Might Live(1938)

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teaser That Mothers Might Live (1938)

That Mothers Might Live (1938)
The Story of Dr. Carver (1938)
A Way in the Wilderness (1940)
Forbidden Passage (1941)
Your Last Act (1941)

Fred Zinnemann, the director of High Noon (1952) and From Here to Eternity (1953), was known as a "director's director," and he guided the motion picture debuts of such highly-regarded actors as Montgomery Clift (The Search, 1948), Marlon Brando (The Men, 1950), and Meryl Streep (Julia , 1977). Zinnemann got his start in Hollywood as an assistant director at Fox and Paramount in the early 1930s, but began his solo directing career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938, starting with a number of short subjects. He won the studio an Oscar® in that category along the way.

Zinnemann's forth short for MGM, That Mothers Might Live (1938) won the Academy Award® in 1939 for Best Short Subject, One-Reel division. It tells the story of 19th century Hungarian physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (Sheppard Strudwick), who observes the rate of unexplained deaths in the hospital at which he works, particularly among women following childbirth. He notes that the pattern of death follows the doctors' handling of patients, from operating room to operating room, and determines that there are unseen biological forces infecting one patient after another. Dr. Semmelweis convinces doctors to simply wash their hands after treating each patient, and notes the dramatic decline in hospital deaths. This film was only the third MGM short narrated by John Nesbitt, who would soon play host to a long-running series bearing his name, "John Nesbitt's Passing Parade."

Producer: John Nesbitt
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Herman Boxer
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Music: David Snell
Cast: Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Semmelweis, as Sheppard Strudwick), John Nesbitt (Narrator), Rudolf Anders (Doctor), Ralph Brooks (Medical Student), Creighton Hale (Irate Passerby).
BW-10m.

The Story of Doctor Carver (1938) is a one-reel "Pete Smith Specialty." Here the Smith named Pete tones down his usual comedic delivery to narrate a more serious story that of George Washington Carver, the African-American botanist and inventor. Zinnemann gets to flex his directing muscles in this short; there is an impressively mounted flashback scene in which Confederate night raiders steal several slaves, including Carver as a baby, to carry them across state lines to re-sell them. Following some effective quick cutting during the chase, slave owner Mr. Carver retrieves the sickly child from the raiders, trading his horse for the "property." Carver sends the boy through school, where he excels in agriculture studies. As an adult, Dr. Carver (Clinton Rosemond) is asked to solve a cotton-growing crisis in Alabama. Carver not only demonstrated how rotating the crops could refertilize the soil, he also worked tirelessly to find new industrial uses and by-products for the alternate crop peanuts. Zinnemann employs a variety of stock footage in this film, which was a typical cost-saving measure of these low-budget shorts. Dr. Carver was still alive at the time the picture was produced, and we are told that the "humble, kindly Negro" was still active at the age of 78.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Robert Lees, Frederic Rinaldo
Cinematography: Robert Pittack
Music: William Axt
Cast: Clinton Rosemond (George Washington Carver), Jesse Graves (Carver's Father), Bernice Pilot (Carver's Mother), Frank McGlynn, Jr. (Cotton Farmer), Pete Smith (Narrator).
BW-10m.

A Way in the Wilderness (1940) is another in the "Passing Parade" series narrated by John Nesbitt, and another one-reeler profiling a historical medical subject. The doctor in question here is Hungarian as well. Dr. Joseph Goldberger (Shepperd Strudwick) worked in the American South at the turn of the century, trying to find the cause of pellagra, a disease that killed thousands. As in That Mothers May Live, the cure turned out to be simple eating a healthy diet. The "Passing Parade" shorts were shot without synchronized sound or dialogue; the inspirational and educational stories were told with visuals and off-screen narration. It took a talented director like Zinnemann to hold interest and keep the film compelling without use of extensive dialogue.

Producer: John Nesbitt
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Herman Boxer
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Richard Duce
Music: David Snell
Cast: Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Joseph Goldberger), Barbara Bedford (Sick Farmer's Wife), Edward Hearn (Prisoner), Wally Maher (Second Doctor at Prison), John Nesbitt (Narrator).
BW-11m.

Unlike the shorts in the "Passing Parade" series or the "Pete Smith Specialties," the MGM series "Crime Does Not Pay" had the benefit of synchronized sound, and the luxury of two reels. Zinnemann's Forbidden Passage (1941) was nominated for an Oscar® as Best Short Subject, Two-reels in 1942. Dedicated to the U.S. Immigration Service, it depicts an investigation by the Florida division of that agency; several foreign nationals have been found dead, washed up after being chained and dumped off boats carrying them illegally toward the Florida coast. The Immigration officials have narrowed down the location of the smugglers to a port in Belize, British Honduras. Agent Clements (Hugh Beaumont) is sent there to pose as a Swedish sailor looking to gain illegal entry into the U.S. The smugglers' slimy operation is exposed they charge an exorbitant fee to Europeans impatient to circumvent the legal, but slow, immigration system. The desperate travelers expose themselves to ruthless treatment on board cargo ships leaving Belize. The freighter captain would think nothing of dumping living souls to hide his crimes; at one point he is told, "this time just be sure you're in trouble before you start tossing things over first thing you know, you'll ruin our business." Forbidden Passage follows the fate of Agent Clements as well as that of Otto Kestler (Wolfgang Zilzer), a would-be immigrant from Lisbon anxious to join his wife and daughter in America. This crime short is compact, grim and well-made, certainly an indicator of the talents of Zinnemann, who would easily move from the short-form to the feature film format.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Carl Dudley
Cinematography: Jackson Rose
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Richard Duce
Cast: Addison Richards (Frank J. Maxwell), Wolfgang Zilzer (Otto Kestler), Hugh Beaumont (Clements), George Lessey (American Consul), George Cleveland (Anna's Father), Alec Craig (Bartender).
BW-21m.

The "Passing Parade" short Your Last Act (1941) opens with quite a hook of a first line, spoken as usual by John Nesbitt: "Fifty billion dollars of the nation's money is controlled by dead men." Again using a great deal of stock footage, this one-reeler tells of several unusual bequeaths and last wills. Some examples are humorous, some spiteful, some touching. A man on death row leaves his corneas to a blind girl, for example, while a frivolous person leaves $700 a week for the care of a cocker spaniel. Ending with an account of the Last Will left by a dying hobo in a boxcar, Your Last Act demonstrates the variety of tones that can be successfully explored in just 11 minutes of running time, with a miniscule budget and no synchronized dialogue.

Producer: John Nesbitt
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Norman Rose, Doane Hoag
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Richard Duce
Music: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Vince Barnett (Alexander Hartley), Edward Hearn (Policeman), Claire McDowell (Old Lady with Memories), John Nesbitt (Narrator), Pat O'Malley (Policeman), Grant Withers (Train Detective).
BW-11m.

Zinnemann began his feature film career with the MGM crime drama Kid Glove Killer (1942), starring Van Heflin. His breakthrough feature was Act of Violence (1948), a harrowing film noir about a former prisoner of war, also played by Van Heflin, who is tormented by his guilty past. The director was an Oscar®-winner for his work on From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons (1966). Zinnemann earned additional Best Director nominations for The Search, High Noon, The Nun's Story (1959), The Sundowners (1960) and Julia (1977). Zinnemann did not abandon the Short Subject format after he began to direct features, however. In 1951 he directed the short subject Benjy, narrated by Henry Fonda; this Paramount film won the Oscar® for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1952.

by John M. Miller

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