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A 19th-century dentist sets out to find a painless method for pulling teeth in this true story.
In 1868, after his death, renowned Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton, who is credited with discovering an ether formula to alleviate pain, is mourned only by his wife Elizabeth and his friend and former patient, Eben Frost. Elizabeth recalls the events leading to William's death: William, Elizabeth and their children are living in virtual poverty while waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the patent for his ether formula. When William is finally called to Washington, D.C., President Franklin Pierce promises to sign an amendment awarding him $100,000, as long as William agrees to file suit against an Army or Navy doctor for infringement of patent, as the military uses his ether and his specially designed glass inhaler. William protests that the lawsuit would make it look as if he is capitalizing on the pain of wounded soldiers. As feared, William is condemned by the medical community, and expelled from the American Medical Association after he loses the lawsuit. After William's former medical school professor, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, publishes an article in which he accuses William of stealing his discovery, William's health fails and he dies. Elizabeth now points out to Eben that while various formulations of anesthesia were discovered before, William's formula was the first to be commonly used. She then recalls William's marriage proposal: Elizabeth is severely distraught when William, who is living at her mother's boardinghouse, is forced to leave medical school because he cannot afford tuition and studies to become a dentist instead. William proposes to Elizabeth, and after some time, they marry and he opens his own dental office. Business is limited because patients experience such excruciating pain during the operations that they scream and run out the door. Frustrated, William consults with surly Dr. Jackson, who suggests that the only way to desensitize a nerve is to freeze it, and recommends using ethyl chloride drops. William purchases one bottle each of ethyl chloride and sulfuric ether. At home, William sets the bottles on a table near the fire, and while reading about ether's properties, the bottle of sulfuric ether pops its cork and the substance boils off as a gas, causing William to fall deeply asleep. The next day, William purchases another bottle of sulfuric ether after the pharmacist confirms that its fumes are highly noxious. When his former classmate, Dr. Horace Wells, claims to be the "father" of painless dentistry because of his discovery of the use of nitrous oxide, William insists they consult with Jackson before experimenting on humans. Jackson warns Wells against nitrous oxide as it is highly unreliable, and fears that Wells might asphyxiate his clients. William reluctantly assists a determined Wells during a demonstration at the Harvard Medical School, and they are humiliated when their volunteer becomes violent instead of unconscious. Later that day, while William goes to get a rabbit on which to experiment, a dejected Wells uses the nitrous oxide on one of William's female patients, and nearly kills her. William continues his study of ether, and when he reads that ether combined with oxygen produces results like nitrous oxide, he tries it on himself, and succeeds in piercing his hand with a paper holder without feeling pain. Advertising himself as a painless dentist, William calls his discovery "Letheum," after the word lethe, which means "oblivion." William's first patient is Eben, a music teacher, who becomes delirious and violent the first time William uses the letheum, and nearly destroys his office. William consults with Jackson again, and, as he cannot afford Jackson's $500 consultation fee, gives him a 10 percent interest in the patent. When Eben later returns for his battered violin, William tests highly rectified ether on him and successfully pulls Eben's tooth without causing pain. William continues to experiment with Eben until he is able to put him to sleep for nineteen minutes. William's business booms and he hires a staff of dentists. He then offers his discovery to Professor John C. Warren at Harvard Medical School, who eagerly awaits the day when he can operate on a patient without having to strap him down. Jackson and Wells, meanwhile, threaten to sue William, claiming that he has stolen their discoveries. Warren tests the ether on a patient in front of an audience of physicians, and all marvel when the patient feels no pain. The physicians lodge a protest, however, because the hippocratic oath forbids them from using patented medicines whose ingredients are not published. William at first refuses to share his formula because he is afraid his business will suffer, but when he sees that Warren's next patient is a young girl who believes her surgery will be painless, he shares his discovery with the world.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||Los Angeles opening: 24 Aug 1944|
|Release Date:||1944||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Black and White||Distributions Co:||Paramount Pictures, Inc.|
|Sound:||Mono (Western Electric Sound System)||Production Co:||Paramount Pictures, Inc.|
|Duration(mins):||80, 83 or 90||Country:||United States|
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Films that mess up history.
If you like films, of all sorts, you will probably like this. It does get some laughs, I never saw a film by Sturgis that didn't. This is not a...
DOCTORS WON'T LIKE THIS FILM; EVERYONE ELSE WILL.
Cant Be Bothered1 2008-04-22
In its essence, this film excoriates the medical profession for its failure to develop anesthetics and its persecution of those who did. In the nineteenth...