Cast & Crew
Mrs. Adele Woytt
This documentary chronicles the life of humanitarian, physician, author, theologian and musician Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Footage of Schweitzer's jungle hospital in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa, is followed by scenes depicting the doctor's return to his childhood home in the German-French village of Günsbach. Schweitzer makes regular visits to the Alsatian wine-growing village to see his ailing wife and grandchildren and is greeted warmly by old friends and neighbors. After spending time with his family, Schweitzer drops by the local church and plays a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach on an organ that he, himself, designed years before. Through reenactments, Schweitzer's youth then is recalled: The son of a Lutheran pastor, Schweitzer, who was born in 1875 in Kaizerberg, in what was then Germany, moves to nearby Günsbach when he is six. Schweitzer, a bright but dreamy child, attends the local school, where he is ostracized as an outsider. At age eight, Schweitzer receives his first Bible from his father and reads the text with great curiosity. Schweitzer also begins to ponder nature, noting its inherent cruelty, and incorporates "all living creatures" into his daily prayers. At nine, Schweitzer experiences a life-altering event when he and a friend hike to a grove intending to kill birds with slingshots. As a reluctant Schweitzer is about to fire his slingshot, church bells ring out, and Schweitzer interprets their pealing as a message to desist. To protect the birds from his friend, Schweitzer shoos them away, pledging silently never to kill. Schweitzer's philosophy of non-violence develops over the years, as does his commitment to reduce suffering in life. At twenty-one, Schweitzer decides to dedicate his life to preaching, teaching and music until he is thirty, then devote the remainder of his days to helping his "fellow man." To achieve his goals, Schweitzer studies music and theology at universities in Strasbourg, Paris and Berlin and becomes an ordained minister as well as a professional organist. In addition, he authors several books on religion, philosophy and musicology, including a highly regarded book on Bach. In 1904, shortly before his thirtieth birthday, he reads a monograph about the desperate plight of Africans and decides to study medicine, then set up practice in Africa. Although his ambition is met with skepticism by his family, Schweitzer completes his medical education in six years and, in 1913, founds his missionary hospital in Lambaréné. After the outbreak of World War I, however, Schweitzer and his young wife, who are German nationals, are declared prisoners of war. Unable to practice medicine, Schweitzer begins writing a tome on philosophy, in which he articulates his conviction that all societies should embrace a "reverence for life." Following the war, Schweitzer, his wife and infant daughter return to Europe, so that Schweitzer, weakened by dysentery, can earn enough money to reopen his hospital. Five years later, with financial help from supporters, Schweitzer returns to Lambaréné and builds a new hospital. With Schweitzer's past recounted, the film then depicts a typical day at the hospital: Patients, including many lepers, arrive for treatment, accompanied by their families. Keenly aware of cultural differences, Schweitzer accomodates his patients by allowing them to cook their own food and sleep surrounded by family. Because of the tropical climate, Schweitzer relies on simple instruments and techniques, complemented by expressions of Christian faith. At two o'clock, all of the able-bodied are called to help construct new buildings for the lepers, using money earned from Schweitzer's 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. A tornado, common during the rainy season, hits the village, and the doctor hustles the cold-prone workers inside. Later, Schweitzer oversees an operation and comments that survivors of pain should always help others find deliverance from suffering. The day ends, and Schweitzer retreats to his home to read and write, knowing that his work will never be done as long as there are "claims on his heart."
Mrs. Adele Woytt
Johann Sebastian Bach
S. Robert Fine
Thomas Bruce Morgan
Louis De Rochemont
Henry A. Sundquist
Prior to the viewed print's opening credits, the following statement, written by producer-director Jerome Hill and photographer Erica Anderson, appears onscreen: "The film you are about to see tells the story of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. It is dedicated to him and to an understanding of the meaning of his life. The six years working on this picture were filled with unique problems-the fungus which attacked camera lenses, heat which melted film, the lack of electric power, cramped space in hospital wards and operating room and, of course, the work schedule of the busy doctor whom we tried not to disturb. Gratefully, we acknowledge the patient cooperation of those men and women who made this film possible: Dr. Schweitzer's hospital staff; his sister who plays the role of Schweitzer's mother; his grandson who plays the young Schweitzer; and the people of Günsbach and Lambaréné. Above all, we are grateful to Dr. Schweitzer himself for permitting us to release this film biography which was not to appear during his lifetime." After the title card, brief footage of Schweitzer in Africa is seen, followed by the credits. The onscreen writing and narration credits read: "words of Albert Schweitzer spoken by Fredric March, narration by Thomas Bruce Morgan spoken by Burgess Meredith." Although onscreen credits include a 1956 copyright statement, the film was not included in the Catalog of Copyright Entries.
According to the Saturday Review (of Literature) review, Schweitzer (1875-1965), who was in his late seventies at the time of filming, had turned down requests by several other producers to make his life story before giving permission to Anderson. In 1954, Los Angeles Examiner announced that director Robert Wise had acquired writer Irving Wallace's "film biography" of Schweitzer, but that picture was never made. Initially, Anderson was allowed only to observe Schweitzer at his hospital, but later, while working on a film about African masks, she ingratiated herself with the doctor and the hospital locals, according to an October 1956 New York Times article. The same article notes that Hill and Anderson finally convinced Schweitzer to allow the just-completed picture to be released during his lifetime by pointing out that it would lose some of its technical value and impact if it were not shown soon. Albert Schweitzer was an accurate portrait of the doctor's life until 1957.
According to the Saturday Review (of Literature) review, Anderson shot all of the African footage, while Hill oversaw the European footage. A September 5, 1954 New York Times news item noted that the Bach organ music was recorded in Strasbourg, after Schweitzer had screened a rough cut of the picture. According to the New York Times review, all profits from the film's exhibition were to benefit Schweitzer's hospital. In March 1959, Hill, a railroad heir, protested a Variety item that accused him of withholding monies from the charity, claiming that he, personally, had made substantial contributions to the hospital and had solicited large donations from others. Hill also stated that profits from several special screenings went directly to the hospital, but that because the film was so costly to make, overall profits were "difficult to determine." Albert Schweitzer won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1957 National Board of Review.
Released in United States 1957
Released in United States 1957