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The Great Moment

The Great Moment

Director:Preston Sturges
Cast:Joel McCrea, Betty Field
Release Date:1944

By Rahne Alexander | Posted 11/5/2008

At first pass it seems weird that Preston Sturges, Hollywood's king of comedy, would direct a biopic about the guy who invented medical anesthesia. But after viewing 1944's The Great Moment, it all makes sense; after all, laughter is supposed to make the best medicine. Here, Sturges offers Joel McCrea as William Thomas Green Morton, the Boston dentist whose star rises, falls, and rises again over his discovery that huffing ether can make a body sleep through almost anything, including amputations, thereby changing Western medicine forever. Much of The Great Moment plays more like the sort of movie you might expect from Frank Capra, a triumph-of-the-underdog, doing-good-for-the-common-man story--so much so that you might almost forget that the titular moment is a pyrrhic victory, and that our hero was regarded as a laughing stock who reaped few benefits from his discovery in the end: Morton is denied both the patent and the notoriety for his discovery. What makes this movie work is that Sturges seems less interested in restoring credit to the proper explorer than he is in exploring the myriad ways in which humans destroy one another in the name of alleviating their pain.

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