Here’s Health!

Our favourite historical films.

Reward of Courage

American Society for the Control of Cancer, 1921

The silent Reward of Courage offers viewers a glimpse of the intense efforts made in the 1920s by ‘orthodox’ medical practitioners to acquire and keep patients. The film focuses on cancer, urging early detection with a ‘real’ doctor while warning of the ‘cures’ that their competitors in the medical marketplace offered.

Gedächtnisverlust durch Gasvergiftung

[Memory Loss through Gas Poisoning] UFA, 1935

Meet Franz Breundl, a furnace blast repairman who was hospitalised in 1926 after an accident caused carbon monoxide poisoning. The resulting memory loss caught the interest of psychiatrist Gustav Störring, who ‘teaches’ the case here. On the basis of this film, Breundl’s case was widely believed in the 1950s to have been a sham: a long and involved ruse to claim worker’s compensation.

Combat Fatigue Irritability

Gene Kelly, 1945

In this wartime naval ‘training film’, Gene Kelly directs and stars as Seaman Bob Lucas, whose ship was sunk in battle. Though many die, Lucas survives but suffers from ‘combat fatigue irritability’. Kelly purportedly regarded this as his one of his very best performances: a reason all on its own not to miss it.

The Centre

Paul Rotha, 1947

If you lived in London’s Peckham neighbourhood in the 1930s and 40s you might well have made use of the Pioneer Health Centre. The film introduces us to this idealistic, if sometimes slightly dystopic, institution and its community-oriented, holistic notion of ‘health’ via the fictionalised story of new members, The Joneses. Among other things, the Centre offers a bird’s eye view of a  pre-NHS healthcare road not taken.

All My Babies

George C. Stoney, 1953

George Stoney made All My Babies as a teaching film for the Department of Public Health of Georgia (US). Stoney was given 118 points to teach in regard to the practice of midwifery, but the film also offers its own kind of critical commentary on segregation in the 1950s American South.

Inside Magoo

UPA, 1960

Meet Mr. Magoo, the wealthy, short, elderly and extremely near-sighted American cartoon character created in 1949. Loved and loathed, especially more recently for his inaccurate and unflattering representation of those with vision disabilities, the Magoo of Inside Magoo capitalises on his status as cultural cartoon icon to impart another message to audiences: on the subject of cancer.

It Takes Your Breath Away

British Medical Association, 1964

The film connects the great successes of the 18th century industrial revolution to the ill health of 1960s Britons, especially the lower, working class. Its evocative images of dirt, smog and disease are of a piece with ts time, as pollution in particular and ‘the environment’ in general became an increasingly critical talking point for mid-twentieth century activists.

The Human Brain

Robert B. Livingston and the University of California, 1975

A wild visually-fascinating ride through the human brain that uses a technique called cinemorphology, which involves encasing brains in plastic and then very thinly slicing them. No, it’s not the University of California’s first cannibal feature. It’s an attempt to come to grips with the dynamic structures and functions of the human brain.

Barefoot Doctors of Rural China

Stanford University, 1975

A documentary of China’s ‘barefoot doctor’ program. Announced in 1965 by Chairman Mao to deal with the continuing shortage of physicians to serve China’s rural populations, the program trained lay people to become doctors, thus supplanting the need – which some have said was the very point – of depending on professional medical practitioners for the health of the country.

Nurse-Patient Interaction

Los Angeles: The University, 1976

Made as a training film for nurses, Nurse-Patient Interaction forces you – the viewer – into the position of trainee nurse and confronts you with the critiques and complaints – and only very occasionally the praise – of your co-workers and patients. How will you handle these difficult situations? Find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a nurse….in the 1970s.