Sunday, June 07, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Sister Kenny (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Rosalind Russell was Oscar nominated as Best Actress for SISTER KENNY (1946), now available from the Warner Archive.

SISTER KENNY was part of a "wave" of Russell films released by the Archive in April. I have previously reviewed the other two Russell films released along with SISTER KENNY, FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM (1943) and THE VELVET TOUCH (1948).

I recall first hearing Sister Kenny's name as a young child, when Olivia Walton contracted polio in one of the most memorable episodes of THE WALTONS. Sister Kenny's treatment methods led to Olivia regaining the ability to walk.

SISTER KENNY, an RKO film, tells the story of the nurse behind the treatments which are credited with helping many who were afflicted by polio.

Elizabeth Kenny works as a nurse in the Australian bush -- "Sister" is the title for a nurse in some parts of the world -- where there isn't a doctor available for many miles. She creates a treatment for polio-induced muscle spasms and paralysis by following a doctor's telegraphed directions to "treat the symptoms." She prescribed hot compresses to soothe cramping muscles and then used what we would now think of as physical therapy after the initial crisis had passed, rather than following conventional wisdom to immobilize the afflicted limbs.

Over the years Elizabeth sees great success in her patients, but many in the medical community are skeptical, unwilling to give credence to the theories of someone who is not a doctor. Elizabeth soldiers on, supported by her friend Dr. McDonnell (Alexander Knox); she is so dedicated to her patients that she eventually gives up plans to marry the love of her life, Kevin Connors (Dean Jagger).

SISTER KENNY is an engrossing film despite running just under two hours, clocking in at 116 minutes. It does start to become a bit repetitive towards the end, as multiple medical committees write skeptical reports on Sister Kenny's methods and she also bids farewell to Kevin several times, but putting those issues aside, I found SISTER KENNY worthwhile and interesting.

Russell is excellent in the title role as the determined nurse who fights not just polio, but the closed minds of many doctors, and Knox and Jagger are fine in support.

It's worth noting that this is very much a "'40s Hollywood" Australia, as I don't think I ever heard anything resembling an Australian accent!

The supporting cast includes Beulah Bondi, Philip Merivale, Charles Kemper, Fay Helm, Charles Dingle, and John Litel. Francis Ford and Ellen Corby have small roles. Doreen McCann and Karolyn Grimes are foremost among the film's child actresses playing Kenny's patients.

Regis Toomey once again shows he can take a single scene and make the most of it, appearing as a reporter late in the film. That same year Toomey starred in HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946).

SISTER KENNY was produced and directed by Dudley Nichols, who cowrote the screenplay with Mary McCarthy and the film's costar, Alexander Knox. The film was based on Elizabeth's Kenny's memoir AND THEY SHALL WALK.

The movie was photographed in black and white by George Barnes.

The print on this Warner Archive DVD is on the dark and grainy side at times, while other scenes look quite good. I also noticed a couple of tiny jumps in the print. On the whole, though, it is a smooth, watchable viewing experience. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger barrylane said...

When I was a child everyone knew Sister Kenny by name and achievement. A great lady.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Just as a point of clarification of the term 'Sister'. This is Australia as we know and would therefore be the same as the British system whereby a Sister was/is a sort of middle manager, looking after all the nursing staff in her care, and in turn being managed by the most senior nurse, the Matron.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for adding that info, Jerry!

For some additional info, it's mentioned in the movie that she earned the title "Sister" while serving as an army nurse during WWI.

Best wishes,

2:41 PM  

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