The Great Moment (1944)

80, 83 or 90 mins | Comedy-drama | 1944

Director:

Preston Sturges

Writer:

Preston Sturges

Cinematographer:

Victor Milner

Editor:

Stuart Gilmore

Production Designers:

Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegté

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Immortal Secret , Great Without Glory , Morton the Magnificent , and Triumph Over Pain . Preston Sturges' onscreen credit reads, "Written and directed by..." and the literary source credit reads, "A screenplay based on a book by René Fülöp-Miller." Actor Julius Tannen's first name was incorrectly listed in the credits as "Julian." The film opens with the following written foreword: "It does not seem to be generally understood that before ether there was nothing. The patient was strapped down...that is all. This is the story of W. T. G. Morton of Boston, Mass., before whom in all time surgery was agony, since whom science has control of pain. Of all things in nature great men alone reverse the laws of perspective and grow smaller as one approaches them. Dwarfed by the magnitude of his revelation, reviled, hated by his fellow men, forgotten before he was remembered, Morton seems very small indeed until the incandescent moment he ruined himself for a servant girl and gained immortality." History records that Morton's claim of the discovery of anesthesia was indeed contested by his peers, and that he died in poverty after spending the last years of his life embroiled in a legal battle.
       Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: In Sep 1939, before the film was to go into production, Paramount consulted with historians and dental organizations to verify the screenplay's depiction of Morton, but found opinion divided as to his character, and whether or not he actually "discovered" anesthesia. The 1939 screenplay was written ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Immortal Secret , Great Without Glory , Morton the Magnificent , and Triumph Over Pain . Preston Sturges' onscreen credit reads, "Written and directed by..." and the literary source credit reads, "A screenplay based on a book by René Fülöp-Miller." Actor Julius Tannen's first name was incorrectly listed in the credits as "Julian." The film opens with the following written foreword: "It does not seem to be generally understood that before ether there was nothing. The patient was strapped down...that is all. This is the story of W. T. G. Morton of Boston, Mass., before whom in all time surgery was agony, since whom science has control of pain. Of all things in nature great men alone reverse the laws of perspective and grow smaller as one approaches them. Dwarfed by the magnitude of his revelation, reviled, hated by his fellow men, forgotten before he was remembered, Morton seems very small indeed until the incandescent moment he ruined himself for a servant girl and gained immortality." History records that Morton's claim of the discovery of anesthesia was indeed contested by his peers, and that he died in poverty after spending the last years of his life embroiled in a legal battle.
       Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: In Sep 1939, before the film was to go into production, Paramount consulted with historians and dental organizations to verify the screenplay's depiction of Morton, but found opinion divided as to his character, and whether or not he actually "discovered" anesthesia. The 1939 screenplay was written by Preston Sturges, Irwin Shaw, Les River , Charles Brackett and Waldo Twitchell. Arthur Hornblow, Jr. and William LeBaron were slated to produce, Henry Hathaway was to direct, Gary Cooper was to play "Morton" and Walter Brennan was to play "Frost." It is doubtful that any scenes were actually shot at this time, and no contemporary information has been found as to why the production was delayed until 1942. Modern sources indicate that the project was delayed in part because of Gary Cooper's departure from the studio.
       Paramount records indicate that in 1942, Paramount bought the film rights to Loew's Inc.'s short film "Life of William Morton, Discoverer of Anesthesia," intending to use it as a basis for this film. Screen credits, however, list only Fülöp-Miller's book as a source. After Sturges was hired to direct the film, Paramount considered actor Walter Huston for the lead. Sturges and Ernst Laemmle then revised the original screenplay. In his autobiography, Sturges noted that he shot the following foreword: "One of the most charming characteristics of Homo sapiens, the wise guy on your right, is the consistency with which he has stoned, crucified, hanged, flayed, boiled in oil and otherwise rid himself of those who consecrated their lives to further his comfort and well-being, so that all his strength and cunning might be preserved for the erection of ever larger monuments, memorial shafts, triumphal arches, pyramids and obelisks to the eternal glory of generals on horseback, tyrants, usurpers, dictators, politicians, and other heroes who led him, from the rear, to dismemberment and death. This is the story of the Boston dentist who gave you ether--before whom in all time surgery was agony, since whom science has control of pain. It should be almost unnecessary then to tell you that this man, whose contribution to human mercy is unparalleled in the history of the world, was ridiculed, reviled, burned in effigy and eventually driven to despair and death by the beneficiaries of his revelation. Paramount Pictures, Incorporated, has the honor of bringing you, at long last, the true story of an American of supreme achievement--W.T.G. Morton of Boston, Massachusetts, in a motion picture called Triumph Over Pain ."
       According to Sturges' autobiography and other modern sources, the film's release was delayed because Paramount disliked Sturges's non-sequential arrangement of the film, specifically the fact that he opened the film with what is now the end, in which Morton sacrifices his success to save a young girl from the pain of surgery. Paramount also rejected his original foreword as being inappropriate for war-time. After Sturges left Paramount due to contractual disputes, Paramount re-cut the film, leaving a heavy emphasis on the story's comedic aspects, and despite Sturges' objections, changed the title. Some of the above-listed actors who were included in the CBCS were not identified in the viewed print and may have been cut from the final print. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Jun 1944.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jun 44
p. 3, 16
Film Daily
9 Jun 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 44
p. 12.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Jun 44
p. 1934.
New York Times
13 Nov 44
p. 15.
Variety
7 Jun 44
p. 19.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Vic Potel
Jacob George
Paul Newlan
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Tech adv
Scr clerk
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Triumph Over Pain by René Fülöp-Miller (New York, 1940).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Great Without Glory
Morton the Magnficent
Triumph Over Pain
Immortal Secret
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 24 August 1944
Production Date:
8 April--5 June 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 June 1944
Copyright Number:
LP12836
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80, 83 or 90
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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