The Great Moment


Action / Biography / Comedy / Drama

Plot summary

Uploaded by: FREEMAN

Top cast

Hank Worden Photo
Hank Worden as Morton's Sign Painter - replaced Roscoe Ates
Betty Field Photo
Betty Field as Elizabeth Morton
Harry Carey Photo
Harry Carey as Professor John C. Warren
Joel McCrea Photo
Joel McCrea as William Thomas Green Morton
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
738.41 MB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 21 min
P/S ...
1.34 GB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 21 min
P/S 3 / 3

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by refill4 / 10

An oddity from a genius

I can't add much to wmorrow59's excellent summary. It caught the strengths and weaknesses of this film and provided excellent historical background. Be sure to read it.

This film is only worth watching if you're a Preston Sturges fanatic (like me) and are willing to sit through his one failure as well as his many triumphs. I have a hunch that the studio meddling accounts for much of the trouble -- the movie's pace and structure are erratic at best -- but I also fear that our man Preston may have wandered too far from his natural path as a filmmaker. This is no buried treasure. Sturges's cut may have been an improvement, but I don't see the makings of a good movie here. The dialogue is weird when it isn't plain awful, the protagonist is a pigheaded dimwit, and the moments of slapstick are wildly misplaced.

If you buy Turner's incredible 7-film Sturges box set, do so for the other six titles -- all of them masterpieces.

Reviewed by Bunuel19767 / 10

THE GREAT MOMENT (Preston Sturges, 1944) ***

This film is notorious for having been butchered by the studio and shelved for two years (the trailer awkwardly tries to pass it off as another Sturges comedy); atypically for him, it’s a medical biopic on the lines of Warner Bros,’ similar films of a few years earlier – and, therefore, more serious than usual (in fact, the few comedy elements here seem like a distraction to the unfolding drama).

I own a volume of Sturges’ scripts – including the original version of this one, called TRIUMPH OVER PAIN (the book from which it derived also inspired the latter-day Boris Karloff vehicle CORRIDORS OF BLOOD [1958]!),which is certainly his most ambitious project; I had read it some years ago and recall it being quite complexly structured: what remains of the film is pretty straightforward, other than adopting a flashback framework (to which it doesn’t even return at the end!). Still, as it stands, it’s hardly a disaster (if undeniably choppy and rushed): fascinating as much for its plot about the inception of anesthesia by a forgotten small-town doctor, W.T.G. Morton, which many a fellow doctor tried to claim as their own invention, as for its handsome and meticulous recreation of an era (recalling Orson Welles’ equally compromised THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS [1942]).

The cast includes a few of Sturges’ renowned stock company: star Joel McCrea (in their third consecutive collaboration) is well-cast in the lead; William Demarest appears as his comic sidekick (the doctor’s first painless client – repeatedly, he starts to recount his experience but each time succeeding in going no further than the first couple of phrases!); Porter Hall (as the somewhat patronizing American President); Franklin Pangborn (in a brief role as secretary to an esteemed doctor whom McCrea wants to test his formula); Jimmy Conlin (the chemist who sells McCrea the ‘miraculous’ ether); Torben Meyer (an irascible doctor who is urgently called in to treat a patient administered an overdose of laughing gas – more on this later).

The remaining actors include: Betty Field as Morton’s long-suffering wife (whose limited role is often relegated to the sidelines, at least in this version); Harry Carey (dignified as the surgeon who regrets the barbaric methods he’s forced to use while operating on his patients); Louis Jean Heydt (as an arrogant young student who uses laughing gas for desensitization, but whose experiment goes comically awry); Grady Sutton (this W.C. Fields regular appears in one of only two overtly slapsticky scenes as the recipient of the laughing gas – the other involves McCrea’s first attempt to extract Demarest’s tooth, which renders him temporarily crazed and sends him crashing through the window into the street below!); Edwin Maxwell (the usual authoritarian role, in this case a colleague of Carey’s who indirectly stoops to blackmail in order to force McCrea to reveal the secret ingredient of his formula – which the latter was concealing, as a means of protection, only so long as the “Letheon” invention was officially patented).

Sturges, obviously, is all for the hero who has to face up to a general wave of both ignorance and prejudice, not to mention centuries of savage medical tradition; in fact, as depicted in the film, the students seem to treat daily grueling operations almost as another form of entertainment! The film rises to a number of good dramatic moments (usually seeing McCrea in confrontation with someone or other) – especially powerful, however, are Carey’s first successful operation with an anesthetized patient (and his surprised but enthusiastic approval of the procedure) and the ending, complete with moody lighting and religious music, as Morton compassionately approaches the next ‘victim’ of established science…when the doors of reason, as it were, are suddenly flung open and the painless method is accepted into its fold.

Reviewed by wmorrow594 / 10

Not the film Preston Sturges envisioned

For those who have enjoyed the brilliant farce comedies made in the early '40s by writer-director Preston Sturges this movie may come as a bewildering disappointment. It's a strangely downbeat biographical film about an obscure Boston dentist, William Morton, who, according to some historians, discovered the anesthetic use of ether for surgery in the mid-nineteenth century. It's said that Morton was falsely accused of plagiarizing his research, ruined his health defending his reputation, and died young, broke and forgotten. Right off the bat you know you're not in traditional Sturges territory.

In the period before this film was made the unexpected popularity of Warner Brothers' biographical dramas such as The Story of Louis Pasteur and Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet inspired the other Hollywood studios to make similar dramas based on the lives of Thomas Edison, Madame Curie, Alexander Graham Bell, etc., but these tales of medical and scientific advance were also upbeat stories of successful and well rewarded endeavor. Sturges, for some reason, was drawn to a story in which the protagonist was wronged and the bad guys won; he also wanted to experiment with chronology and end the film on a high note by circling back in time to Morton's "great moment" of triumph, before his victory slipped away. The director fought pitched battles with his bosses at Paramount to make the film his way, despite the front office's concerns over what wartime audiences preferred to see (not unlike the battle between Orson Welles and RKO over The Magnificent Ambersons, waged at about the same time). Unfortunately, Paramount won. The movie was shelved for two years, and only released in a heavily-altered form after Sturges had quit the studio. The director's cut of the film no longer exists.

So, the movie known as The Great Moment is not the one Sturges made. For starters, he wanted to title his film after the book from which he derived the story, "Triumph Over Pain," and when the studio didn't like that he came up with "Great Without Glory," but eventually they gave it the nondescript title it now bears. Scenes were cut, and the sequence of events was rearranged to fit a more traditional pattern. Those interested in learning what the author actually intended can read his original screenplay in a published collection called Four More Screenplays by Preston Sturges, and you'll find a better piece of work than what's left on screen, but although it's an interesting read I have my doubts about whether the project could've ever been a satisfying film. Still, Sturges' version would have at least been the coherent expression of his vision, instead of fragments rearranged by studio functionaries. As it stands, what's left of The Great Moment is odd and erratic. Some of its problems are inherent in the concept while others rest in Sturges' curious casting choices, which were not imposed on him.

Dr. Morton, the protagonist, is never established as a dimensional character, and although Joel McCrea is as likable as ever he seems to be struggling to breathe life into his role. His (and Morton's) likability is put to a severe test in the scene when the doctor comes home tipsy late one night and attempts to experiment on his own dog. On the plus side, there's a sharp performance by character actor Julius Tannen as Morton's former professor, while veteran Harry Carey is memorable as a surgeon who comes to believe in Morton in a moving, climactic scene. But by that point the tone of the story has undergone several strange shifts: in the interest of lightening the mood, I suppose, Sturges inserted comic interludes with his familiar stock characters, notably William Demarest, but these scenes are more jarring than funny. Demarest offers a spirited turn as a patient named Eben Frost whom Morton uses as a human guinea pig, but when Frost repeats the anecdote again and again ("it was the night of September 30. I was in excruciating pain . . .") the running gag grows wearisome. The central concern here, after all, is the intense pain people experienced during surgery before anesthetics were introduced, and, for me anyway, contemplating this reality undercuts the attempts at humor.

It was bold of Sturges to tackle this project instead of playing it safe by making another crowd-pleasing comedy, but the battle with Paramount damaged his career and ultimately drove him from Hollywood entirely. The film available today is not the one he intended us to see, so he shouldn't be judged too harshly for The Great Moment, but one wishes that he'd been more self-protective, even allowing the front office to talk him out of making this film-- or at least postponing it --perhaps sustaining his winning streak as a master of eccentric, sophisticated comedy just a little longer.

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