Classic Film Guide

Sister Kenny (1946) - full review!

Produced, directed, and co-written by the Academy Award winning screenwriter Dudley Nichols (The Informer (1935)), who adapted Elizabeth Kenny's autobiographical novel And They Shall Walk (co-written with Martha Ostenso) along with actor Alexander Knox (Wilson (1944)) and Mary McCarthy, this above average biographical drama about the Australian nurse who helped discover the treatment for infantile paralysis (e.g. polio) features Rosalind Russell in the title role. Russell deservedly earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance. Similar to another high quality biography, The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935), the film details the struggles of an outsider with a solution against the skeptical, bureaucratic doctor established medical community, over several decades. Several dated female roles are also represented - apparently, women can't become doctors and nurses who marry can no longer practice in their profession.

Knox plays a general practitioner, Dr. Aeneas McDonnell, who is the first to believe that bush nurse Elizabeth Kenny's unorthodox methods against the crippling disease have merit. Charles Kemper & Fay Helm play the parents of Dorrie McIntyre (Doreen McCann), the first child affected with the paralysis that Kenny gets to treat (her methods are shown in some detail). Dean Jagger plays Kevin Connors, Elizabeth's military officer boyfriend come fiancé, who stands by her even though their pending nuptials never come to pass. Their relationship is representative of the great sacrifices Kenny made through the years for the affected children. Philip Merivale plays Dr. Brack, the polio specialist that serves as Kenny's primary nemesis - he's particularly disturbed by the non-technical terms (such as spasm, and reeducation) she uses. During the course of the story, Kenny longs to prove that her methods work as she seeks permission to work with an acute case, something Dr. Brack (et al) refuses to allow. Even though she takes 'his' rejections, children thought 'lost' to the disease, and has some success enabling them to walk again, she receives setback after setback while craving validation.

Beulah Bondi and Charles Dingle appear briefly as Kenny's parents; John Litel plays the medical director of a Minnesota clinic that believes in Kenny's methods. Dorothy Peterson plays Kenny's (MN) secretary Agnes, whose question answers the first half of the film's title (Sister is the ‘rank’ that a nurse who serves in the Australian army receives). Charles Halton (uncredited) plays one of the officials who helps to shutdown the Kenny treatment clinics; Regis Toomey (uncredited) plays a New York newspaper reporter.

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