Movie Review: "Nuts" Directed by Penny Lane (2016)
By: Belle McIntyre
This is one of those examples of truth being stranger than fiction. And this is one of the cleverest documentaries I have seen insofar as it tells the story as it unfolded in real time in the day. And then the backstory (also the real story) is revealed in all its sordid details. The subject is a poor country doctor, John Romulus Brinkley, who sets up a business as a pharmacist/doctor in a very small town in Kansas and through serendipity and opportunism latches onto a treatment for impotence which catapults him to fame and fortune. The fact that this happens in 1917 before the internet and social media makes it all the more remarkable.
The title refers to the fact that the treatment involves goat testicles. Dr. Brinkley was receiving so many patients that he had to start his own goat farm to meet the demand. Brinkley became such a skilled promoter and con man that he became hugely rich, inventing junk mail, starting a powerful radio station and running for governor of Kansas. When he goes too far and hubris takes over his humanity - the law catches up with him and he is revealed for the spectacular fraud that he is. His fall from grace is swift and tragic on the scale of Bernie Madoff (without the collateral damage).
What is fascinatingly revealed is an amazing amount of information gathered by Penny Lane who spent 4 years on the project. And what she lacks in archival footage is augmented by brilliantly funny animations depicting the amazingly blatantly bogus testimonials and appalling gullibility of those who bought into the story of the man and the treatment. But this was a time of great naïveté in America and bald-faced film- flammery with all kinds of patent medicines and products being promoted by traveling grifters. The infancy of radio also provided expanded reach for advertising and the film provides a fascinating window into the times. Oddly enough, they do not look that different than today with our glut of information from dubious sources. “There’s a sucker born every minute” a phrase attributed to P.T. Barnum, could be the tagline for this delightfully humorous cautionary tale.
Article © Belle McIntyre