ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE: BEST PICTURE
Louis Pasteur struggles against professional ignorance and the government that gives it force to rid the world of microbial infection. Biographical. [The Story of Louis Pasteur credits: Dir: William Dieterle/ Paul Muni, Josephine Hutchinson, Anita Louise/ 87 min/ Drama, Biography/ Creator as Hero, Anti-Regulation]
“What an inspiring and touching story of human triumph! And it’s well told; this film won three Academy Awards, including one for Paul Muni’s terrific performance as Louis Pasteur.”
Never let it be said that the individual makes no difference, that truth moves forward of its own account. Documented here is one of those turning points when a great mind touches the hinge of history and pushes the whole world forward.
As is dramatized in this film, the real-life Pasteur concentrated his efforts on industry and medicine, bringing scientific logic to bear against heretofore unsolved practical problems, most important among these being his development of lifesaving vaccines and encouragement of medical sanitation. And relating as these latter things do to life and death, their telling is the most moving part of this film. Pasteur’s stated modus operandi in dealing with disease is “find the microbe, kill the microbe.” He puts that maxim into effect in three instances dramatized here.
First, when he discovers that poor sanitation is the reason so many mothers die in childbirth, he attempts to do something about it by recommending improved sanitation. The skeptical medical profession reacts badly to the idea, and in turn the Emperor of France forbids Pasteur from doing further medical research. As a result, Pasteur must move from Paris to the anonymity of the countryside in order to be able to work out of the view of intrusive authority. Despite this early setback, however, his views on sanitation are eventually accepted.
Second, through long experimentation, he discovers a treatment for sheep anthrax. The treatment not only saves France’s entire sheep-farming industry, but also resurrects Pasteur’s reputation, and enables him to create a modern research laboratory in Paris.
And in the third example of his creative heroism, he finds a cure for rabies through tireless scientific trial and error. But will the cure work? In a scene based on an actual event, a desperate mother brings a boy infected with rabies to Pasteur. Without treatment, the boy will certainly die. However, then as now, government would not allow unapproved medical treatments even for the doomed. Despite the risk of prosecution, perhaps even the death penalty, Pasteur treats him. The boy lives, and the rabies vaccine is born.
What an inspiring and touching story of human triumph! And it’s well told; this film won three Academy Awards, including one for Paul Muni’s terrific performance as Louis Pasteur. Some of the lesser parts are also well played. This is a must-see for fans of the creator-as-hero theme.
How to See It
Book: Germ Hunter: A Story about Louis Pasteur (Creative Minds Biography)
Book: Pasteur’s Fight Against Microbes (Science Stories)
Book: Louis Pasteur: Revolutionary Scientist (Great Life Stories: Inventors and Scientists)