Ken Harrison 8:30 a.m., Jan. 31
Free movies of the weak: Iron lungs on film
The last time I cried during a movie was when I glanced at my watch and realized there were still two hours left to go in Schindler's List. The Sessions doesn't open until October 28, but any feel-good comedy featuring a lead character in an iron lung that brought tears to my eyes must be heralded.
The studio asks that I refrain from talking about the best American film so far this year until opening day, but that won't stop me from giving a brief historical overview of iron lungs in cinema.
"What's an artificial lung?" I was 6 at the time and would give anything to re-live the look on my dad's face when I posed the question. "What do you know about artificial lungs," he grumbled. Glancing over the top of the Chicago American, dad spied an image on the TV set that explained my odd line of questioning.
A "what the hell kinda' thing is this?" look crossed dad's face. "I don't know," he replied, quickly returning to his newspaper. He never once questioned why the sight of Daffy Duck with his head jammed in an iron lung brought such joy to his little boy's heart.
It's an image that once planted, is not easily degaussed. I took great delight in sharing Bob Clampett's The Daffy Doc (1938) with animation students. Gasps choked laughs the first time they caught sight of this disturbingly daffy flash of operating room actuality grafted into a squash-and-stretch universe.
The Magnet (1950) is a satiric gem from England. James Fox was 10-years-old when he starred as Johnny Brent, a lad who is accused of stealing after he trades an "invisible watch" for a magnet. The title object winds up affixed to an iron lung that's part of a hospital fund raiser. Click to watch The Magnet.
No Pain is an episode of the popular Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show. Sandwiched between two sets of twins -- Hayley Mills squared in The Parent Trap and Family Affair's Buffy and Jody -- Brian Keith starred as a wealthy businessman suddenly confronted with the prospects of an iron lung and a murderous wife. In accordance with network Hitch, a twist-ending comes along that changes everything. Click to watch No Pain.
If there is a finer iron lung epic than Agustí Villaronga's In a Glass Cage, please forward a link. A pedophiliac Nazi doctor's botched suicide attempt places him inside the safe confines of an iron lung. Fortunately for the viewer, the good doctor is being cared for by a young man he sexually assaulted in his youth. Suffice it to say the lad constructs his own variation on a temple of doom.
Put a copy on the prison dumbwaiter and send it up to Jerry Sandusky this instant!
It's dark, it's horrifying, it's exceedingly well made, and yes, it's available on YouTube. While films like In a Glass Cage define the "feel-good movie" experience for me, I must warn readers that this is strong stuff and most decidedly not for all tastes. Click at your own risk.
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