Sister Kenny (1946) Movie Review

Sister Kenny (1946)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Rosalind Russell in Sister Kenny (1946)

Gettings his Bracks Up

Having qualified as a nurse Elizabeth Kenny (Rosalind Russell - Flight for Freedom) could have gone to work in a hospital as her friend, Dr. McDonnell (Alexander Knox - None Shall Escape), advised but instead she becomes an Australian bush nurse. It is whilst working as a bush nurse that she comes across her first case of infantile paralysis, a condition with no known cure. Despite having no knowledge of the condition she sets about treating the symptoms and she not only cures the child but 6 more suffering from the same paralyisis. Trouble is that what Elizabeth learns about the paralysis and the way she treats it goes against what the respected doctors of the medical establishment suggest and as such they are less that happy, especially Dr. Brack (Philip Merivale - This Land Is Mine) who takes exception to a nurse saying he is wrong. Despite those esteemed doctors refusing to take her seriously Elizabeth perseveres with her treatment and studies in order to help the children even if it costs her own personal happiness.

I doubt I am alone when I say I had never heard of Sister Elizabeth Kenny before watching "Sister Kenny", not only did she die in 1952 but her story, whilst a fascinating one of devotion, is very specific. For those like me who have never head of Sister Elizabeth Kenny she was an Australian nurse who took on the medical profession because when she came up with a treatment for Polio the establishment would not accept it and went out of their way to block it. Interestingly it was her treatment which was used on actor Alan Alda when at 7 he contracted Polio. But if you think that means that "Sister Kenny" is a medical drama it is anything but, instead this is a story of a woman who not only sacrificed much personally but refused to back down despite decades of the medical establishment trying to prevent her work and discredit her.

Alexander Knox in Sister Kenny (1946)

To be honest "Sister Kenny" doesn't start very well as an early scene where we watch Elizabeth Kenny treat a young child, Dorrie, who has infantile paralysis is unfortunately cheesy because it is overly simplistic. It doesn't bode well when we watch her talk to the child's legs about re-educating them and suddenly they start to work. I know it is just a simplified visual representation of the treatment but it is way too simple. The good news is that after the less than great opening "Sister Kenny" hits its stride as we have the story of her dedication, sacrifice, and battle despite continual disappointment. The sacrifice part comes from putting the needs of the children over her personal happiness because if she abandoned them to live a normal life she would carry that guilt with her.

We then have the battle and disappointment as we watch Sister Kenny go though decades of battling the medical establishment who led by Dr. Brack refuse to accept her findings and treatment. And trust me there is a scene where Kenny basically confronts Dr. Brack in front of an audience in a hospital classroom which is as powerful as any you will see as she rips into him and those who are too pig-headed to admit they are wrong and in doing so help crippled children. There are a lot more powerful scenes such as one where she meets a young boy who Dr. Brack says is cured because with splints and braces he can walk to the constant battles in her clinics. And it is this side of the movie, the power scenes as Elizabeth Kenny doesn't give up which makes "Sister Kenny" so entertaining and inspiration.

What this all boils down to is that after a slightly rocky start "Sister Kenny" finds its stride and delivers this powerful look at the life of a woman who would not give up the battle against the medical institutions to have her treatment adopted, not out of glory but out of helping those who were crippled by Polio.