CAPSULE: NUTS! is a whimsical documentary, mostly animated, telling the story of John R. Brinkley, who illegally claimed to be a medical doctor and who achieved a great following based on the false claim that he could cure male sexual impotency by an operation that grafted goat testicle matter onto the patient testicles. To help publicize his work he founded a radio station that became on of the most popular stations in the country. Penny Lane, director of OUR NIXON, directs a script by Thom Stylinski. The story is told with panache, often funny and more often is just strange. This is a true story too weird to make up. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
John Romulus Brinkley was a quack doctor (or self-proclaimed doctor) whose technique was to transplant goat testicles into men as a cure for male impotency. He first performed the operation at the request of a patient complaining of lack of function. When it appeared to be successful he adopted the procedure as his own and more and more men requested it. He started practicing the operation in 1917 in the nearly dead town of Milford, Kansas, but with the popularity of the operation he opened clinics and hospitals in multiple states. Famous celebrities are listed as having the goat gland operation. Buster Keaton, Huey Long, William Jennings Bryon, and Rudolph Valentino were rumored to be patients and advocates. As one satisfied customer testifies, "I used to have a floppy dong, but it ain't floppy no more."
To advertise his medical services--if that is the right word--he became pioneer of radio and the station he founded became a popular favorite across the US. Eventually he had the world's most powerful broadcasting station. Brinkley's story is incredible but true, a nearly forgotten chapter of United States history. The story drifts from the medical aspects to the radio entertainment Brinkley sponsored to legal challenges to the Brinkley empire, and Brinkley's run for governor of Kansas at a time when the system really seems to have been rigged against him.
Under the direction of Penny Lane, NUTS! drifts from color to monochrome. It largely uses animation with hand-drawn art. Interviews are done in color with testimony by experts like Pope Brock, author of CHARLATAN. Frequently the visuals are of contemporary news stories covering the career of Brinkley. Also there are Brinkley home movies and newsreel and other archive footage. The script is broken into chapters with exaggerated dramatic titles like "THE COBRA STRIKES" and "INTO THE FIELDS OF ELYSIUM." The narrator of the film seems as amused as the audience is.
Oddly, early in the film the narrative makes the operation seem to be apparently successful. Toward the end the tone has changed and it sounds instead that the success rate is what we would have suspected, very roughly nil. Any successes Brinkley appeared to have were probably due to a placebo effect. One of the failings of the film is to regard his medical procedures as neither very helpful nor very harmful. In fact, people were harmed by not getting the medical treatment they really needed.
One interviewee says, "I'd call him a psychopath, but I'm not medically qualified to do so." Somehow medical qualification seems to be an unimportant matter here. This high-spirited documentary is never less than fun to watch and frequently quite astonishing. This is one of the more entertaining documentaries of the year. I rate NUTS! a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5236900/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nuts_2016/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper