“Frigid” women and contagious men. Anatomical animations and nefarious quacks.
Those are just a few of the topics covered by the National Library of Medicine’s collection of medical movies that explore various facets of medicine.
A new site, medicineonscreen.nlm.nih.gov/" target="_blank">Medicine on Screen, found at medicineonscreen.nlm.nih.gov, highlights those films in all their instructive glory. It documents the history of the medical movie industry, and includes essays on some of the films. The essays are written by scholars, but they’re accessible when combined with the films themselves.
Many medical movies were made for training or educating the public about communicable diseases, occupational hazards and other issues. Some movies include documentation of scientific advances, and others suggest how to behave.
The history of the industry runs parallel with that of Hollywood cinema, and the collection includes everything from silent movies to cartoons.
There’s “Rodney,” a cartoon kid who comes down with a terrifying case of tuberculosis. A new media expert and a medical historian reveal how the film uses Cold War fears of the other to make people aware of the possible invasion of infectious disease.
“Easy to Get” features another kind of othering: Racist and misogynistic tropes uphold the 1940s film depicting soldiers threatened by diseases transmitted by sexually active women.
There’s a film about psychiatry starring Gene Kelly, and one created by a Disney animator who was fascinated by human anatomy.
The movies go beyond shock value and hilarity, of course: The collection traces the allure, growth and perils of modern medicine on film.
There is a YouTube playlist at bit.ly/MedHistMovies.