Saturday, June 22, 2013

Alaska Lifeboat (RKO, 1956)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After The Cyclops I kept my disc running and watched the next item on it, Alaska Lifeboat, a pretty turgid but still interesting 1956 short by Herbert Morgan, also for RKO, about the good ship — or at least boat — Hygiene, in which a public-health nurse comes out to the remote community of Sitka, Alaska (though the town’s name is given away only in a tag seen on a boy who’s air-lifted out so he can be flown to a big-city hospital for an operation on his foot to make him walk normally — though given the speed with which he moves one wonders why he needs an operation). The nurse is unidentified in the credits (in fact, none of the participants are, though the page on it lists one, Ralph Sarlan — the boy with the bad foot — because at one point in the film the narrator gives us his name) but she’s tough-minded and personable, though most of the movie was shot silent so we hear her voice but it rarely matches up with her lip movements on screen. As Charles pointed out afterwards, what’s most interesting about this movie is how relevant it still is; we still have a pay-to-play health-care system, we still have people in remote areas who have neither access to doctors nor much confidence in the normal health-care system, and for people living at the thin edge of poverty access to care is still pretty chancy. The film takes the predictable but annoying view that modern Western medicine is the be-all and end-all of knowledge about health care and anything else is just superstition and fraud — at one point the camera (manned by Floyd Crosby, 1931 Academy Award winner for the Friedrich Murnau/Robert Flaherty Tabu and father of rock musician David Crosby) shows us a cabinet full of patent medicines and the narrator informs us that they’re all utterly useless and some of them even make their users sicker — but it’s also a potentially compelling drama, though given the high-school audio-visual means of its presentation it’s a lot less compelling than it could have been.