Thursday, October 1, 2009

Making gossip easier

One of tomorrow's better movies is The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, airing at 6:00 AM ET October 2 on the Fox Movie Channel.

Now, you should recognize Bell's name as that of the inventor of the telephone, which is more or less what the movie covers -- well, that, and all the ancillary events that led up to it and the effects; just the famous discovery with Dr. Watson wouldn't make for a particularly exciting movie. Bell is played by Don Ameche, one of the Fox studio's top male actors of the late 1930s. The real life Bell was a Scottish-born Canadian who worked with deaf children, trying to figure out a way to get them to be able to hear again. This led to a natural interest in sound-transmission devices, which led to the ultimate invention of the telephone. Along the way, Bell met the young deaf woman who would become his wife (played here by Loretta Young).

Eventually, Bell spilled acid on himself, yelling for Watson (played in the movie by Henry Fonda) to come and help him. When Watson came, claiming he heard the call for help over the apparatus, they had an invention. But, of course, it wasn't all clear sailing for Bell. On the same day Bell filed his American patent application, a rival inventor, Elisha Gray, also filed an application to patent a device for the elctric transmision of sound. This resulted in a protracted court case to determine who should really hold the patent, a case which would have bankrupted Bell and his backers had it gone against them.

As best as I can tell, not being an expert on the history of inventions, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell seems surprisingly accurate. All of the main events in the telephone invention timeline seem to be there: notably, the work with the deaf; the difficulty in inventing the telephone; the scene with Watson; Bell's demonstrations of the phone; and the trial. A lot of the scenes with Ameche and Fonda seem to turn him into a bit too much of a "starving artist" who altough starving is happy; I can't believe Bell was really like that. That having been said, the movie is one that's filled with enjoyable performances, and tells a good story that, for the most part, is quite true. In addition to Ameche, Fonda, and Young, the cast also includes Charles Coburn as Bell's father-in-law and one financial backer; Gene Lockhart as another financial backer; and Spring Byington as Coburn's wife.

I find it very surprising that The Story of Alexander Graham Bell has not made its way to DVD. It was also omitted in TCM's look at the great films of 1939 back in July, which was another sad omission.

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