Nuts! (NR)

Documentary 79 min. April 22, 2016
By Alan Scherstuhl
This marvelous, mostly animated, doc/drama hybrid couldn't have come along at a better time. Director Penny Lane (Our Nixon) showcases, with wit and suspense, the undoing of one of the 20th century's great flim-flam artists, a huckster who seized then-new communication technologies — and the trappings of Christian divinity — to convince Americans of profitable nonsense. In Milford, Kansas, in the late 1910s, Dr. John R. Brinkley hit on the idea of sewing goat "glands" into men's scrotums as a cure for impotence.

Lane's film purports to be based on a vintage self-commissioned Brinkley biography, written by Clement Wood, and in its opening reels Nuts! gets a little breathless championing the doctor's success. Luminaries descended on north-central Kansas for the treatment, including Rudolph Valentino and William Jennings Bryan. In the mid-1920s, Brinkley launched America's fourth radio station, and soon it was the most powerful in the world.

But then the American Medical Association came for him. Lane spins the first half of this story as a mostly straightforward bio-doc, with amusingly dry Kansas historians appearing between archival clips, scans of vintage newspapers and the occasional animated scene with invented dramatic dialogue. (And non-graphic goat sex.) The animation becomes more prominent as the bottom falls out of Brinkley's life in a lengthy, exciting courtroom sequence — he made the mistake of suing the noisiest of his critics for slander. In front of a judge and under tough questioning, the glands shrivel up entirely. Lane and screenwriter Thom Stylinski offer up a smart, theatrical précis of the testimony, in rousing scenes of cross-examination. The animation here has a grayscale, sketchlike look in keeping with newspaper illustrations of the trial itself.
Penny Lane Gene Tognacci, Dr. James Reardon Thom Stylinski MTuckman Media

Watch the Trailer


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories