Movie Review: “Nuts!” is a documentary with testicular fortitude

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“Nuts!” is a comical documentary exploration of Americana, a piece of Great Depression history playfully related with animation and tongue planted firmly in cheek.

It’s about a Great American, a visionary almost forgotten today, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, whose impotence cures made him a legend back when movies were silent, radio was new and Viagra was but a Big Pharma wet dream.

Brinkley kicked around the  fringes of medicine in the early years of the century, settled in Milford, Kansas, and discovered that implanting billy goat testicles cured men complaining of having “a flat tire,” “sexual weakness” Brinkley called it.

It made him and his little town rich, and as he became one of the earliest adapters when radio rolled around, it made him famous.

The adorably-named director Penny Lane has built her film upon Brinkley’s “authorized biography,” and lists the achievements of this scientific wonder, chapter and verse. The famous — Rudolph Valentino, Huey P. Long, William Jennings Bryan — supposedly took the cure. Buster Keaton may have, too, and certainly plugged “goat gland” therapy in one of his movies.

Brinkley put the fourth radio station to take to the airwaves in these United States on the air, and used it to do consultations and make prescriptions and talk, frankly, about sex and sexual dysfunction. One of the historical experts Lane puts on camera describes the goateed Brinkley as “the Dr. Ruth…of the ’20s and ’30s.”

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Endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, a man who built an empire of cooperative pharmacies, private hospitals and eventually, multi-state broadcasting, Brinkley was so admired he might have become Governor of Kansas, had the state not engaged in election chicanery to prevent it.

And it was all a hustle. The infant American Medical Association came after him, as did the pre-Federal Communications Commission (Federal Radio Commission). His “real” story was simply scandalous.

Lane saves her departure from the script, according to the self-published biography, for the third act, when Brinkley took his place among the infamous figures of early radio — Father Coughlin and Sister Aimee Semple McPherson.

But that takes little away from his pioneering status. Laws were written to protect the public from people like Brinkley, but millions embraced him. His radio station put country and western music and traditional folk musicians on the air. And when he lost that one, he became the first to sell his elixirs and cures on a purpose-built super-powered Mexican radio station on the border with Texas.

His status as an outlaw radio/musical taste-changer warranted a mention in ZZ Top’s early hit, “Heard it On the X.”

This quick, short Sundance Film Festival award winner leaves out a lot more about Brinkley than in it includes. But save your trip to the library (or Wikipedia) for after the film. The surprises, comic and tragic, are worth waiting for.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, adult sexual subject matter

Cast: Pope Brock, Dr. James Rearden, the voices of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, Gene Tognacci and others. 
Credits: Directed by Penny Lane, script by Thom Stylinski. A Cartuna/Amazon release.

Running time: 1:19

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