Search - NOVA - Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman in America on DVD

NOVA - Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
NOVA - Typhoid Mary The Most Dangerous Woman in America
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 0min

Interweaving biography and social history, The Most Dangerous Woman in America tells the extraordinary story of Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. She gained this notoriety by being the first person in North Americ...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, Science & Technology
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 01/04/2005
Original Release Date: 01/01/2004
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2004
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Really Eye Catching
Andre S. Grindle | Brewer Maine | 05/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This Nova episode is something I saw on TV last evening.I knew about Typhoid Mary from historical legend but knew nothing about the facts.And as the actress portraying her so bluntly put it her NAME was Mary Mallon,an Irish immigrant cook living in New York at the turn of the 20'th century.And as this show so properly points out was responcible for one of the most mysterious and often deadly epidemics of the day.Only trouble is that in some significant ways Mary Mallon didn't come off as a particularly sympathetic character-she attacked Dr.Soper,who inicially informed her of her health status with a fork and constantly avaded the attentions of health service officials trying to track her down,while having killed three people and infecting others,unintentionally of course.
Mary was what was known as a healthy carrier.She was infected with Typhoid and was able to spread it to others but experienced no symptoms herself.There were in fact at least several dozen more like her but because of her unique case she got the most publicity by far.That was all compounded by the fact that dues to sexism and social Darwinism of her time she also became the literal poster child for Typhoid.
She died in the 1930's,near 70 years old and having been exhiled for years on North Brother Island,the American equivilent of a leper colony.The story itself as well as that of much of Mary's life is a tragic and sad one.But all sides made serious errors in judgement,and perhapes Mary's lack of respect over the years may have been due to her constant denials about having carried the disease and lack of remourse for those she's infected.Maybe the idea horrified her too much to bare and it drove her close to madness.She was afterall something of a caregiver by trade and likely resented having been blamed for causing so much misery.That's my personal opinion but nobody,as this shows really knew what was going on inside her head.And if this is to prove factual I don't know if we'd want to.So was she a victem or victemizer?Probably both but as such likely too frightened to live with it but to proud to admit it.But anyway this will prove very educational and eye catching."
Be Careful With That Home Made Peach Ice Cream!
Susan K. Schoonover | Boulder, CO | 03/10/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is another well produced NOVA offering that this time centers on the infamous "Typhoid Mary!" I've heard the name/ phrase all my life but never really knew it referred to a real person with a real story until viewing this DVD. Her story is well told through dramatic reenactments supposedly using the character's real words, vintage photos, and modern day health and historical experts. And whether Mary was an unknowing victim or a vindictive villain is given fair coverage without reaching a real conclusion."
Mary, Mary, quite contrary (spolier warning)
Harley Quinn | New York | 11/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook to several wealthy families. Unfortunately, she was also a healthy carrier of typhoid and most of the families she worked for became sick, some people actually died. As a result she was quarantined twice on an island for individuals similar to herself, the second time was for the remainder of her life.
This was a good documentary: it interweaved re-enactments, interviews from historians, mock interviews from the character actors as the real life participants, and photos from the actual participants and time period covered.
The documentary not only covered the life of Mary Mallon but the social and economic issues of the time that affected the outcome of her life so dramatically. For example, attitudes towards Irish immigrants at the time are examined, advances in medicine, class relations and biases, sexism, urbanization, etc Had any number of these factors been different the legend of "Typhoid Mary" may not have existed or may have been significantly altered.
One problem I had with the documentary was that it was biased and not objective for the most part. I agree that Ms.Mallon was subjected to prejudices which were exacerbated by her being a typhoid carrier, but as another reviewer commented it was hard to sympathize with her on some levels and in many ways she was not a victim but contributed to her own persecution. She refused to acknowledge she was a carrier of the disease in the face of overwhelming evidence which resulted in more people getting sick and in some cases dying. She may have refused to acknowledge this for many reasons, indeed perhaps its what kept her from giving up on life.
At the end of the day it will all boil down to one question for many viewers:is it right to deny a person their civil liberties in order to protect the general public? For many people I think the answer will be yes when that person refuses or is unable to acknowledge the consequences of their actions (although unintentional)resulting in more people getting hurt. The story of "Typhoid Mary" is tragic in that she was not just a captive of the Health Department, but of her own self denial."
A glitzy production.
Tom Brody | Berkeley, CA | 11/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The picture on the disc's case is a plain drawing, in brown and white. But what we find on the disc is a glitzy, professional production. Roughly equal amounts of time are spent showing these three things:

(1) Two actors, representing Typhoid Mary and George Soper, giving monologues, (2) Archival generic black and white motion pictures and stills showing squalid living conditions in New York City or Ireland, and (3) Interviews with present-day academics filmed in color.

Usually, Typhoid Mary and George Soper are shown filmed in color, where the backdrop is a tinted photograph from the early 1900s. There are a few scenes taking place in real rooms (not just with a photo for a backdrop), for example a kitchen where Typhoid Mary is cooking, an apartment building where a group of actors dressed as policemen are hunting for Miss Typhoid Mary, and a bathroom where a man with typhoid fever is being treated with an ice bath. The main point of the movie is that Typhoid Mary was not able to understand, or accept, the concept of a "carrier." A "carrier" is a human host who shows little or no sign of a disease, but sheds bacteria causing other people to get sick and die. The disc lists a number of extra features: Printable materials for educators, cloased captions, and described video for the visually impaired.

I have two criticisms. First, the disc should have spent at least one minute showing a drawing of Salmonella typhi, that is, a drawing depicting the flagella, plasma membrane, bacterial chromosome, and so on. The disc shows a movie of bacteria busy with cell division, but it is not a very detailed movie, and it serves merely as an amusing thing to look at (and not particularly informative to anyone). Second, the film fails to disclose, in any detail, the mechanisms by which S. typhi makes people sick.

I found the following information from the published literature, regarding these mechanisms. Salmonella typhi pentetrates the ileum and enters the macrophages. The macrophages then carry the bacterium to the spleen, liver, and other organs. Also, in the ileum, the bacterium causes perforation, where the perforation occurs during the second week of infection. Intestinal performation, which results in bleeding ulcers, is one of the most serious complications in typhoid fever (see, e.g., Nguyen, et al. (2004) Clin. Infect. Dis. 39:61-67; Huang, et al. (1998) Infection Immunity 66:2928-2937; Lee, et al. (2004) Dig. Liver Dis. 36:141-146)."