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A Paralyzing Fear
A Paralyzing Fear
Actor: Olympia Dukakis
Director: Nina Gilden Seavey
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 30min

{Emmy Award Winner!} — {Erik Barnouw Prize for Best Historical Film of the Year} — {Golden Apple Award, National Education Media Network} — {Golden Hugo Award, International Film & Video Communications} — {International Monito...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Olympia Dukakis
Director: Nina Gilden Seavey
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: First Run Features
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 02/22/2005
Original Release Date: 03/04/1998
Theatrical Release Date: 03/04/1998
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

An Excellent Film
Richard E. Kravitz | 11/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I viewed this film at home and then showed it to my high school chemistry students during a unit on water-borne disease. The students found it quite moving and there was much "sniffling" and wiping of eyes during scenes where children were shown suffering in the iron lungs. An excellent film for any biology or social science class to show the students the human side of a disease."
A great history of a feared epidemic
Timothy P. Scanlon | Hyattsville, MDUSA | 08/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I can still remember over a half century ago when I got my first--I think it was the first--polio shot. Those days, one of my friends lived in a small house, no longer there. Her parents had spent a fortune keeping her alive, I guess, as they were on "the poor side of town," after her bout with polio. She had those metal braces, fortunately not used any more. I suppose she felt rejected by most, maybe that's why I befriended her. But that was a long time ago and I haven't the slightest idea what ever happened to her.

In my late 30s, I met a woman and apologized that I don't dance much. Then I noticed she had a cane--she too had had polio. I ended up marrying her, and she finally agreed to getting a wheelchair, something she was reluctant to do as it would suggest that she might be, my God, disabled!

About a decade ago too, I listened to a radio show which compared the polio scare to that of AIDS. In the polio days, we were afraid to touch anything that someone with polio may have infected, we were AFRAID. In the AIDS case we were too, it seems, though the means of picking up AIDS was a little more--specific--than of picking up polio. Anyway, that's among my reasons for being interested in this fine film.

Poliomyelitis--or infantile parlysis, as most stricken were quite young--has been around for millenia. (One of the human ancestors is often portrayed in films as being hunched over, they say, as the skeletal remains were those of a polio victim; a "normal" man of that species, we've learned since, would have stood not unlike you and me.) The story of the film starts closer to 1916 when there was an polio epidemic in the US. Then the NYC government washed the streets with millions of gallons of water, killed thousands of stray cats as they didn't know what brought about the condition which killed thousands.

For a couple of years then there were few cases, but then we were stricken again. And again. "Fortunately," during this period, a well-established, and wealthy American--Mr. F.D. Roosevelt--was stricken. That publicized the epidemic more, and Roosevelt purchased the waning Warm Springs, Georgia spa and invited "polios" from all over the country. One might say the victims of that disease began to be more accepted.

That was a particularly educational portion of the film; I always thought that many did not know that Roosevelt had been stricken. The film indicated that while it was very well known to the general public that FDR was a polio victim, he didn't allow himself to be portrayed as a victim of it--as handicapped. He used his braces to stand and "walk," leaned on associates, did not allow photos of him in a wheelchair. Among those interviewed in the film was Hugh Gallagher, the author of "Splendid Deception," about FDR. And Gallagher himself was a polio survivor. (Anyway, had FDR capitalized off of being a victim, I doubt he would have been elected even once, let alone four times, to the White House.)

The film showed that in the 1930s, a physician had developed what he felt was a polio vaccine. Unfortunately he knew little about the condition. He "innoculated" a couple of thousand, many of whom were infected.

As time went by more and more was known of the disease, how it spread, the nature of the virus, etc. There were apparently three viruses and victims were hit either in their limbs--films of kids learning how to walk with braces reminded me of my younger days--or their lungs; in the 1950s and before, "iron lungs" were a sign of the scare of polio.

Those interviewed for the film included a family with eight children six of whom "got" polio. (My wife was the only one of six in her family at the time to have gotten it. How confusing that must have been for her parents!) Others too remembered how they were treated as "cripples," a word I still remember from my youth. And one woman interviewed several times is still confined to an iron lung. My spouse cried when the woman in the lung referred to her younger days when a nurse threatened to take her from the respirator if she didn't stop crying.

Over the next 20 years, there had been controversies as to whether a dead or a weakened polio virus should be used to immunize the nations youth (i.e, ME!) Dr. Sabine was a proponent of the weakened virus, and Dr. Jonas Salk was the proponent of the dead virus. Salk's was the chosen means and that dead virus is what I--and many, many others, were immunized with in the mid 1950s. Unfortunately, one batch was used in which the virus was apparently not dead and, again, some of those immunized fell prey to polio. And the process was shelved for a while and Dr. Salk was ostracized.

Eventually, in 1961, the Sabine vaccine was used. (The advantage of that was that it was "oral." I remember that little paper cup of sweetened water. While I may not have cried had I had the injection like I did five or six years before, the drink was still preferable!)

It's a fascinating story, really. And a little addendum to the story is on something that's concerned me for years: that many people discount the need for immunizations, for polio, for diptheria, for any number of conditions. Polio is perhaps the most conspicuous example of a vaccine's success, i.e., why the vaccination practice is necessary.

While this film may be a trip down memory lane for those of us in our 50s or older, it could be a helpful part of a history curriculum. Epidemics are not just limited to, say, the 14th century. They were just "yesterday," and if we're not careful could happen again.

I discussed it with my spouse. I thought that the Sabine--oral--vaccine had been discredited. She pointed out that that happened since the film's release. (And I don't know of its status today.)

It was an eye opener for me, and my wife--one of whose heroes is FDR--really appreciated it."
Polio and it's epidemics explained.
M. Lewis | MO USA | 01/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary did an excellent job of explaining the causes of the growing polio epidemics in the first half of the twentieth century. To think that public sanitation, which ended other deadly diseases, had a role in the increase of polio cases. It's a must see for anyone who remembers this scourge, or any historian."