Nuts is a documentary about John R. Brinkley, a nationally famous doctor and radio personality who made his fortune during the Great Depression. Brinkley first gained fame for pioneering a technique to cure male infertility by grafting goat testicles onto men. He then expanded his reach by building, managing, and hosting the most powerful radio station in America. At the height of his radio and medical empire, he made over $1M per year (almost $17M today).
He was regarded by millions as a miracle worker in his time, but he was regarded by a well-informed few as a quack. These few did all they could to reveal his true nature and discredit him. This led to the founding of both the AMA and the FCC, which were created to check the power men like Brinkley wielded over the American people.
Nuts is a clever documentary. It immerses the audience in the Brinkley cult for most of its run-time before shifting toward a more incredulous point-of-view toward the end of the film. At first, you are aghast at Brinkley’s ingenuity and success. Later, you are aghast that you were taken in by his lies. If there’s a sucker born every minute, as Brinkley’s almost-contemporary P.T. Barnum used to say, I would have to count myself among them for most of Nuts’ running time.
Brinkley also reminded me of many famous men today who appeal to popular fears to gain power.
The documentary is a mixture of animation, old photographs and film footage, and heads-up interviews with historians. The animation itself is nothing special. Fortunately, Brinkley’s life story is fascinating and makes up for what the film lack’s visually. This documentary would have perhaps worked just as well as an audio documentary. It also ends on a strange note that seems completely disconnected from the larger narrative, as if the filmmakers wanted to stick it to Brinkley one last time.
If something is too good to be true, it probably is, as the saying goes, and since Brinkley relied on cliches and folk maxims to build his empire, I suppose it’s okay for me to include a few in this review. Don’t believe everything you hear. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Etc. Etc. Etc.