This is the mostly true story of the larger-than-life J.R. Brinkley who turned out to be one of the country’s biggest and most successful medical charlatans of the last century. Documentarian filmmaker Penny Lane= chose to tell this totally bizarre tale by mainly blending animated visuals with archival footage and using narration by different actors. She starts by painting a portrait of him as a country Doctor practicing in a one-horse town in the middle of Kansas who suddenly discovers that he can cure impotence by transplanting goat testicles into men.
News of his remarkable find spreads like wildfire and soon he is very successful and rich, and so he spends part 0f his new found wealth of starting one of the country’s first ever radio stations with the very best equipment so he could broadcast to the entire nation. He used it to promote his unusual services which he kept expanding on and this attracted the attention of both the American Medical Association and the Federal Radio Commission. The both hated people like Brinkley who they considered as jumped up upstarts ones who worked outside of all their rules, so they both disbarred him.
Undaunted Brinkley took himself off to Mexico and started an even bigger radio station, and then moved to Texas where he could still practice medicine and so he opened his own enormous hospital. Now the money was really rolling in and he bought an enormous Estate, private planes and even a ship for himself, his wife and his son John Jr (called Sonny) whom he doted upon. In fact life could not have been more perfect, that is until the AMA’s chief quack inspector publicly called Brinkley a charlatan.
That in itself wasn’t Brinkley’s undoing, it was the fact that he brazenly decided to sue the AMA for libel, and he lost. The Judge never allowed any of Brinkley’s patients to testify, but only medical experts who all lined up eager to prove that he was a total fraud. It turns out that they were right. There wasn’t one single part of Brinkley’s outrageous and outlandish story that was true, and Lane had not only disguised that so well in the first part of the movie, but there are parts when she positively salutes him as if he is some sort of folk hero and not one of the biggest con man of all time.
As amusing as Brinkley’s tale comes over in this delightfully funny and quirky movie, the reality of him simply dispensing nothing more than colored water to seriously sick people probably means that we should be less sympathetic to him losing all his money and possessions, but actually thanks to Lane, we don’t.