In 10 Words or Less
The battle against cancer and those who battle it
In sitting down to write this review, I tried to decide how I would approach it, since there's not much more to the film than the story, which I wouldn't want to give away. But some general overview information wouldn't hurt.
In the '40s and '50s, Harry Hoxsey claimed to have the cure for cancer, a tonic that would attack cancer in a non-toxic way, using all-natural herbs. But because these herbs could be grown by anyone, they stood as a threat to the medical industry that makes billions of dollars from battling cancer. The American Medical Association wasn't about to let someone steal its cash cow, and did everything it could to shut Hoxsey down. As he had no medical license, that was easy to do, but Hoxsey wouldn't go down without a fight.
The film doesn't break any new ground for documentaries, as the presentation is very dry, focusing mainly on testimonies from patients at Hoxsey's clinic in Mexico, arguments from his opponents and scenes from old anti-Hoxsey propaganda films. Narrated by Max Gail, an actor who lost his wife to cancer, the film has the feel of a film-strip they might show in school. I can't say that it's entertaining, the way documentaries made today are, but it does a good job of organizing the information in a way that makes it easy to digest, with the exception of the repetition at the end of the film. Documentaries have come a long way.
While the topic of cancer medicine may not seem like ths stuff of high drama, there's more to take in here than medicine. Conspiracy, character assassination and the struggle for life are central to Hoxsey's story. There are also some disturbing visuals, like a cancerous open wound being treated with Hoxsey's herbs. The presentation may be a bit boring, but the topics certainly aren't.
Presented on one DVD, Hoxsey is packaged in a standard keepcase. After opening with some animation, the static full-frame menus are well-designed, with an animated transition on the scene selection menu. Options include watch the film, select scenes and view special features. Scene selection menus include still previews and titles for each scene, while there's just one language track, English, and no subtitles or closed captioning.
The video quality on this full-frame DVD isn't bad, considering the age of the film. The color is bright, but the image is somewhat soft, and there's a large amount of grain, dirt and damage. The film simply looks its age. The presentation seems fine, all considered, as there's no sign of digital concerns.
The audio is documentary standard, presented as a Dolby Stereo track, but it's a flat delivery, focused front and center. One wouldn't expect much of a movie like this, and those expectations are matched here. The mix is clean, though, without any distortion in the dialogue.
For a cut-and-dry documentary, there are some decent bonus features included with the film. First up is the 28-minute featurette "Hope and a Prayer," a public-access worthy piece on attitudinal healing, which involves the patient's mindset in their own recovery. Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, a Yale University Medical Hospital doctor, talks about his background, how emotions can affect a person's physical well-being, and what the future of medicine holds. If you enjoy finding out about alternative medicine, this will be interesting, though the pacing is a bit slow, and the look is old.
The film's creator takes the spotlight in the other big extra, as Dr. Larry Dossey, an expert in alternative medicine, interviews director Kenny Ausubel. Shot in February 2005, Ausubel spends 24 minutes tackling the big questions about the film's focus, talking about how Hoxsey got the runaround from the medical community, the work that went into Hoxsey, and how he became interested in making the movie. The chat is rather subdued, as neither participant is very dynamic, but the featurette is very informative regarding the film's history.
Also included are some links to related Web sites.
The Bottom Line
Hoxsey is an old-school documentary, told like a TV newsmagazine report or a PBS special, but the subject matter is very much modern, and relevent to most people, as cancer touches so many. The presentation is a bit bland, comprised mainly of talking heads and old film clips, but the content is fascinating, especially those clips, which are madness in film form. I'm not certain how out-of-date the information is, but almost 20 years later, there have probably been some discoveries that aren't covered here. The DVD presentation is OK, with some interesting extras, but it's hard to say that anyone will watch this more than once. Its dated presentation and revelations count against it as an informative documentary, but the history it offers is worth checking out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.