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Film / The Story of Louis Pasteur

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The Story of Louis Pasteur is a 1936 film directed by William Dieterle and starring Paul Muni. Muni is Louis Pasteur, who as the film opens, is already deep in his struggle to convince doctors in 19th-century France and around the world of the truth of the germ theory of disease. Pasteur confronts ignorance, skepticism, and scorn, even as he works to find vaccines for rabies and anthrax.

Paul Muni, the greatest actor of his era, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film. The film was nominated for Best Picture.


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This film contains the following tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: The French medical establishment is quite mean in its mockery of and scorn for Pasteur.
  • Answer Cut
    Empress Eugenie: Most people who go to hospitals are carried out—dead.
    Emperor Napoleon III: Yes, Charbonnet. Why?
    [cut]
    Pasteur: Because our criminal disregard of germs and their power to invade the bloodstream...
  • As You Know: The president of France says "You are all aware of the conditions" that the Germans have made for withdrawing from France, and then proceeds to explain them.
  • Biopic
  • Death by Childbirth: A plot point, as "childbed fever" takes a terrible toll of mothers while Pasteur desperately tries to convince French doctors to sterilize their hands and wash their instruments.
  • Eureka Moment: Pasteur has one when Charbonnet injects himself with Pasteur's rabies culture to prove that Pasteur's theories are wrong, as Pasteur figures out that the solution Charbonnet used was three weeks old and too weak, and that such weakened virus cultures can be used for immunizations.
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  • Ignored Expert: No one will listen to Pasteur.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: "I'm a scientist, Zaranoff, not a magician!" says Pasteur after Zaranoff brings him some Russian peasants who've been exposed to rabies.
  • In Medias Res: The film doesn't waste time with Pasteur's youth or show him developing his theories, but instead starts right away with Pasteur getting in trouble with the Academy of Science for his views.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: This is a problem for Pasteur, and something that hurts his campaign to reform medicine—he isn't a doctor, he's a chemist.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Charbonnet injects himself with Pasteur's rabies culture to prove that Pasteur's theories are wrong. This leads Pasteur to a Eureka Moment in which he figures out that the solution Charbonnet used was three weeks old and too weak, and that such weakened virus cultures can be used for immunizations.
  • Sleeping Single: The Pasteurs sleep in separate beds. It kind of brings the question of how did they conceive their daughter.
  • Time Skip: Over a decade from Pasteur's futile appeal to Emperor Napoleon III to Pasteur working in a rural province after the Franco-Prussian War.
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