Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Penicillin : both its mold and its morals seem to hang out in basements and sewers

Rollo Martins the Canadian naif to Harry Lime's evil...
When I started looking into wartime penicillin, back in late 2004, I quickly felt like that other Canadian , Rollo Martins, learning far more about the immoral underbelly of  the official - and sunny - penicillin story than either of us wanted to know.

About all I originally knew about wartime penicillin was from recalling a CBC TV production (originally from Britain ?) that involved a policeman dying of a cut from a rose bush and a doctor named Fleming .

(I had seen it in the late 1950s, back when I was about eight years old.)

That and the fact that the peacetime penicillin clan was a firm family friend - having saved my family many times from serious illness.

I had no idea of penicillin's Canadian connection - like virtually everyone I wasn't aware there even was one.

I gradually and dimly recalled penicillin coming up in a great British film called The Third Man.

I looked at a video of it again and then, on a visit to my brother in Britain, read a great book on how the film and novella came to be.

From both video and the book about the film and novella, I got a strong sense of the extraordinary moral over (and under) tones that penicillin has and that the other three hundred or so existing commercial antibiotics completely lack.

I am only guessing why The Third Man is rated , not near the top of the all time best British films (a dead cert that), but at the very toppermost of the very top : but for me it is the penicillin sub-text.

Britain, unlike Japan and Germany, had really and truly lost the war and so its wartime scientific discoveries like penicillin, jets and radar were seen as absolutely essential to retaining the British sense of collective self esteem.

And so for Harry Lime to muddy penicillin's (and Britain's) good name by , in effect, using it to murder helpless kids , was for them a worse crime against humanity than anything short of Auschwitz.

Sewers as a metaphor for both good - and evil 

Dark ,cool ,dank, concrete sewers and basements is where penicillin the green and gold agent of life actually originally came from - but it was also the true home of that agent of death, Harry Lime .

This was a masterstroke from Greene and Reed ,the one Ying and Yang symbol that puts this film over the top.....

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