Edgar G. Ulmer, US, 1933, 61 min., b&w
Young shipping tycoon David Bradley (played by Lyman Williams) contracts an infectious disease and unknowingly transmits it to his wife. Diane Sinclair plays the traumatized spouse. The Canadian Social Hygiene Council (CSHC) was the sponsor of Damaged Lives, a feature film about venereal disease. Ulmer's first American film as director after starting his career in Germany, the film was completed in three weeks and opened May 1933 in Toronto. The CSHC boasted that Damaged Lives was the first Canadian picture to be produced in Hollywood and the first Hollywood picture to premiere in Canada. Intended as sexual education, not exploitation, Damaged Lives avoids harsh physiological depictions. It concentrates optimistically on hope provided by knowledge and discretion. Some of the humorously ambiguous dialogue, such as “I didn't know. I didn't know. You must believe me. I didn't know!” (to imply “I have a VD and so do you”) is dated. Of course it was produced to make money for the struggling CSHC and the less altruistic Columbia Pictures. An extraordinary scene in the last reel illustrates Diane Sinclair’s surprisingly fine acting ability. The poignant scene has very little dialogue and proves to be a brief Ulmer gem of direction, lighting and camera movement. This is an “A” scene in a “B” movie with “C” actors. Ulmer’s capable direction and his chrome Art Deco sets try to mitigate the less-than-stellar acting. The drama also functions as a show-and-tell with a legitimate clinical discussion by one of the doctors in the story. Originally, Damaged Lives had a 10-minute supplementary filmed lecture following the feature. There were two versions produced—one for men and the other for women. Unfortunately, the Archive has not located the two reels. The New York State censors banned Damaged Lives for 4 years until the American Social Hygiene Association won the right to exhibit it. Damaged Lives impressed a New York Times critic as “the decisive stroke in the struggle to free discussion of venereal disease.” The same reviewer issued this alliterative verdict: “it is forthright, frank, and unforgettable.” The film's timeless concern for education and compassion is hampered only by its budget. 60 years later, sexual ignorance is still threatening. Indeed, a parallel urgency for awareness and research exists today.
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and the National Archives of Canada.