NUTS! is, well, nuts!
NUTS! is the ludicrous, mostly-true story of a small-town Kansas doctor who during the early twentieth century advertises that goat testicles can be surgically transplanted into men as a cure for impotence. In the film, director Penny Lane interweaves hand-drawn animation, interviews and historical footage with a completely unreliable narrator to tell the tale of John Romulus Brinkley, one of the most extravagant and unabashed quacks in American history.
His trajectory from rags to riches to ruin and defamation includes running for governor of Kansas and building North America’s most powerful radio transmitter in a Mexican bordertown, but Brinkley will always be known foremost as the “goat-gland doctor.” Capitalizing on the placebo effect felt by his patients, he went on to accrue millions of dollars performing crude surgeries and pushing a line of fake cures and elixirs that he called “miracles of medicine”—his Formula 1020, which he claimed had the same effects of the surgical goat-gland transplant, cost $100 and was composed of 1000 parts distilled water to one part blue dye.
While Brinkley’s meteoric rise and fall lies at the center of the documentary, it becomes increasingly evident during the film that its creators are analyzing something bigger than one shameless charlatan’s life story—and challenges storytelling and narration, at large. In NUTS!, the goatee-sporting, smooth-talking quack epitomizes the dizzying power of manipulation and how it can be used expertly to prey upon our gullible society. This power did not disappear with Dr. Brinkley when he died pennilless in 1942. Today’s airwaves are full of it.