As old-fashioned as Frank Capra’s educational film Hemo The Magnificent is today, it still has a certain charm. Oscar-winning director Frank Capra is best known for political comedy-drama Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and the ultimate Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life. Towards the end of his career, however, Capra had all but retired from filmmaking due to his disdain with Hollywood but made several educational films for the AT&T Corporation.
AT&T’s Bell System Science Series was a series of TV specials originally broadcast between 1956 and 1964 and designed to educate young people about scientific topics. Frank Capra produced the first four films in the series – Our Mr. Sun (1956), Hemo The Magnificent (1957), The Strange Case Of The Cosmic Rays (1957) and The Unchained Goddess (1958) – and also acted as writer and director on the first three installments. Each of Capra’s films featured the characters Dr. Research, played by USC English professor Dr. Frank C. Baxter, and Mr. Fiction Writer, played by Eddie Albert (The Heartbreak Kid) first and later by Richard Carlson (Creature From The Black Lagoon).
The educational focus of Hemo The Magnificent is blood and the circulatory system which the film explores through a mix of live-action, animation, microscopic photography and documentary footage. Dr. Research and Mr. Fiction Writer were joined by the titular Hemo – a personification of blood imagined by Capra as a Greek god – and a whole host of fellow animated characters that helped explain how the circulatory system works. After its original broadcast on CBS in 1957, Hemo The Magnificent picked up a Primetime Emmy for Best Cinematography the following year.
Soon after, copies of Hemo The Magnificent were sent out to schools across the USA where they became a staple teaching tool in classrooms during the 1950s and 1960s, teaching countless young American minds about the inner workings of the human body. Although Hemo The Magnificent seems quaint and dated in retrospect – especially with the ever-present cigarette Richard Carlson is puffing away on - it’s still an enjoyably offbeat little film. Perhaps surprisingly, much of the science in Hemo The Magnificent still holds up too.
As for its lasting impact, Hemo The Magnificent has amassed something of a pop culture legacy in the years since it was first broadcast. In classic comedy horror Gremlins, the film can be seen playing in the classroom when Billy visits his old teacher Mr. Hanson and it was also referenced in a 2000 episode of cult comedy Freaks And Geeks.