Albert Schweitzer is one of the greatest, if not the great man of our time. In an hour and a half his film biography tries to express this fact by reviewing his life, and then by showing a typical day at his Lambarene hospital in Equatorial Africa.
The documentary contains little more information about Schweitzer than can be found in a very short biographical essay. Most of the scenes were shot in Africa in oppressive heat; as a result, the film's general quality smacks of better-than-average home movies. The producers have dramatized little of Schweitzer's eventful life, keeping the tenor of the story subdued throughout, almost underplaying their material. They review Schweitzer's early life in and around Gunsbach, in Alsace: the parsonage where he was born and grew up, his first schoolroom, and the quiet countryside he came to love as a boy all pass before the camera as expected. The audience moves leisurely along with the film to the time when, at thirty, Schweitzer made his decision to study medicine and travel to Africa as a missionary.
At eighty-one, the kindly doctor, as energetic as ever, still cannot find time enough to devote to his music, philosophy, and theology; he must almost constantly tend his patients, working only for brief periods at his other manifold interests. With the close of the day at Lambarene, the film ends.
Like too many documentaries, this one would be monotonous if it did not convey a charm which the audience feels increasingly as the picture progresses. Gunsbach looks as friendly and quaint as the post-cards of Spring in Alsace, but Schweitzer's narration tells how he grew up in the village, and this village lives for the audience. Sensitive shots of Lambarene's patients: a tired woman nursing a tired baby; a disarmingly attractive child with leprosy; men scratching their bottoms because they itch; all add to the charm.
The film effectively communicates a sense of the breadth of Schweitzer's prodigious accomplishments, as writer, teacher, minister, musician, philosopher, doctor, and above all, as a humanitarian. It shows in Schweitzer compassion, devotion, and dedication--verities which usually groan with age and mistreatment when movie-men drag them fleshless from the closet. And you are surprised to be able to accept and enjoy these verities, the film, in an honest way.