Arrowsmith (1931) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A medical researcher is sent to a plague outbreak, where he has to decide priorities for the use of a vaccine.

  • Based on a Sinclair Lewis novel "Martin Arrowsmith". A medical researcher is sent to a plague outbreak, where he has to decide priorities for the use of a vaccine.

  • Dr. Martin Arrowsmith has aspirations to become a medical research scientist. When he impulsively marries nurse Leora Tozer, he instead decides to open a country medical practice in South Dakota to support his wife better than he could as a laboratory assistant. After a few years of working in his medical practice, Arrowsmith believes that his intuitions are not that well suited to the job as compared to research. He takes up the offer of Dr. Max Gottlieb, his professor and mentor at Winnemac College, for a research position at the McGurk Institute in New York City. After years of research, Arrowsmith stumbles across a discovery, its practical uses he is initially unsure. When a case of bubonic plague hits an island in the West Indies, respected Swedish scientist Dr. Gustav Sondelius believes Arrowsmith's discovery could be used as a serum to kill the plague. Despite the personal risk, Arrowsmith travels to the West Indies to see if the serum does indeed work. The serum being untested, Arrowsmith has to make the difficult decisions between short term human sacrifices versus the long term benefit to mankind, and between the goals of the institute versus his own ideals. Through it all, Arrowsmith tries to protect Leora from the dangers he faces, she who stands steadfastly by her husband.

  • The student of medical school Martin Arrowsmith dreams on becoming a researcher. He seeks out Professor Max Gottlieb that promises the position when Arrowsmith is an undergraduate doctor. Meanwhile Arrowsmith meets the nurse Leora and they fall in love with each other. When Prof. Gottlieb invites Arrowsmith to work with him in New York, he declines since the salary is not enough to support Leora and him. He marries Leora and becomes a countryside doctor. After a while, the frustrated Arrowsmith decides to move with Leora to New York to work with Gottlieb. Soon he is invited to go to a Caribbean Island where there is an outbreak of bubonic plague to test a serum he has developed in the population and Leora decides to go with him despite the danger. Will Arrowsmith succeed in saving the inhabitants?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This films makes a surprising ethical discussion about the use of control groups that do not receive a promising medicine in medical research.

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