Edison the Man

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Edison the Man Movie Poster Image
Biography depicts famous inventor as smart, curious hero.
  • NR
  • 1940
  • 107 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages
Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this kid-friendly movie about Thomas Edison provides kids with an excellent role model -- an American who transformed the world with his mind, whose dream was not to make money, but to make the world easier, more efficient, more comfortable, and safer.

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What's the story?

Spencer Tracy plays Thomas Edison in this biopic, which chronicles the inventor's life from his early failures to his first major success – the phonograph – and his struggle to create the electric light bulb. After Edison's lab tests more than 9000 substances as filaments without success, one of his colleagues says, "We're as sorry as you are that you didn't get results," he replies, "Results? Man, I got a lot of results. I now know 9000 things that won't work." Finally, they find a filament that works, but Edison's next challenge is politics. The powers behind gas utilities do not want electricity because they will lose money. They impose a seemingly impossible deadline, but Edison meets it, and New York City is electrified. At a 1929 celebration to honor the "Golden Jubilee of Light," the speaker worries that man will destroy itself with technology. Edison responds that man's ingenuity and humanity must work together in balance. "What man's mind can conceive, man's character can control."

Is it any good?

Made just nine years after Edison's death, and on the brink of World War II, EDISON THE MAN is very much a reflection of the concerns of its time. It's a glossy MGM production, part history, and part fiction (the details of his personal life). In a world with too few heroes, it's good to let kids see a movie about an American who transformed the world with his mind, whose dream was not to make money, but to make the world easier, more efficient, more comfortable, and safer.

One thing that made Edison special was that he never lost his overwhelming curiosity, something kids have naturally, and that was the major force behind his inventions. This movie is a good reminder to kids that they are always surrounded by his inventions, including the very process that was used to film and project this film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what life would be like if we didn't have electricity or any of Edison's inventions? What does it mean to say that success is 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration? How do we see that in the movie? If you could invent something, what would it be? What inventions since your parents were your age have made the biggest changes in our lives? What inventions do you think will change things for your children?

Movie details

For kids who love true stories

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