The Road To Wellville Review Cover

With friends like you, who needs enemas?

– Charles Ossining:

Expand for Film Info
Age Rating18
DirectorAlan Parker
Runtime1h 58m
Release Date UK28 October 1994
SynopsisA story about the ins and outs of one unusual health facility in the early twentieth century, run by the eccentric Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

The Silver Hedgehog Rating

8.8 Recommended

The Silver Hedgehog reader Paul suggested we review The Road to Wellville.  A 1994 raucous comedy based on Dr Kellogg, starring a raft of 90’s stars.  Having promptly provided us a copy of the film to review, we sat down to watch and this is how we got on..

The Road To Wellville Script/Screenplay

8 out of 10


Sometimes you come across a film that provides a glimpse into another time or world, The Road to Wellville does both.  Based on the book by T Coraghessan, the screenplay  is written and directed by  Alan Parker.

The story is set in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA – a town more affectionately known  as ‘Cereal City’.  In the early 1900’s the town was booming with breakfast pioneers.  Non more famous than Kellogg’s.  However, The Road to Wellville isn’t a Kellogg’s cereal origin story, no, it tells the tale of Dr John Harvey Kellogg and his world famous (at the time) wellness retreat ‘Battle Creek Sanitarium’, his unorthodox health treatments,  and some of the residents who chose to pay and stay.  Parker, who by the time of the film’s production had mostly created hard hitting dramas, thrillers, and musicals (FAME , Mississippi Burning and The Commitments) turns his hand to bringing Coraghessan’s words to life, creating a kind of anarchic comedy and satire that can be explained as channelling both Carry-On films and Monty Python humour into one film.

The film opens with Anthony Hopkins as Doctor Kellogg, sitting on a rotating toilet with his feet in buckets of ice, talking to Journalists about the virtues of clean bowels.

Sir, how often should one evacuate one’s bowels?

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg:
One should never, ever, interrupt one’s desire to defecate.  I have inquired at the Bronx and London Zoos as to the daily bowel evacuations of primates.  It is not once, twice, or three times, sir, but four.  At the end of an average day, their cages are filled with a veritable mountain of natural health.

That’s when you the viewer find out this is not your usual docudrama.  We are also introduced to William and Eleanor Lightbody (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda), as they travel to the Sanitarium, alongside a chance encounter with fellow traveller and entrepreneur Charles Ossining (John Cusack).  Battle Creek attracts people like a moth to a flame, once these initial introductions are over, Parker lets the film loose, and what a ride he takes us on.  Through the Lightbody’s we get to experience the Sanatorium in full swing.  Upon arrival, the couple are separated, with the doctor prescribing William Lightbody immediate medical assistance and whisks him away to be ‘cared for’.  It’s a clever plot device as it allows Parker to show off Dr.Kellogg at the height of his powers, extolling the virtues of avoiding sex, meat, smoking and masturbation.   The doctor subjects Mr. Lightbody to his madcap machines including electrocution baths for flatulence, leather saddles and enemas…lots of enemas, not to mention an unhealthy fascination with yoghurt.  What is surprising is the level of character development Parker introduces to the Lightbody couple, especially Mrs Lightbody.  As the film progresses,  we get to see the reason why Eleanor has dragged her poor suffering husband along.  As her story unfolds, it goes into quite a dark unexpected place.   Mr Lightbody’s development is a lot lighter and takes him on a journey of self-discovery.  Dr Kellogg’s mantra of:“

An erection is a flagpole on your grave.”

Seemingly being ignored as he finds his sexual mojo with a Sanatorium patient and Nurse Graves.  That’s until he discovers the bodies start dropping and has a bit of meltdown.  Maybe Dr Kellogg’s road does not lead to wellness for everybody?

Parker doesn’t just focus on Kellogg and the Lightbody’s, there is an attempt to look at the wider Battle Creek area by introducing supporting characters with their own story, so we end up watching a string of subplots based on individuals.  We see Charles Ossining and his shady business partner Goodloe Bender (Michael Lerner) attempting to set up a rival cornflake business.  Their activities are so disconnected from the main story, for a long time I wondered what they added to the film.  Then we have Dr Kellogg’s estranged, adopted, and alcoholic son – George Kellogg who just adds the anarchy on screen.  Weirdly Parker makes the decision to spend a fair amount of screen time giving us a back story on George and the Doctor’s relationship via my pet hate – the flashback.  Through these scenes we see why George turned out to become the nuisance he is now . The flashbacks contrast in tone to the main story as Parker forgets the comedy and punishments, George is subjected to what would constitute child abuse if carried out today.  Parker also frames the story as a satirical swipe at the alternative health industry and its many quacks, so he also includes a  German ‘ Massage’ Specialist and even Colm Meany pops up as a doctor from the American Vegetarian Society.   At times these make you feel that you are watching several different films rolled up into one.

I get that Parker is attempting to convey the excitement and atmosphere of 1900’s Battle Creek but at times this results in the supporting characters fighting for screen time and culminates in a very clumsy third act, whilst he attempts to tie all the plots together

“Sex is the sewer drain of a healthy body, sir!  Any use of the sexual act other than procreation is a waste of vital energy!  Wasted seeds are wasted lives!”
– Dr. John Harvey Kellogg:

Standout Casting

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

Casting Directors Howard Feuer and Juliet Taylor worked together on 1998’s  Mississippi Burning, and after The Road To Wellville went their sperate ways to cast Silence of the Lambs, Dead Poets Society and Sleepless in Seattle.  Quite the C.V so no wonder The Road To Wellville  is cast so prodigiously.  Starring Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, Dana Carvey, Michael Lerner, Colm Meaney, John Neville, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Traci Lind.  Here’s my pick of 3 performances.

Anthony Hopkins

“The liver is the only thing standing between the smoker and death!  Also, certain other things have to be avoided… like, uh, feather beds, and romantic novels… and the, uh, touching of one’s organs.  Masturbation is the silent killer of the night!  The vilest sin of self-pollution!  It is the sin of Onan!”

– Dr. John Harvey Kellogg:

By the mid 1990’s, Hopkins had earned a reputation of being an excellent character actor, roles in The Silence of the Lambs and Bram Stokers Dracula (amongst others) had seen to that.  So, it is refreshing to see him turning his hand to a more comedic role.  Hopkins takes on the persona of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, his transformation into the smartly dressed buck tooth doctor is nothing short of fantastic.  Hopkins brings a frantic energy to his performance and seems to be relishing sprouting his nonsense, whilst dressing down those on screen aside him.  Parker’s choice to provide a back story to his son George provides Hopkins a chance to switch direction and provide a more sombre performance. I couldn’t stop smiling whilst watching him. It’s a performance that earnt him a Best Supporting Actor Chicago Film Critics Association Award nomination.

Dana Carvey

Charles Ossining : The doctor is a very great man.

George Kellogg : He’s a fuck pig! I hate him!

Dana Carvey (aka Garth from Wayne’s World), is another actor providing an energised performance.  Parker directs the actor to really max out the weirdness of his character.  Carvey’s George stands up well next to an on-form Hopkins.  It’s a shame that George by his very nature is the most annoying character in the film.

Bridget Fonda.

Virginia Cranehill : The fresh air, the exercise, and the pleasure of a leather saddle between one’s thighs.

Eleanor Lightbody : Why, Virginia, what do you mean?

Virginia Cranehill : Bicycle smile, I believe they call it.

You know the adage ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’, well Eleanor is definitely not happy!  Fonda’s performance as Elanor is more mellow than that of her peers, but that’s because she has some of the emotional lifting to do.  Starting off as the wronged wife, we soon see her true colours and find out that she is the one doing the wronging. Fonda does find some lighter moments, but her character calls for an inner turmoil that she sells to the audience well.  Parker’s script also explores aspects of feminism and Fonda doesn’t seem hesitant to convey how much she is enjoying the German massage!  One thing I find the most striking about Fonda is how much she resembles Jodie Foster. A spot of Googling tells me she is the 9th cousin to Foster. Clearly some genetics at play there!


Sound/Music/Score Rating 7 Out Of 10

Sound/Music/Score Rating 7 Out Of 10


Composer Rachel Portman created the score for The Road to Wellville, presumably the brief was to create a score that reflects the comedic nature of the film.  So, Portman created an almost fairground style, whimsical soundtrack.  Sadly, it doesn’t change much throughout the film and becomes annoying very quickly.

Sound quality is ok but does sound a little dated, (on the DVD provided) due to its stereo soundtrack, surprisingly a Blu-ray is available with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that should sound a lot clearer.

Visual Effects

Effects Rating 10 out of 10

Effects 10 out of 10

Costume designer Penny Rose (The Commitments) does a super job of recreating early 1900’s attire.  The frilly dresses, suits and Sanatorium clothing all adding to the experience on screen.  Interestingly Penny’s career went from strength to strength in the years since this film, working on many blockbusters.

Brian Morris is the production designer and under his expert eye Dr  Kellogg’s crazy inventions have been excellently reproduced on screen.  With everything being totally believable, no matter how absurd.

Even the Battle Creek Sanitarium that is reproduced on screen looks close to the original, mainly because the production team filmed at Mohonk Mountain House, one of only a few timber framed hotels that date from that period.

Video Quality

Video Quality Rating 9 out of 10

Video 9 out of 10

Parker brought onboard Director of Photography, Peter Biziou, known at the time for Mississippi Burning.   Biziou opts for a pastel colour palette that emphasises the early 1900 aesthetic Parker was creating.  Parker’s work holds up work extremely well, with nothing looking odd or out of place.  In fact, what I did notice was the extra detail in each shot.  Working with Parker the pair pack each scene with tons of atmosphere and look past the main character on screen, in the background Biziou squeezes in a hive of activity.  Look out for other patients receiving treatments, porters sorting luggage, through to various outdoor sports therapies.  All this helps transport the viewer and envelope them into Dr Kellogg’s world.   Working on this film earned Biziou a British Society of Cinematographers, Best Cinematography Award Nomination.

 If I’m being critical, editor Gerry Hambling’s scene cuts need to be called into question.   Most of the time Hambling’s editing produces some rather fun scene cuts that Parker utilizes for comic effect, but at around 1 hour 9 mins in there is scene change that is a simple fade to black.  Infact it’s not even a fade, it just goes black, and the next scene starts.  Parker also looses continuity at this point so spent a few mins stopping the DVD cleaning disc and starting again only to realise it’s in the cut that had been presented.


The Road To Wellville Overall Thoughts

Parker’s The Road to Wellville isn’t quite the success its cast list suggests it should be. Whilst he takes a satirical swipe at the ‘Magic Cure’ health industry and exploring themes such as femininity, death and *cough Vegetarianism, Parker chooses to amplify Dr Kellogg’s anti sex mantra by writing in sex scenes and including bare chested women aplenty, sometimes for the sake of it and sometimes to assist the comedy.  So, the film becomes more of an offbeat sex comedy, loosely based on a historical figure, rather than a bonafide character study.  Whilst funny at times there are periods of time that don’t hold your attention, and that’s a shame.  Where the film is successful though, is introducing Dr Kellogg to a new audience.  It’s entirely conceivable that if Dr Kellogg was alive today, he would be on some obscure shopping channel hawking his latest health invention.  Parker’s other success is how he melds the fiction with the non-fiction.  Certain elements of the story are lifted from actual events, although not necessarily following the exact timeline.  Overall, it’s an interestingly bonkers film that should be sought out!

Thanks to our reader Paul for lending me a copy for this review.

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script/Screenplay - 8
Casting - 10
Sound/Music/Score - 7
Video Quality - 9
Visual Effects - 10



Overall, it’s an interestingly bonkers film that should be sought out!

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Words Garry

Editor JJ

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