Male Practice

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THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL is an MGM film before it’s a Curtis Bernhardt film — no glimmers of expressionism here. And what Fiona called “the worst title ever” — certainly the most generic. But it does stretch a bit at the limits of what can be said about the world in an L.B. Mayer production. Arrogant junior doctor Glenn Ford, product of a tyrannical surgeon father (Charles Coburn NEARLY in KING’S ROW mode) falls for and is humanized by Janet Leigh, who is of humble origins, mans a taffy-rotating mechanism for a living, and has a lung abscess, though you would never know those things to look at her. Surprisingly, he sacrifices his dream of neurosurgery to become a slum doctor, and finds happiness. It’s the sacrificed dream bit that’s surprising — most Hollywood confections would find a way to give him his heart’s desire twice over.

Meanwhile. his sister (Gloria DeHaven) gets pregnant out of wedlock, which means she’s sentenced to death by the Hays Code.

What’s unsettling is the glimpses the film offers us of Bellevue — Leigh only survives the place because Ford pulls strings and gets her the top surgeon — it’s made pretty clear that with a regular doctor she didn’t stand much chance. If she hadn’t been young perky and white, what chance would she have had? What chance do these characters have?

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6 Responses to “Male Practice”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    I can just see listing “taffy girl with lung abscess” on one’s acting resume.

  2. Didn’t do her any harm. No worse than “light-fingered secretary” or “hot Soviet jet pilot with California accent.”

  3. Always a bit unsettling when a movie calls attention to who ISN’T getting saved.

    In “Major Barbara”, we meet two examples of the poor at the Salvation Army post. One is a proud old laborer reduced to accepting charity because his true age was revealed. The other is an angry younger man who challenges Barbara for buying souls with soup and playing guilt games on him.

    Lord Undershaft, the lovable armaments king who makes the case poverty is a great evil than anything else — including selling arms to all comers — does what his daughter can’t. He converts the young man with a decent job. That’s all in Shaw.

    In the movie, Undershaft and the young man he’s recruiting are oblivious to the old laborer who stands almost directly between them as Undershaft makes his pitch. You keep waiting for Undershaft to notice him and make a similar offer, but Undershaft is only interested in this bitter specimen his daughter couldn’t reach (He goes on to win over her boyfriend and the entire Salvation Army before she gives up).

    Despite all the flat-out debates and sermonizing, Shaw keeps the play a moral puzzle: Does anybody have an answer for the cheerful Undershaft? Is he in fact a hero? But that moment in the movie hangs there as deliberately unhappy with no special point. It shows Undershaft coaxing one man to accept a meal while another hungrier man looks on. Now it’s all about undermining his daughter, or at least being a coldly practical employer. Is the movie implying Undershaft’s counterintuitive humanity is false?

    A bit more cerebral than all the war and scifi epics that give us bit players and stuntmen not quite reaching the safety of the escape hatch or the rescue craft before showing hero and heroine in a safe clinch, but those usually make a nod (Hero looks grim; heroine assures him he did all anybody could have done).

  4. And, if I recall correctly, the old guy is Donald Calthrop (of several Hitchcocks — the blackmailer in Blackmail), who always had a hangdog quality. When he wants to look pitiful he can really exude a cloud of misery that seeps from the screen.

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