Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Doctor and the Girl (1949)

THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL is a glossy medical soaper directed by Curtis Bernhardt. The film features an excellent cast: Glenn Ford, Janet Leigh, Charles Coburn, Gloria DeHaven, Nancy Davis (Reagan), Bruce Bennett, Warner Anderson, and Basil Ruysdael. I found this movie very enjoyable from start to finish; it's a great example of the polished MGM drama style of the late '40s.

Michael Corday (Ford) is newly graduated from Harvard Medical School and returns to his home in New York City to serve his internship. Michael's domineering doctor father (Coburn) has great plans for Michael's career, but their relationship goes off the rails when Michael falls in love with Taffy (Leigh), a charity patient Michael meets when interning at Bellevue.

Michael initially follows his father's advice on staying emotionally removed from his patients and is an arrogant jerk with no bedside manner, but his relationship with Taffy humanizes him. Michael also learns from a mentor (Bennett) who isn't impressed with Michael's distinguished connections and doesn't hestitate to take him down a peg or two when needed.

Michael's sister Fabienne (DeHaven) also has a conflicted relationship with their father, while Mariette (Davis) is the peacemaking sister engaged to a solid pediatrician (Anderson) who isn't intimated by the senior Dr. Corday. Dr. Garard (Ruysdael) provides the kindly support the Cordays don't receive from their own father.

This is the kind of solid, well-done drama which the studio system was able to turn out on a regular basis in this time period. In addition to a deep cast of excellent actors, the quality production values include location shooting in New York City.

The movie tackles surprisingly controversial subject matter for 1949; although it's handled with some subtlety and the youngest viewers may not realize what's going on, it's made clear that a character is pregnant out of wedlock and then undergoes a botched abortion.

Ford's evolution from a brusque know-it-all to an empathetic doctor who recognizes his limitations is extremely well done. I liked him in this very much.

Curiously, Gloria DeHaven was billed above Janet Leigh; DeHaven had been a star for several more years and has a juicy role, but Leigh is the film's leading lady, the "girl" of the title. Both actresses offer touching performances.

It's worth noting that this was Nancy Davis's first substantive acting role, following a bit part as an art gallery patron in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. (The other "girls in the gallery" in that film were Nancy Olson and Anne Francis. What a trio!) Davis's next two films were EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949), another engrossing drama in which she played Barbara Stanwyck's best friend, and SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950), a terrific thriller in which she did an excellent job as a child psychologist trying to solve a murder. An article at TCM states that Davis actually filmed SHADOW ON THE WALL prior to THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL, which is interesting, if true, given how substantive her part is in SHADOW.

This is one of Charles Coburn's least appealing characters, as the manipulative, bossy father, although at least he's more human than the creepy uncle he played in IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942). I really like Basil Ruysdael, who also had a nice role as the bishop in COME TO THE STABLE the same year. I felt that, along with Ford, Ruysdael may have given the film's best and most interesting performance.

THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL was shot in beautiful black and white by Robert H. Planck.

The movie runs 98 minutes. It could have stood being just a bit longer; I had the feeling a bit of story was missing here and there. For instance, Mariette jumps from being engaged to being married; did Michael skip attending the wedding, given his estrangement from their father?

To date this film has not been released on video or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

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