Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Calling Dr. Kildare (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939) is the second film in MGM's long-running medical series. It's available as part of the nine-film Dr. Kildare Movie Collection from the Warner Archive.

CALLING DR. KILDARE picks up where YOUNG DR. KILDARE (1938) left off. Dr. Jimmy Kildare (Lew Ayres) is interning in New York City's Blair General Hospital, serving as an assistant to the crochety-but-brilliant Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore).

Jimmy can't seem to stay out of trouble, especially when a gorgeous girl (Lana Turner) convinces him to help her brother (George Offerman Jr.), who's been shot -- but not report it to the police. Dr. Gillespie secretly helps Jimmy when he can and enlists lovely young nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) to keep an eye on the smart, boneheaded young doctor.

It's been surprising in the first two films in the series to realize that Dr. Kildare may like helping people, but he certainly doesn't trouble himself about medical ethics! In YOUNG DR. KILDARE he protected his ambulance driver (Nat Pendleton), who had made a fatal error, and this time around he blows off reporting a gunshot wound to the police. Yet he's so earnest about wanting to do the "right thing," even when it's the wrong thing, that he gets away with it.

Despite mentally quibbling over Dr. Kildare's poor choices and constant ambivalence regarding his future medical career, this film was as entertaining as the first film, with Turner and Day adding their charms to this entry. There's an array of interesting characters, and anytime things slow down a bit the enjoyable blowhard Dr. Gillespie rolls in in his wheelchair to liven things up.

Alma Kruger was introduced in this film as Nurse Molly Byrd, who has a strong enough personality to stand up to Dr. Gillespie and also serve as his confidante and co-conspirator.

Several characters from the first film returned for this entry, including Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn as the senior Dr. Kildare and his wife; Marie Blake as Sally, the hospital switchboard operator; Nell Craig as Nurse "Nosy" Parker; Walter Kingsford as Dr. Carew, head of the hospital; Barbara Bedford as Dr. Carew's secretary; Clinton Rosemond as Dr. Gillespie's aide Conover (his last appearance in the series); and Don "Red" Barry, Phillip Terry, and Roger Converse as Kildare's fellow interns.

Laraine Day had just left RKO, where her credits included starring with George O'Brien in three Westerns; her first films at her new studio were SERGEANT MADDEN (1939) with Wallace Beery and CALLING DR. KILDARE. She would remain with the series as Mary Lamont until DR. KILDARE'S WEDDING DAY in 1941. She's very appealing in the role, a confident young woman who has no trouble speaking her mind to the intimidating Dr. Gillespie.

This was also an early MGM role for Lana Turner, who had begun working at the studio the previous year. She polished her craft appearing in films such as LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), RICH MAN, POOR GIRL (1938), and THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939), along with CALLING DR. KILDARE; within just a couple of years she was a star of the first magnitude. Her 1941 films alone included ZIEGFELD GIRL with an all-star cast, HONKY TONK with Clark Gable, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE with Spencer Tracy, and JOHNNY EAGER with Robert Taylor.

This was Lynne Carver's last appearance in the series as Jimmy's hometown sweetheart, Alice. In between the first two Kildare films, Carver played Bess in the classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), which was just released on Blu-ray. Lionel Barrymore, incidentally, was long associated with the role of Scrooge thanks to radio performances, but Reginald Owen played the role in the movie after Barrymore broke his hip.

CALLING DR. KILDARE was directed by Harold S. Bucquet, who would work on many of the films in the series. It was shot by Alfred Gilks and Lester White. The film runs 82 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer. It's a terrific print.

This week the Warner Archive released a second set of films, the Dr. Gillespie Movie Collection, which contains all of the titles in which Barrymore starred -- mostly with Van Johnson -- after Ayres left the series. Kudos to the Archive for another much-anticipated release, which I expect to review here in the future.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.


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