Friday, April 16, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Society Doctor (1935)

SOCIETY DOCTOR was the first of a half dozen films Robert Taylor appeared in in 1935, his second year in the movie business. SOCIETY DOCTOR was released in January, and over the course of the year he had roles in TIMES SQUARE LADY, WEST POINT OF THE AIR, MURDER IN THE FLEET (airing on TCM in May), and BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, culminating in his major starring role in MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, released in late December. From that point on, Taylor was one of MGM's most popular stars.

SOCIETY DOCTOR is a very diverting film, not least because it's a fascinating opportunity to see MGM's star-making machine at work. Taylor ostensibly is the second male lead, with Chester Morris starring in the picture, yet it's Taylor who has the most appealing role and it's Taylor the audience roots for. One can almost imagine the fan mail that poured into MGM after this film was released, asking to see more of the handsome, genial Mr. Taylor. Indeed, an article at TCM notes Taylor's increased fan mail led to bigger roles.

Taylor plays a dedicated hospital intern, with Morris as the top intern who likes to rock the boat when dealing with the hospital administration. Morris ignores the love of nurse Virginia Bruce, because he's focused on his career and can't afford to support a wife. Taylor, meanwhile, wants to offer Bruce everything Morris won't, including love and a wedding ring, but the silly girl is hung up on Morris.

'30s hospital films are often a bit unintentionally amusing for modern audiences, and this movie is no exception. There's a classic surgery scene where Morris, who was shot by a gangster, insists on only having a spinal and watching the surgery with a mirror so he can give Taylor directions. It's priceless.

This was also the second hospital film seen this month where characters light matches on a hospital's "No Smoking" sign. I wonder if there are other films which used this bit of business?

This wasn't one of Morris's better roles, but on the other hand I liked Virginia Bruce much more in this than in TIMES SQUARE LADY, viewed last night.

In the supporting cast I particularly enjoyed Louise Henry as the sassy hospital telephone operator. She retired from films in 1939. If IMDb is accurate, Miss Henry is still living and will celebrate her 99th birthday in a couple of months.

Billie Burke, Raymond Walburn, Henry Kolker, and Donald Meek are also in the cast. The film was directed by George B. Seitz. It runs 67 minutes.

SOCIETY DOCTOR can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. You can see the rather entertaining trailer here.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I started to watch this earlier this week, but now your enticing post makes me think that I will have to watch the rest of this since I am fast becoming fond of these very early Robert Taylor movies.

The following are a few other noticeable things about these "hospitals in the '30s and'40s" movies...some of which were featured in Society Doctor, but are also evident in other medical dramas from Men in White to Dr. Kildare Gets Married to the later version of Magnificent Obsession:

-there are invariably rich people grousing & looking for better treatment

-older adults are always chewing out the young and saying "they will have their job"

-hospital doors often consist of swinging doors with interior or exterior doors to be closed (though they rarely are, affording little privacy)

-wards in hospitals seem to be human petri dishes for the melting pot, not to mention being a great way to spread germs and eavesdrop on your neighbor's troubles.

-any hospital that had Raymond Walburn (a born con man if ever there was one) as the head of the facility is asking for a lawsuit. Walter Kingsford gave off an incompetent vibe in all those Kildare movies, but I don't think he was swift enough or venal enough to try to con anyone.

-nurses seem to be the dogsbodies of all work (some things never change).

1:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's a great list, Moira!

I also note that doctors in these films feel very comfortable lying to their patients or withholding information...LIFE BEGINS and THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL come to mind in this regard.

I love the operating room theaters seen in some of these films, with the viewing area up high...and the hideously ugly dark rubber gloves the surgeons wear!

Best wishes,

3:29 PM  

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