Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Emergency Hospital (1956)

I love a good "B" movie and especially enjoy those set in and around Los Angeles. EMERGENCY HOSPITAL, a 62-minute film set at the mythical "Citizens Hospital" in Los Angeles, was thus right up my alley.

This very entertaining movie carries on a tradition that dates back to the DR. KILDARE films and has continued in more recent years with TV shows like E.R. and GREY'S ANATOMY. It depicts a single busy night in a Los Angeles hospital's emergency department.

This efficiently told little movie could easily have been a TV show of its era; in fact, director Lee Sholem jumped from this film into the Warner Bros. TV Western cycle, directing episodes of classics such as LAWMAN, CHEYENNE, SUGARFOOT, BRONCO, and MAVERICK.

Dr. Janet Carey (Margaret Lindsay) is the briskly efficient E.R. doctor, working alongside Dr. Herb Ellis (John Archer). They're assisted by Head Nurse Norma Mullin (Rita Johnson) and acerbic dispatcher Fran Richards (Peg La Centra). Paul Arnold (Walter Reed) is the police detective on duty in the E.R. department, and Ben Caldwell (Byron Palmer) is the sportscar driver who wants to marry Dr. Carey and have her give up the hospital night shift for a nice quiet practice in Beverly Hills.

It's by no means a great film, and it's fairly predictable in spots, but I found it extremely entertaining. The film moves at a breakneck pace, has a few interesting actors, and features a handful of great shots of nighttime L.A., although I noticed they used a shot of traffic going by a motel twice in the film. I found the portrayal of a female medical professional of the era interesting, and I was intrigued by the hospital's multi-ethnic nursing staff. I also found it interesting that the doctor was transported to a crash scene and wondered if that was common in the pre-paramedic era.

Some of the glimpses of the era were amusing, such as Dr. Ellis's mangling of the pronunciation of "Mercedes." It took me a minute to realize he was referring to Ben's car! Perhaps not that many people were familiar with the Mercedes brand at that point in time? I also noticed that although Dr. Carey tells a patient that alcohol will ruin her stomach, not long after that Drs. Carey and Ellis retire to a break room for coffee...and cigarettes, of course.

I especially enjoyed Lindsay, Johnson, and La Centra. Lindsay's career went back to films of the early '30s and included titles like "G" MEN (1935) and PUBLIC ENEMY'S WIFE (1926); after this movie she mixed TV shows and films, including the movie PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960), and was retired from the screen by 1967. She returned to acting for Henry Fonda's THE CHADWICK FAMILY in 1974.

Rita Johnson started in films in the later '30s, with notable credits including Julia Farnsworth in HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941) and Pamela, Ray Milland's fiancee, in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942). She only made one more film after EMERGENCY HOSPITAL.

Peg La Centra's best-known film work may be as the singing double in the '40s for actresses such as Ida Lupino (ESCAPE ME NEVER, THE MAN I LOVE) and Susan Hayward (SMASH UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN). She segued into acting from the mid '50s to mid '60s. She's quite amusing as the wisecracking, long-suffering switchboard operator.

William Boyett, who played Sgt. MacDonald for years on ADAM-12, plays a police officer here. IMDb credits John Beradino -- best known as Dr. Steve Hardy on GENERAL HOSPITAL -- as playing another policeman, but I didn't spot him, although I was watching for him. Earl, a young man with a cut on his head, was played by longtime child actor Gary Gray (RACHEL AND THE STRANGER).

This movie would make a great double bill with CODE TWO (1953), an MGM "B" movie of the same era about L.A. motorcycle cops.

This film is one of the unknown little treasures which have recently turned up available to watch via streaming at Netflix.


Blogger la peregrina said...

Laura, I watched this on Netflix and agree it is a fun little movie. I enjoyed every minute of it. It does play as a TV show and made me think of the 1970's Jack Webb show Emergency. I wonder if Webb saw it himself.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to hear from someone else who enjoyed it. I agree, it made me think of EMERGENCY too -- especially when the doctor went to the crash site.

Movies like this and the one I watched last night (WITHIN THE LAW) serve to underscore how many fun, relatively unknown movies are out there waiting to be discovered by new audiences.

Best wishes,

11:00 AM  

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