Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Wife, Doctor and Nurse (1937)

Two years before starring in WIFE, HUSBAND AND FRIEND (1939), Loretta Young and Warner Baxter appeared in WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE (1937). However, the two films have nothing in common other than the same lead actors and similar titles.

WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE is a predictable but entertaining tale of a young Park Avenue miss (Young) who marries her doctor (Baxter), only to feel her marriage is threatened by the doctor's ultra-loyal nurse, improbably named "Steve" (Virginia Bruce).

There are countless scenes where the doctor answers a ringing phone only to learn he must leave his wife -- again -- in order to return to Victory Hospital. (Love the name!) The wife's a good sport about it all, even though the doctor and Steve forget all about her when work calls, until she learns Steve loves the doctor too. The doctor loves his beautiful young wife, but can't function without Steve by his side. What to do?

How the characters work it out is a bit absurd, given what's gone before. The finale reminded me of the strangely uncertain ending of TOO MANY HUSBANDS (1940).

I also had to chuckle at the idea the women could sober up the completely "smashed" doctor well enough he could perform surgery within a short period of time. Apparently they didn't worry much about malpractice suits in the '30s, at least in the movies!

The cast do what they can with the light material. Baxter was considerably older than his leading lady, but the effervescent Young makes the viewer believe that she's head over heels for the doctor. Bruce does a good job in her role as a nurse who inappropriately crosses boundaries with her employer.

It's a movie that's nothing particularly special and is occasionally annoying or improbable -- and yet, I have to say I rather enjoyed it. I like Young, in particular, and it was interesting to observe the film's takes, for good or ill, on marital and business relationships. The film is interesting both as a relic of its time -- including adjoining bedrooms for the doctor and his bride, rather than adjoining beds -- and also as an example of how the movies saw women's roles in a man's life.

The film would make a great double bill paired with WIFE VS. SECRETARY (1936), which starred Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow -- who, like "Steve," was a valued employee with an unfeminine name, "Whitey." One could write an entire essay on the meanings behind that angle alone! WIFE VS. SECRETARY next airs on Turner Classic Movies on March 22, 2011.

The supporting cast includes Jane Darwell, Elisha Cook Jr., Sidney Blackmer, and Minna Gombell. Alert viewers will spot Lynn Bari with a couple of lines as a party guest. June Gale, who later married Oscar Levant, plays a nurse.

One of the film's strong points is the dazzling hospital set, with large, airy rooms and sleek lines, such as displayed in the lobby window's design. I watched a fairly poor copy and would really love to see this one in a beautiful print in order to better enjoy the set. (Art direction was by David S. Hall, with set decoration by Thomas Little.) The hospital in INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937) was also gorgeous; apparently 1937 was a good year for movie hospitals!

WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE was directed by Walter Lang. Kathryn Scola, who cowrote the screenplay with Lamar Trotti, wrote last weekend's movie, THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943).

The movie was filmed in black and white by Edward Cronjager. The costumes were designed by Gwen Wakeling. The movie is 85 minutes long.

WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE was released by 20th Century-Fox, so it may show up in the future on Fox Movie Channel.


Blogger Judy said...

As a fan of both Baxter and Young, I'd love to see this - not much chance of TCM in the UK ever showing it, I suspect, but maybe it will come out on DVD in the future? Very interesting to read about it, anyway!

3:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Judy! There's rumors 20th Century-Fox may join the made-to-order DVD business in coming months, so perhaps there's hope that we'll have access to more Young and Baxter movies in the future. :)

Best wishes,

11:10 PM  

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