Sunday, November 23, 2014

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

The familiar cast of the Dr. Kildare series returns in THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939), the very enjoyable third entry in MGM's long-running medical series. THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE is available as part of a nine-film set from the Warner Archive.

This time around Dr. Jimmy Kildare (Lew Ayres) is working with Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) on a cure for pneumonia. However, Dr. Gillespie is in failing health so Jimmy announces he is quitting the project, keeping secret the fact that he actually hopes to force Dr. Gillespie to take a much-needed rest.

Another Dr. Kildare also has a secret -- Jimmy's father, Dr. Stephen Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds), has a heart problem which he fears is terminal. He finally tells his wife (Emma Dunn) but doesn't say anything to Jimmy until he has a diagnosis from Dr. Gillespie.

While Jimmy is on leave from working with Dr. Gillespie, he treats Nancy Messenger (Helen Gilbert), the daughter of a wealthy potential hospital benefactor (Lionel Atwill). Nancy believes she has a brain tumor and no amount of talking from Dr. Kildare will convince her otherwise.

As was the case in the first two films, Dr. Kildare does not always act within the bounds of generally accepted medical ethics -- in this case he lets Nancy think he's performed an operation to cure her blindness, when in truth he has done nothing of the sort. Dr. Gillespie and hospital head Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford) both approve of Dr. Kildare's methodology because it cures the girl's hysterical condition!

Aside from the odd medical stories, the draw of the Kildare films is the interactions among the large cast. This is a particularly rich episode for Barrymore, whose obnoxiously gruff exterior cloaks a caring and even sensitive heart. His relationships with Head Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger) and young Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) are particularly touching. Mary may be young, but she is self-possessed and deals with the crochety doctor as confidently as her much older superior, Nurse Byrd.

Hinds and Dunn are always good as the senior Kildares, who have a very loving relationship and are supportive of their son no matter his problems.

George Reed took over as Dr. Gillespie's personal aide Conover in this entry, replacing Clinton Rosemond. Reed played the role in most of the remaining films in the series, all the way through the final entry, DARK DELUSION (1947).

Likewise, Tom Collins replaced Roger Converse as one of Kildare's fellow interns, Dr. Joiner; Converse left screen acting after the second Kildare film, CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939). Collins would return in three more films in the series.

The supporting cast also includes series regulars Marie Blake, Nat Pendleton, Frank Orth, Nell Craig, and Don "Red" Barry, along with Martha O'Driscoll, Sara Haden, Grant Mitchell, and Robert Kent. Familiar faces such as George Chandler, Byron Foulger, Emory Parnell, and Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney's father) pop up for one scene apiece.

Lead guest actress Helen Gilbert had an interesting if rather sad life, marrying six different times. Her first husband was film composer and musical director Mischa Bakaleinikoff. One of her husbands was Johnny Stompanato, who later famously died at the hands of Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl. Gilbert's brief film career included appearing in ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (1939) and as one of the girls on the trolley in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). She died in 1995.

Harold S. Bucquet again directed, as he did for the first two films in the series. The movie was filmed by Alfred Gilks. It runs 84 minutes.

Other than one brief fuzzy shot of Dr. Gillespie, this DVD is a fine print. The disc includes the trailer.

Previously reviewed Dr. Kildare films available in this Warner Archive set: YOUNG DR. KILDARE (1938) and CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939).

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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