Sunday, February 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Gregory Peck stars as CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., which was released on Blu-ray last month by Kino Lorber.

It's 1944 and Captain Josiah "Joe" Newman runs a psychiatric ward at a dusty Air Force base in Arizona.

The doctor has a number of tough combat-related cases to treat, while simultaneously dealing with military brass who aren't overly sympathetic to mental health issues.  Dr. Newman is under pressure to solve cases within a few short weeks, hopefully returning the men to active duty.

He's aided by an orderly, Corporal Leibowitz (Tony Curtis), who is initially pressured into the job but who shows a real knack for understanding in his brash way.  Newman also persuades a nurse, Francie (Angie Dickinson), to transfer into the ward; among other things, he thinks the men will find her beauty an encouragement on their path to healing.

Eddie Albert, Robert Duvall, and Oscar-nominated Bobby Darin play Newman's most challenging patients.

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. was a fairly well-done film, though hampered a bit by Peck's tendency to arrogance -- thankfully punctured with frequency by Curtis, in a scene-stealing performance -- and the lack of "place setting" which strangely plagues 1960s World War II films.  Here we once more end up with anachronistic hairstyles, just as seen in the later THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964) and BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969).  We only know the film is set during WWII because we're told that's the case.

The film's bigger problem is that, while there is occasionally comic relief thanks to Curtis and a flock of sheep, it's very painful watching men in their deepest, darkest moments of agony and despair.  At some point I find it hard to call it entertainment.  It makes for a rather long 126 minutes even with -- because of? -- some strong and convincing performances.

Among the patients I was most interested in Duvall, with Bethel Leslie as his wife -- in part as theirs was the story which ultimately had the most hope. 

Peck is pleasant enough, but as hinted above, his character sometimes veers into an "I know best" attitude which makes a few of Peck's performances increasingly grating to me with the passage of time; THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) is another example. 

Curtis does something of a riff on his "scrounger" character from OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959), but he's such a welcome relief in that environment that the lack of originality doesn't matter too much.  Indeed, I particularly got a kick out of the scene where he punctures Dr. Newman a bit by sharing his belief that it's all pretty much common sense in dealing with their patients.

This was the third film I've seen Dickinson in since the start of the year; she's lovely but has little chance to show much in the way of acting chops.  Her role is to smile and look pretty.

The screenplay by Richard L. Breen and Henry and Phoebe Ephron was based on a novel by Leo Rosten.  The movie was directed by David Miller (SUDDEN FEAR) and filmed by Russell Metty.

The supporting cast includes Jane Withers, Larry Storch, Dick Sargent, James Gregory, Ted Bessell, and Gregory Walcott.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a sharp, crisp widescreen print with excellent sound.  The disc includes a commentary track by Samm Deighan, the trailer, and a gallery of trailers for eight additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I have a fondness for Captain Newman that goes back to my teen years. I have to work at it but try to suppress my sense of frustration with the lack of a proper era setting. Honestly, did they think people wouldn't remember who they dressed less than 20 years ago?

5:22 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Always liked this film and have bought the blu Ray. Eddie Albert very good.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I love this movie, primarily for Bobby Darin's contribution. He really gets to show his acting range, going from abrasively brash and cocky to revealing the burden of sorrow and guilt he's hiding. It's no wonder he got an Oscar nod.

My only problem with this film is that I can never decide if I should shelve it with my dramas or my comedies, so it bounces back and forth, depending on which section of my collection has more space at the time. #CinephileWorldProblems.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I really wonder about those '60s films. It's such a common issue in that era. were they afraid people would stay away if the movies looked "dated"?

Vienna, Eddie Albert was indeed good I had trouble watching. LOL. It's one of those movies I appreciated, while my enjoyment was limited.

Rachel, that's a good point, it really is all over the place in terms of going dark places and then the levity. It's a good thing they added the humor or the movie would have been even tougher to watch than it was.

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  

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