Saturday, October 24, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Disputed Passage (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

DISPUTED PASSAGE (1939) is one of two Dorothy Lamour films for Paramount Pictures which were recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The second film, SPAWN OF THE NORTH (1938), will be reviewed here at a future date.  (Update: The review may now be found here.)

DISPUTED PASSAGE is a melding of medical melodrama and love story based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who appears on screen briefly during the opening credits to express his satisfaction with the movie.

John Howard plays John Wesley Beaven, a medical student studying surgery under the demanding, difficult Dr. Tubby Forster (Akim Tamiroff).

As time goes on and he becomes more immersed in his work, Dr. Beaven puts aside all thoughts of any life outside of medicine; he begins teaching in the medical school as he continues to absorb Dr. Forster's knowledge.

Then Dr. Beaven meets beautiful Audrey Hilton (Dorothy Lamour), an American woman raised in China by Chinese foster parents, and realizes he wants a fully rounded life which makes room for love...but Dr. Forster plots to stand in his way.

DISPUTED PASSAGE may not be a classic, but it's a solid and engrossing 87 minutes which I enjoyed.  I also found it interesting seeing John Howard as the leading man, when I've more often seen him in supporting parts such as George in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940).  He's quite good as the doctor who goes through both a personal and a professional evolution.

Director Frank Borzage manages to bring some of his famed romanticism to what at times is a somewhat dry story, given the many medical scenes; the moments in which John and Audrey connect and discuss their attraction are both somewhat unusual and moving.  The scenes are different from the norm in that the characters so frankly express their feelings, but there's also an emotional depth which is touching as they recognize their love.  We believe these two souls were meant to find each other and will have a happy life.

I assume the fact that Audrey was Chinese in appearance and language only was due to the conventions of the times, when it was more acceptable for an "American" to marry another American.  To the movie's credit, though, it's clearly conveyed that John doesn't particularly care one way or the other if she's Chinese or American, once he gets over the surprise of learning about her background, and he goes out of his way to do things which honor her background, such as calling her by her Chinese name or providing her with an authentic Chinese meal.  (The latter is due to the help of one of his Chinese students, played by the always-engaging Keye Luke.)

Tamiroff's Dr. Forster is completely annoying; from the opening moments I questioned why being a jerk equated with being a great doctor.  However, as the film goes on the reasons for Dr. Forster's unpleasant, standoffish attitude are explained, and part of the story concerns his own journey back to being a decent human being.

Judith Barrett has a somewhat truncated role as a female medical student who loves medicine but also wants to experience life beyond the hospital.  The cast also includes William Collier Sr., Elisabeth Risdon, Gordon Jones, Victor Varconi, and Philip Ahn.  Look for a young Richard Denning as a student and Fay McKenzie as a nurse.

The movie was lushly shot in black and white by William C. Mellor (A PLACE IN THE SUN); at times he utilizes some offbeat angles and interesting fade-outs, with Lamour's face coming in and out of focus in scenes near the end.  

Lamour, incidentally, is exquisitely beautiful in this, with lovely gowns designed by Edith Head.  Other than when she's manipulated by Dr. Forster, I appreciated that behind the quiet demeanor was a woman who knew her own mind and, like Dr. Beaven, had things in her own life she needed to address before she could commit to a relationship.

As a side note, some of the Chinese exteriors near the end of the movie appeared to me to have been filmed at Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth.

Extras include trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber and a new audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton.  The Blu-ray picture and sound are excellent.

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


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

It's always great when you highlight a movie I didn't even know existed. This sounds like I must track it down.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad! Although it had a previous DVD-R release, this one was completely off my radar. Fun to approach a movie like this "cold."

Best wishes,

11:22 AM  

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