Monday, August 20, 2012

Mary Stevens, MD

For those of you who like pre-Code films, Kay Francis is in the spotlight tomorrow as part of Summer Under the Stars on TCM. That means several pre-Codes. One that I don't think I've recommended before is Mary Stevens, MD, which comes on at 7:00 AM

Francis plays the title character, doctor Mary Stevens, who has a thriving practice working with nurse Glenda Carroll (somebody in the script department wasn't very imaginative, as the character is played by Glenda Farrell). She also likes Dr. Donald Andrews (Lyle Talbot), but he's in love with Lois (Thelma Todd), who is the daughter of a wealthy politician. Dr. Andrews marries Lois, while Mary becomes a successful pediatrician. Time passes, and Dr. Andrews, finding he's in a loveless marriage, starts committing embezzlement. But he can't get out of the marriage because it would hurt his father-in-law's political career.

Drs. Andrews and Stevens meet again and he promises her that he'll get a divorce from Lois, but you know that's never going to happen. Dr. Andrews has to agree to remain married to Lois or else he'll get in trouble for his embezzlement Mary, however, is apparently stupid enough to believe that he's going to be able to get a divorce, as she has sex with Dr. Andrews. Now, of course, we don't actually see anything approaching a sex act. They couldn't get away with that even in a pre-Code. But we know there has to have been a sex act, since we soon discover that Mary Stevens is pregnant! It's not like they had test-tube babies back in those days, either (well, only in a movie set in the future like Just Imagine). At this point the movie starts to get strange and take an odd turn.

Mary Stevens decides to go off to Europe to have her baby. I'd guess she was doing the same thing Loretta Young would do a few years later in real life: go off into seclusion, have the baby, and then claim you've adopted a child! Yeah, nobody's going to figure out what really happened. After having the baby, she gets back on a ship to return to the US, but there's an outbreak of "infantile paralysis" (the old-fashioned name they used for polio back in the day), and while she's saving two of the children on board, her own child gets infected! The movie quickly follows the rest of its plot to a strangely happy and conventional ending, which I won't give away here.

Mary Stevens, MD is an interesting idea that I think gets weighed down by a subpar script. Mary ought to be a smart woman, and there's no good reason for her to sleep with Dr. Andrews and get knocked up. The ending also feels tacked on, as if the writers had no idea how they were going to resolve the problems they had. Perhaps is Mary had poisoned a patient like George Bailey stopped Dr. Gower from (accidentally) doing in It's a Wondreful Life when Gower learned his child had died of influenza, there would be a more interesting ending. On the bright side, Mary Stevens, MD didn't get into the territory that Madame X and a whole bunch of imitators did.

Mary Stevens, MD doesn't seem to be out on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive.

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