Monday, March 29, 2010

The Young Doctors

I briefly mentioned the movie The Young Doctors about a year ago, in conjunction with a post on the acting skills (or lack thereof) of TV host Dick Clark. It's coming up again this afternoon at 6:15 PM, and even though Clark isn't much of an actor, the movie is still well worth watching.

The Young Doctors is set against the backdrop of one of the less glamorous parts of the hospital: the pathology department. (This is in the days before CSI made forensic science seem sexy.) Fredric March and Ben Gazzara play two doctors who are in a de facto competition, in that March, the head of the department, represents the old way of doing things, while Gazzara has a more progressive attitude towards running the eternally cash-strapped department. Dick Clark's character is an intern with a pregnant wife; he's concerned about the baby, and is insistent that a certain new test be performed on his wife to determine if the baby is going to have a specific medical problem. Clark files the form, but when Dr. March throws it in the trash, we know what's going to happen with the rest of Clark's story line.

There's another case running throughout the movie, that of a nurse who's got a problem with her leg. Doctors perform a biopsy, but the results are inconclusive. The young lady may have a malignant tumor, or it may be beningh. This is a critical difference, because the less advanced state of medicine as it was in the early 1960s meant that a malignant tumor would result in amputation of half the leg. Drs. March and Gazzara can't agree whether the biopsy results show cancer or not, and that forms another part of the "competition" the two doctors face.

Everything works out more or less in the end, but the way they get there is entertaining enough. Dick Clark couldn't really act, but it's still fun to see how somebody who became so famous in a closely related field got to try his hand at the movies. When Clark finds out his baby has been born with a medical problem, he's rushed back to the hospital, and as he's being brought back, there's a shot of him in the passenger seat of the car, looking like he's been put on tranquilizers or something, which I guess was his way of showing shock. March, on the other hand, delivers a creditable and professional performance with what wasn't the very best material he was ever sent. The same holds for true for Gazzara; and, in smaller roles, Eddie Albert as a surgeon, and 1930s actress Aline MacMahon as a head nurse. Eagle-eyed observers may want to watch for George Segal as one of the many doctors making his way through the hospital, as well as figure skater Dick Button as an intern in the operating room. (Amazingly, there's a figure skating scene, although Button is, if memory serves, not involved with that.) The movie is based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, who also did the book on which the later all-star disaster pic Airport was based.

The Young Doctors still hasn't been released to DVD, which is understandable, since it's one of Fredric March's lesser movies. But that's still a shame, since he gives a worthy performance, and the subject material (pathology) itself offers interesting possibilities.

No comments: