Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Citadel

TCM is running the fine British-American medical drama The Citadel tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. I don't believe that I've ever blogged about it before, and it's one that's certainly worth watching.

Robert Donat stars as Dr. Manson, a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Britain in the days before the NHS asserted an authoritarian control over the medical provision system. Manson's first job as a doctor is in a small conservative Welsh coal mining town. He's been hired collectively by the coal miners: they pay his salary through a subscription insurance system, and he's basically on call. Dr. Manson is, like a lot of young doctors, an idealist: he actually cares about the deplorable conditions of the miners, and wants to help them. Insert the standard scene in which the doctor from whom Manson is taking over warns him that this idealism isn't going to last. It's cliché, but also foreshadowing. Manson realizes that the conditions down in the mine are hazardous to the miners' health, but discussing that obviously would be a problem for the people wh run the mine. Ah, but Dr. Manson doesn't work for them; he works for the miners! Well, the miners aren't saints themselves. Some of them are given to malingering, and want the good doctor to write them bogus medical slips to get them out of work, something Dr. Manson steadfastly refuses to do. But the miners have paid for him! Dammit, isn't he going to do their bidding? Never mind that if Manson does prove that the conditions in the mines are causing many of the miners' health issues, the miners themselves are liable to be out of jobs. It's obvious that there can only be one outcome, which is Manson not keeping his job there.

Manson, who has by this time gotten married to the lovely Christine (Rosalind Russell), moves to London, but work as an independent general practitioner doesn't make it easy to put food on the table. When Manson meets up Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison) who is an old friend, Lawford lets him in on a secret: there are a lot of idle upper-class women who need companionship just as much as they need medical attention, and running a medical facility for such women can be extremely lucrative. So, Dr. Manson joins Dr. Lawford at the clinic, and proceeds to become quite well off. But dammit, there's that idealism again! Christine married the good doctor in no small part because he was an idealist, and she hasn't lost any of that idealism. She sees the dishonesty in this, and she's none too happy with it. It's a conflict we've seen in dozens if not hundreds of movies, in no small part because it's an essential facet of human nature. (See the excellent One Man's Journey for another example of this.) You know that, having presented this conflict, there's going to be a crisis to bring matters to a head....

I mentioned at the beginning of the post that The Citadel is a British-American movie. MGM made it at its British studio, with mostly British actors. The exceptions are Rosalind Russell, and also the director, King Vidor. Vidor made quite a few very interesting movies with some sort of social message, such as The Crowd and Our Daily Bread. This one has a message to deliver, too, but it's not as blatant as some movies. As for the cast, it's almost uniformly excellent, from Donat and Russell as the leads down to the British character actors in the smaller roles. The Citadel is a movie that I think isn't too well-known here in the US, largely because it was made over in the UK. But it's one that deserves to be known better.

No comments: