The first American sound film to feature a black character ("Dr. Oliver Marchand" played by Clarence Brooks) with a university degree who speaks perfect English, does not shuffle, and does not act in the usual stereotypical manner in which blacks were depicted in Hollywood films at the time. See more »
In the night scene outside the research building when Dr. Arrowsmith's wife catches up to him, the snow becomes very scant and then a whole clump of snow falls, which looks like a stage hand got behind on their snowfall duties then panicked. See more »
Impossible to squeeze Sinclair Lewis' book into a two hour film
This film was actually nominated for four academy awards - cinematography, art direction, adapted screenplay, and best picture. Viewing it today, there are so many somewhat incomplete story lines and messages present, I am somewhat unclear about the director's goal in all of this. Sinclair Lewis' book, on which the film is based, goes into great detail about the tribulations and triumphs of studying to be a doctor and then practicing medicine back in the 1920's. It is just impossible to convey all that goes on in the novel in one 108 minute film. First of all, although young Dr. Arrowsmith comes across as an admirable protagonist who doesn't lose his idealism through all of his experiences, his character development and motivations are just not fleshed out in the film, and thus he is left an unintended mystery. His passion for medical research definitely shines through in Ronald Coleman's performance, but I had many unanswered questions. The film seems to imply that Arrowsmith is attracted to Myrna Loy's character through one scene in particular in the film. Was this intentional? The two have an affair in the novel, but if it is going to be omitted from the film - and it is - what was that one scene doing there? Arrowsmith talks a good game about loving his wife, but he seems to constantly overlook her in his passion to find new cures for diseases. Is he actually taking her for granted, or is this just a common attitude from the past in which wives always took a back seat to their husbands' careers? There is another whole part of the film that is quite troubling to a modern audience. When Arrowsmith is sent to the Caribbean to help fight the plague by testing his new serum, he is instructed to basically do what today is called a double blind study. He is to inject half the patients with his serum and the other half he is to treat conventionally. Thus, it can be determined whether or not the serum will be effective. When Arrowsmith presents his plan of action to the local plague-ridden residents, the shocked citizenry deny his help "in the name of humanity". However, a local black doctor, Oliver Marchand, tells Arrowsmith that he knows of how he can accomplish his goal - by experimenting on the black residents of the island of course! To me, this was all too reminiscent of the Tuskegee experiments and had a large Ick Factor to it.
I can't grade this film too severely since I have to take into account its year of production, the fact that dialogue had not become that sophisticated yet since talking pictures had only been universally accepted for about two years, and finally that a complex novel is being squeezed into just over an hour and a half. This film's value today is mainly as an example of one of the better transitional era talkies. Dialogue and acting were much more natural than they had been just a year or two prior to this film, but vast improvements, particularly in dialogue and technology, were just a couple of years away.
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