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They don't do melodramas such as this one anymore.Had Sirk seen it in
the fifties,he would perhaps have thought of a remake .There's
everything in this short movie (hardly more than an hour):two
brothers,both students, one of them studying day after day to get his
diploma,the other one wasting his time with alcohol and semi-whores
.Both come from the country,but only the "bad" boy is the true son of
the peasant mother who dreams of a better life for her son(s).All that
follows is melodrama ,only melodrama and nothing but melodrama:the good
boy unfairly thrown into jail ,imposture (but do not panic ,for good
reasons)the good doctor who cures the poor for peanuts and charges the
wealthy outrageously ,who is a saint in a hospital ,but who's got
secrets to conceal.The only ambiguous character is the mother:does she
urge his son to take his brother's name for the sake of suffering
humanity or for personal ambition? Probably both.
Best scene:Barthelmess ,screaming in front of the medical board :" let me operate her!She's my mother! don't be inhuman! I'm the only one she puts her trust in!".If you hold back your tears ,you do not like melodramas.I do love them.Michael Curtiz wanted to be John M.Stahl and he pulled it off brilliantly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You'd need degrees in disciplines other than mine to figure out why a natural and gifted surgeon would yearn to throw away his scalpel and spend his days sitting behind a mule and a plough just as he himself could use a degree in Common Sense which may have prevented him making some of the choices he did make. Consider the plot: Karl (Richard Barthelmess) and Stephan (Norman Foster) Brenner enter medical school together. Though they have the same name Karl has been adopted by Martha Brenner (Lucille La Verne) and raised with Stephan and his sister Lotti (Marian Marsh). Karl wants nothing more than to remain on the farm and marry Lotti but enrols in med school anyway. He is clearly a 'born' doctor and a diligent student whereas Stephan prefers a more playboy lifestyle. Shortly before graduation Stephan appears in Karl's rooms and confesses he has operated illegally on a girlfriend who became ill. He begs Karl to sort out the mess. Karl (see what I mean about Common Sense) agrees, does what he can but is too late to save the girl. When a real doctor turns up Karl takes the rap for Stephan, sticks to his story in court, doesn't get to graduate and serves four years hard time in the slammer. Four years pass; Stephan has his shingle on the door of the old homestead but his patients are dropping like flies due to his incompetence and alcoholism. He drinks himself to death shortly before Karl gets out of the slammer. Karl has been back all of five minutes when an automobile wraps itself around a tree in the yard. A young girl is badly injured. Her father sees the shingle and assumes that Karl is Stephan i.e. a licensed physician. Martha and Lotti prevail on Karl to operate against his better judgment (Common Sense anyone). He does so and the girl recovers. The father has meanwhile sent for his own physician, a big cheese in Vienna. The guy arrives, examines the patient, also assumes Karl is Stephan, congratulates him and asks where and with what equipment he operated. Why, right here, replies Karl, I didn't have much in the way of tools but I did have a Swiss Army Knife with a thing for taking stones out of horse's hooves. You're the Man, say the kosher doctor, come with me to Vienna and I'll make you a star. Here we may like to consider that it's only four years since Karl's picture was all over the National Press and soon it is again, this time as Stephan Brenner, when he performs miracle after miracle. Finally he calls time, proposes to Lotti and says he's coming back to the plough; Martha blows the whistle in a letter to the medical Board, changes her mind, is unable to retrieve it and has a stroke. As he is about to operate the Board cancel the surgery. Ya gotta let me save my ma, he cries passionately. They relent, he does, and the last shot is of one happy bunny ploughing the ass out of that bottom land. This was an early talkie and everyone acts accordingly, hamming it up in a way that would put even Jolie to shame. On the other hand it's an early example of Michael Curtiz' work (with uncredited help from Lloyd Bacon) behind the camera and has definite curio value.
This could be used in a film class to demonstrate how to make a perfect
one-hour movie. All the elements combine brilliantly:
The expressionistic design of Anton Grot
The "telling" visual style of directors Michael Curtiz and Lloyd Bacon. The final operation alone is as perfectly shot as the shower scene in "Psycho."
The acting. Richard Barthelmess shows why he was the best pre-Code actor; Lucile LaVerne is a revelation to me; and everyone else in smaller parts does a bang-up job.
Also interesting as a display of state-of-the-art medicine in the early 1930's.
He's happiest while manning the plow on his Austrian farm, but
brilliant student Richard Barthelmess (as Karl Brenner) goes to medical
school in Munich. A naturally gifted surgeon, Mr. Barthelmess is named
valedictorian of his graduating class. Unfortunately, a tragedy occurs
just before Barthelmess graduates. He takes the rap for his
irresponsible foster brother Norman Foster (as Stephan Brenner) after
the latter gets drunk and botches an operation on a female companion.
Barthelmess is later mistaken for his brother and takes his place as
country doctor, after a freaky accident threatens the life of a young
boy. Upon saving the kid's life, Barthelmess is offered a big job in
the city. However, he must pretend to be his foster brother, which is
The long shots introducing Barthelmess' character, by director Michael Curtiz (or, possibly, Lloyd Bacon) and photographer Lee Garmes get this off to an artful start. Later, set work by Anton Grot keeps it looking good. In college, Barthelmess and foster brother Foster are amusing, with the latter successfully impersonating a perpetually partying student. We do wonder, however, how Foster was able to obtain a medical license. Raised like they were brother and sister, Barthelmess and foster sister Marian Marsh (as Lotti) are ill-suited young lovers. Veteran Lucille La Verne makes the most of the mother role. And, Nigel de Brulier is mystifying but terrific as a silent, menacing autopsy surgeon. Alas, as a story, "Alias the Doctor" is not very convincing.
***** Alias the Doctor (2/25/32) Michael Curtiz ~ Richard Barthelmess, Marian Marsh, Norman Foster, Lucille La Verne
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