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"The Citadel" is one of those circular morality fables - idealistic young man sets out full of good intentions to put the world to right, but, finding his dreams dashed by prejudice and ignorance, throws in his lot with the protection of an easy but dishonest life only to realise the error of his ways through personal tragedy with consequent redemption. A;though stylistically and culturally a world apart, it is thematically a precursor of Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu". Made in great Britain in 1938, its MGM backing certainly shows in higher production values than most home grown films of the period - and this in spite of much reliance on back projection of the sort that even the great Carol Reed could not always effectively disguise. One of Hollywood's top directors, King Vidor, invests it with visual quality and, in a part that could have been tailored for Greer Garson, Rosalind Russell makes a surprisingly convincing female lead, supporting the hero throughout his tribulations with every ounce of Garsonian understanding he needs. But it is Robert Donat as the idealistic doctor, who first tries his professional hand in the dark Welsh colliery valley, that is the film's greatest strength. Here was an actor who brought a sense of dignity and integrity to every role he undertook from the earliest Richard Hannay to the Chinese nobleman in "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" which he was brave enough to play when he was literally gasping for breath. His performance in "The Citadel" is not entirely free from cliché but I imagine this was something imposed by the conventions of the period. How else to explain that when he becomes mean and mercenary he suddenly sports a very short and unsympathetic moustache which, if memory serves me right, miraculously disappears for the final scene of redemption. For the rest there is a galaxy of British acting talent to be found among the supporting roles with a brief glimpse of the dignified Nora Swinburne and a few more of a youthful Francis L. Sullivan doing his obese bigot stuff with rather less brains than usual. And as if this was not all, there is "Sexy Rexy" Harrison gracing the Harley Street scene, Cecil Parker playing a particularly odious surgeon who would no doubt be struck off the Medical Register if he were around today and the great Ralph Richardson investing the role of Donat's best friend with just about the right amount of Shakespearean rhetoric that the part will support. All in all a veritable treat provided you suspend just a little bit of disbelief.
The Citadel is a fine and inspirational film about a dedicated young
doctor and the hardships he has to overcome to see his destiny and move
to fulfill it. A lot of the same ground was covered before in
Arrowsmith and would be covered again in Not As A Stranger and then in
over a dozen or more medical drama shows on television. Stories about
medicine and its practice is a genre we will never tire of.
Robert Donat plays the idealistic young doctor who is assigned a number of positions in Great Britain and the story is how he deals with the various situations he encounters. Along the way he picks up a wife in the person of Rosalind Russell.
For an American to review this film probably one should have a knowledge of the British health system and remember this would have been before the days of the current health system of socialized medicine. That system was put in before the post World War II Labour government changed things.
One of his assignments is a coalmining area in Wales and Donat because of his own integrity and commitment manages to make a whole bunch of enemies and has to leave. His assignment is in what might be described as an HMO run by the coal miner's union. He starts doing research in a chronic cough he notices several of the miners have and upsets a whole lot of applecarts both with labor and management. He also isn't so easy with giving sick slips to malingering workers and they don't come to his defense. Not easy at times to be an idealist.
For a while Donat takes an easy road in a wealthy sanitarium that caters to upper class hypochondriacs. Doctors Felix Aylmer and Rex Harrison are getting rich themselves off them. But eventually Donat finds his true calling in research.
Rosalind Russell said that working with Donat was a pleasure, but the film itself wasn't. She and Director King Vidor were the only Americans in this film and she and Vidor took a lot of criticism for taking jobs away from British players. Not like she had anything to say about it, MGM loaned her out there. Still she did her job without a trace of a British accent.
Besides Aylmer and Harrison other noteworthy British players in the cast are Emlyn Williams and Francis L. Sullivan. Williams is one of the local union heads and Sullivan is a blustering boorish lout of a miner who leads the opposition to Donat's research. All of them do fine jobs and Harrison got his first real notice by American audiences in his role.
Because for two generations we Americans have been awash with medical dramas all these situations seem all to familiar to us. That's a jaded point of view. The Citadel is a fine drama and worth seeing.
This is a wonderful film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience
than it currently receives. The screenplay of "The Citadel" is
excellent and deals with issues that have a continuing relevance today.
Indeed, its theme--the importance of having a strong sense of vocation
and integrity --especially among medical doctors, will probably always
retain its original significance.
Robert Donat plays a physician who starts out as an idealistic young man working in a poor Welsh coal mining district, but after a series of disappointments he leaves and becomes a cynical member of a London clinic for rich patients, practising the kind of assembly line medicine that is all too common today in many countries. It is likely, however, that the film had a definite influence in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, which developed publicly-funded medical plans after World War Two.
But even the best universal health care systems can still be prone to such problems as inequities in the availability or quality of treatment and incompetent or uncaring doctors, interested only in making money. Moreover, the issues of professional ethics, individual conscience and personal commitment are applicable to many other occupations, as we've recently seen in the cases of corrupt corporations, such as Enron, which have also abused people's trust.
The other main virtue of this film lies in the acting of Robert Donat. Sir Laurence Olivier once stated that Robert Donat would have been a greater actor than Olivier himself was, had it not been for the chronic asthma that plagued Donat throughout his life and ultimately killed him. That terrible respiratory illness may have inspired him, in "The Citadel," to give one of the most sensitive and moving performances I have ever seen on film, during the scene in which Dr. Manson gets a baby, thought to have died, to breath again.
Donat's complete mastery of what the legendary Konstantin Stanislavsky called "tempo-rhythmn" gives a palpable urgency to this scene that is unforgettable. Watch his delicate and expressive use of his hands while he works to save the infant he's holding. These are the hands of a great actor giving life to a scene, and, at the same time, the hands of a great doctor giving life to a child.
This is acting of the highest order, and if you want to see what the real "Stanislavsky Method" (and not the inferior misinterpretation of it by Lee Strasberg) was all about, Donat's performance in this scene remains as magnificent a demonstration of its goal of emotional truth as I have ever witnessed in many years of watching theatre and film. The rest of his performance is equally brilliant. The changes in his face perfectly convey the degrees by which the former idealist becomes a jaded opportunist, and then. . .
Well, I don't want to be a spoiler and give the whole story away! I highly recommend "The Citadel" to anyone who enjoys films that have real meaning, or who appreciates the true, and truthful, art of acting--acting that is so brilliant and free from any trace of mannerism and artifice that we forget we're watching acting at all. We're seeing life and art unfold together. Thanks to the talent of Robert Donat, form and content become one: his concern with integrity and the film's concern with it simply merge into an inseparable artistic unity. This is a cinematic experience that nobody should miss.
If you look at my review of the Samuel Goldwyn - John Ford version of
ARROWSMITH (1932) I pointed out that the real hard hitting attack on
the worst abuses of the training of doctors in the United States and
the ambition, greed, and rivalries that mar the medical profession in
this country were discarded for the most part when that film was made.
Fortunately, six years later, this wonderful film was made by King
Vidor on a similarly critical novel by the English writer A. J. Cronin
(THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM, HATTER'S CASTLE). Cronin usually was not,
like Sinclair Lewis, a social critic - he was a general novelist. But
in THE CITADEL he turned perceptive social critic. Like Lewis (in his
novel) the society is just as guilty about the malfunctions of the
medical profession as the doctors are. But here it was spelled out.
Robert Donat is a newly trained doctor in England, and he initially is quite the idealist as Ronald Colman was as Martin Arrowsmith. Donat's Dr. Andrew Manson tries to fight society for it's own good, but finds it has a habit of hitting back at idealists. Soon, despite the emotional support of his wife Christine (Rosalind Russell), Andrew discovers the pleasures of becoming a prosperous society doctor. He has such wonderful models before him - like Rex Harrison, who talks of the "heart of gold" of his patients in reference to their bank accounts rather than their personalities (Harrison, in his autobiography REX, admitted that he got into serious trouble with his personal doctor after the latter heard that line and confronted him at Rex's next examination).
His best friend and colleague (Dr. Denny - Ralph Richardson) tries to get him to work with a set of idealistic doctors in making a first rate, reasonably priced clinic for the poor and working classes, but Donat rejects the offer. He also turns out to be cold towards the plea of the owner of an Italian restaurant for help for her little daughter (although he is aware of an odd-ball genius who can help the girl with a radical surgery technique). It is only when a tragedy occurs that he is shaken out of his current complacency back to his duty as a healer.
It is regrettable that ARROWSMITH was badly butchered in it's script and production, but it is to be thoroughly commended that this excellent version of THE CITADEL exists to show how the first novel should have been handled.
A morality tale of medicine, this film brilliantly illustrates the plight of a doctor who truly cares for healing the sick -- yet even finds his patients to be dishonest. Robert Donat is superb in his transformation from a good doctor to a money making doctor for the rich. Roselyn Russell compliments his performance with her own emotional struggle, as she watches her husband all but lose his heart. Brilliant direction from early veteran director King Vidor gives this film a worthy place in film history. This is a must see for any doctor -- IMHO.
I wasn't too sure what to think of Vidor after Our Daily Bread. Usually,
filmmakers who have a message to get across, and who don't do it all that
subtly, rub me the wrong way. But after seeing The Citadel i'm starting to
rethink King Vidor. Indeed i thought Our Daily Bread a very fine film,
certainly from the standpoint of direction. But what Bread lacked in the two
lead performances (which are quite corny and camp), has been perfected in
The Citadel, where we are given two marvellous performances from Robert
Donat and Rosalind Russell. And i didn't have the same feeling about Vidor's
message-making in Citadel that i did in Bread. It is more subtle in Citadel,
and also for a better cause (altruism in the medical profession, a very
noble thing, as opposed to socialism, the subject preached about in Our
Daily Bread). But now i've started thinking this about
He was a passionate artist - how much do i prefer this to someone like Rossellini who didn't think much of movies, or someone like Bergman, who often (he can be optimistic) depicts human nature as an empty, valueless abcess. The fact that he expresses such strong messages, and that in fact he has something that he finds of value, is immensely reassuring. I get so used to railing against preachy filmmakers that i seem to equate non-preachiness with cynicism, and even nihilism. Well, one doesn't have to dispise everything to make a wonderful film, which is what Vidor has done here.
Everything works in The Citadel. It draws you very nicely, without pomp or flashiness, but with immense skill, into its environment, and what a lovely environment it is. You so badly want nothing bad to happen to earnest, idealistic young doctor's assistant Dr Andrew Manson. I hesitate to use the word perfection, but there is a real perfection to this movie. And i was more than a little bit moved by it. I really enjoyed it, i just thought it was wonderful. Mr Vidor really was a king.
A look at the medical profession today will convince anyone that this narrative of the conflict a sensitive young physician experiences: whether to serve the not-especially-appreciative poor or the hypocond- riac and over-appreciative wealthy, if he caters to their whims. (At the end one wonders how great a difference there is between these two constituencies.) How many medical school graduates today choose to into small-town or rural general practice, as opposed to pursuing lucrative specialist careers? Robert Donat's effective performance is, as usual, understated; while Rosalind Russell easily matches him in a portrayal that makes one regret that she later became typed in comic roles as a result of superb performances in that genre. A supporting cast that includes the youthful Rex Harrison, Emlyn Williams and Ralph Richardson, all early in their careers and all with perfectly formed characteriza- tions, gives the film depth that one might not have anticipated. This is one of those films that makes one regret the loss of the old studio system, which enabled MGM, with its guaranteed bookings, to make a prestige film on a serious social issue with relatively few melodramatic excesses; and to offset probable box office losses by the studio's many box office bonanza romantic, comic or musical star vehicles. And today??
Very good film from King Vidor with a great look and a mostly excellent cast, take from the classic novel by A Cronin. Robert Donat as Dr. Manson, a highly-principled physician who struggles with the conflicting demands of his profession, provides an uneven central performance. It is sometimes hard to understand his motivations and this is the film's biggest weakness. Rosalind Russell does a fine job as his ever-faithful, often suffering wife. Her performance is perfect, and does provide a moral core to the film. The film wisely avoids a lot of details of the novel that would have muddied up the storyline. (In the book, Dr. Manson has an affair with one of society patients.) The film also boasts some fine performances from a very young Rex Harrison and Ralph Richardson. In fact, Richardson's role as an idealistic, though flawed doctor steals the spotlight every time he is on the screen. The film also has a great look, especially the outdoor scenes of the British villages.
This film features an excellent cast, ably led by Robert Donat in a performance that is superior to his marvelous performance one year later in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. As a young doctor, he begins with the highest intentions, gradually becoming cynical and disillusioned. He decides it's better to have money than scruples, with predictable results. Outstanding work as well by Rex Harrison and Rosiland Russell and a very good script. Most recommended.
Donat was never better, and the supporting cast is excellent all the way with no false notes. The period and its concerns and constraints are captured perfectly. This is the kind of philosophical statement movies that did well in the 30's and 40's but later became a lost art. This is worth seeing by young and old alike.
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