The Citadel (1938)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Young Robert Donat is just out of medical school and eager to help mankind--particularly the poor and often forgotten. Unfortunately, the two times in the film where he devotes so much of his energy to assisting these people he is ultimately disappointed and sometimes betrayed by the very people he wants to help. So, naturally, after either struggling to make ends meet or being attacked for trying to innovate, he is sick of it all and begins working with rich clients who don't particularly have any problems--other than the fact that they are pampered and love to throw their money at doctors with the latest fad and quack treatments! How Donat and his lovely wife, Rosalind Russell make it through all this is pretty interesting. Plus, I was pretty amazed and happy that the film ended on a very uncertain note. Some may hate the vagueness of the conclusion, but I liked it this way, as it really encouraged you to think.
The film has excellent acting, writing and direction and it a great film for young doctors to see as they go out into the world.
What is a shame is that Rosalind Russel was not picked up by good directors for meaty serious roles, after this noteworthy performance.
The story never degenerates into soap opera melodrama. Some have called it a morality tale. To some extent that is true, but it is a morality tale of the highest order. The citadel of medical science is what Dr. Manson climbs to reach in his early idealistic days in a Welsh mining town, not unlike the one in "How Green Was My Valley." He meets his life companion there, a school teacher, Christine Barlow, (Rosalind Russell). She never loses her idealism, unlike her husband who becomes cynical and comes to love the materialistic life. He stops his climb toward the citadel. Instead he descends into depravity and greed until his friend's death brings him to his senses. Though he has still not reached the citadel at the end of the movie, we know he will someday.
The ending sort of dangles. The powers that be, after Dr. Manson has, with the help of an unlicensed practitioner, saved a little girl's life by collapsing her lung with a new, untried method (she's the daughter of the Italian restaurant's owner who Manson, now a society doctor, had tuned out when telling of her daughter's problem), are looking very seriously to striking the good doctor from the medical register. He and his wife blithely leave the courtroom to face an uncertain future, possible as an unlicensed practitioner himself. But who cares as long as they have each other!
Cecil Parker is excellent as the society surgeon who has no more business in an operating room than the man in the moon. I felt like Dr. Manson should have pushed him away and dove in when Denny's life hung in the balance and was lost. Denny had been hit by a car after leaving Manson's posh flat, having fallen off the wagon when he realized his friend had lost his ideals.
That was the beginning of Manson regaining his ideals.
It's ironic that Donat's character is interested in lung ailments since chronic asthma is was took him. It had been commented on (about another of Donat's movies, I believe) that asthma is treatable now and with today's treatments he would have survived longer. Maybe. Maybe not. Asthma is an unstable enemy. Just when you think you have it under control, it turns around and bites you. True, there are more and better treatments. In Donat's time the standard treatment was adrenaline shots and tedral tablets. But it's still a killer.
Hmmm, maybe that's the aspect of the character that attracted him to making the movie.
One of the reviews for this movie said that Manson didn't have an affair with a society woman, as he did in the book (which I haven't read). They sure did imply a "relationship" since he stands his wife up for the hysterical (on many levels) society patient. Takes a little more than professional interest in her.
I've become something of a Robert Donat fan thanks entirely to TCM. This and other splendid films he made during his all-too-brief lifetime are a trademark of outstanding capability. He died only a couple of years after my own life began so I never knew him in respect of current performances.
In this film one can easily imagine the obstacles that a young doctor faced in dealing with "the establishment" during the early 20th century. Sadly, even in the early years of the 21st century "the establishment" still feels it knows best in some quarters.
The film's larger storyline was far from original, and you can pretty much see what direction the plot is going to take at each juncture as the film is neatly subdivided into three parts. I was therefore quite surprised to discover it was Oscar-nominated for its screenplay. I'd recommend this one mainly to watch the outstanding performances of Robert Donat, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Richardson early in their careers as well as a very young Rex Harrison playing a rather devilish doctor in a supporting role.
What still appeals in this movie is the interpretation.Robert Donat is a very competent actor,particularly in the first part.Because it's basically a two-part movie:
-The first part,the most convincing, deals with poor parts of England,focusing on the miners' health.Although some scenes seem unlikely (the baby),the depiction of this little town,with its simple life,its teacher (a good Rosalind Russel) who will marry the doctor,its tragedies in the mine,is really endearing.Maybe John Ford will remember it when he films "how green was my valley".
-The second part,in which the hero loses -temporarily- his soul and gains the world-London-.An excellent Rex Harrison-sadly,his part is much too short-"treats" old rich hypocondriacs.And the hero realizes that rich people mean a lot of money.Sometimes it verges on caricature(the hysterical woman).The best scene :the owner of the small Italian restaurant tells Donat about her daughter's health problems ,and he goes on picking out his hors d'oeuvres ,indifferent to the mother's plight.
This seems often dated,but it's worth watching.
It is Richardson's accident that brings Donat to his senses as he realizes he has lost the ideals that once motivated him. Movies can entertain or provide escapism but the medium can also say something important. It can give us a dose of social realism such as Bicycle Thieves (the post World War II Italian film) or as in this film, exhort us to improve the human condition.
In this movie, medicine is subverted for personal gain and social status. The theme of the movie is not about medicine per se but about values. In this case, the ethics that certain professional people adopt when they make their way in the world. This theme is not new but deserves repeating, no less today than in the 1930's when the movie was made.
Rebuked by the coal citizens of Wales when he wants to research tuberculosis and working in the mines, Donat is lured to working with the wealthy and living the appropriately high society life style.
It is only with the death of a friend during botched surgery by a doctor for the wealthy, the Donat character realizes that it's time to go back to his former way of doctoring.
Rosalind Russell is miscast as Donat's wife. In the film, she is the prim teacher who gave up her teaching career to marry the good doctor.
This film is an excellent representation of the medical profession. It is extremely well done and worth watching.
Donat plays a doctor who goes to work in the coal mining area of Great Britain. He becomes frustrated when the yokels rebel against his rather tame experiments trying to prove that coal dust is what is causing most of their lung problems. As a result, he and his wife (Rosalind Russell) head for London, where the popular thinking is more modern. There he runs into Rex Harrison, a doctor who is catering to the rich set and their many imaginary illnesses. It's lucrative work, but Russell becomes discouraged over her husband's abandonment of his principles. He comes to his senses and saves a child ballet prodigy, only to be accused of assisting an unlicensed doctor. He, however, wins his case and seems to be back on track to be the responsible physician he once was.
As I indicated, Robert Donat is excellent here; quite a shame that his acting career was cut short due to his illness. While important to the story, Rosalind Russell's stint here as the wife is clearly secondary; this is Donat's film from beginning to end; nevertheless, she does well. A key player here, who does not get enough screen time, is the wonderful Ralph Richardson as another small town doctor who maintains his principles throughout. Rex Harrison is just right for his part.
There was really only one criticism I had of the film -- the ending. I often think films end too abruptly, and this is one of those. With just a few minutes more we could have been treated to "a year later" where he is working hard at a progressive clinic for real sick people. With something like that, I might have considered an "8" for the film, but instead I'll give it a very strong "7".
Donat plays Andrew, a young, idealistic new doctor who goes to work in a small Welsh mining town, where he marries a pretty schoolteacher, Christine (Rosalind Russell). Many of the miners have a persistent cough, and he becomes interested in finding the cause. But the miners have little understanding of the big picture and just want the "pink medicine" the old doctor gave them, which just helped their symptoms.
Thwarted at every turn, Andrew and Christine move to London, where Andrew opens a practice. Then he has a change of fortune when he runs into an old friend (Rex Harrison) who gets him on the society doctor track, where he gets big money for treating hypochondriacal patients and by merely being present while a surgery is being performed, or taking a referral.
A beautiful movie with the underrated Donat turning in a wonderful performance of quiet intensity. Russell's expressions say more than her words - you know exactly how she's feeling. Ralph Richardson -- was he ever bad? - plays Andrew's old friend Denny, who notices the change in Andrew's goals.
A.J. Cronin was one of the authors whose novels were often adapted for film in the old days: "The Spanish Gardener," "The Green Years,", "Keys of the Kingdom," "Bright Victory," "Vigil in the Night," and others. Some of his stories involve medicine/science and sacrifice/dedication. Those books made for some inspiring films in the '30s and '40s.
But there's no doubt about the fine performances of Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell. She gives the film the warmth it needs and is the first to sense that he's losing his moral compass when he talks of becoming a society doctor.
Small supporting cast roles by Emlyn Williams, Ralph Richardson and Rex Harrison are a delight to behold. King Vidor directed and got the most out of all the dramatic moments but could have injected some lighter moments in a script that is really much too grim.
Summing up: Uneven melodrama but worth watching for the performances.