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"Not as a Stranger" is an old fashioned medical
melodrama. The basic plot involves a
young man (Mitchum) who is obsessed with
becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, his
obsession causes pain and unhappiness
for the people around him.
Naturally, much of the medical material is out of date. Some commonplace matters in 1955 now strike us as incredible: a medical class with no women in it; doctors and nurses casually smoking; doctors who ride on ambulances.
The "small town" to which Mitchum moves after graduating from medical school is portrayed as isolated and rural. What we see is clearly a small city--bad choice of location.
In the context of the film,we have to accept Olivia de Havilland as plain and unsophisticated. Quite a suspension of disbelief.
However, Mitchum is excellent as the young physician who expects perfection from himself and all those around him, and Frank Sinatra is a good choice as Mitchum's cynical--but caring--friend.
Broderick Crawford as the medical professor Dr. Aarons, and Charles Bickford as Dr. Dave Runkleman, Mitchum's senior partner, both turn in solid performances.
Gloria Grahame is perfect as the wealthy widow, Harriet Lang, who oozes sexuality out of every alcoholic pore.
Watch for the dramatic scene when Crawford throws Grey's Anatomy at Sinatra. (Although beware the message that great medicine is synonymous with great memory. Memory is where great medicine starts, not where it ends.)
Two scenes need special comment:
When Mitchum tells a patient with a facial mole, "This kind is best left alone," he is wrong, wrong, wrong.
When Mitchum takes over the care of a critically ill patient of another doctor, Mitchum is right, right, right.
This movie is dated, but it is still worth seeing. Rent it and find out!
Many have panned Robert Mitchum's performance in this film, but I think that
his lack of expression and emotion, other than anger, suits the character
Mitchum's Marsh is a completely self-absorbed individual. He's committed to medicine and can't understand human failings, especially his own. His character's cold demeanor perfectly reflects the fact that Marsh has no outer life. If he often appears robotic, it's largely because he's programmed himself to shut out everything human, ironically in service to humanity.
Of course he's a great doctor, but he's pure hell to work or live with. Bursting with pride, insensitive to the point of cruelty, Marsh is unreachable and, in more than one sense of the term, untouchable. Mitchum conveys all of this very naturally, perhaps because so much of his performance is rooted in the dark world of film noir, where the actor first made his mark. He's a physician from the neck up, but he has the heart of a contract killer. That he heals instead of kills is his patients' good fortune, though of little solace to his friends or his wife.
Although Mitchum's interpretation remains controversial, many of the other performances in `Not as a Stranger' are beyond criticism. Olivia deHavilland, as his suffering spouse, is superb as always. Charles Bickford, an actor who deserves a much greater reputation, is the epitome of a small town doctor. And surprisingly, Broderick Crawford is excellent as a gruff professor of pathology.
On the other hand, Frank Sinatra's pediatrician isn't as strong, though he has some good scenes when he tries to help Mitchum see the error of his ways. Gloria Grahame, unfortunately, is stuck with a seductress role that just as well could have been cut.
There are other weaknesses. George Antheil's score, by way of Wagner and Richard Strauss, is pretty hard to take. The script and direction are uneven. Many scenes are compelling, such as when Crawford literally throws the book at Sinatra or when deHavilland and Mitchum have one of their confrontations. Others fall flat and there is a tendency, typical in most of Stanley Kramer's work, to keep making points at the expense of the story. For example, the med school sequences with Whit Bissell's greedy and unethical Dr Dietrich (interesting choice of name there) cover a darker side of the profession very well. There's really no need for Jesse White, terribly miscast as a lawyer who cozies up to Grahame, to bring up ethical issues much later in the film.
Recommended as an above average melodrama and as an interesting time capsule of mid-50s medicine. (Though I found it hard to believe patients were allowed to smoke in the wards!)
***SPOILERS**** Very effective, if a bit over dramatic at times,
medical drama having to do with a man who's so obsessed in becoming a
doctor that he loses touch with the feelings of those around and close
to him. Despertly wanting to continue his education in medical school
Lucas Marsh, Robert Mitchum, goes so far as making a play for nurse
Kristina Hedvigson, Olivia De Haviland, who he needs to pay for his
tuition. Kristina a very sweet and caring young woman who's anything
but the hot number that Lucas would normally go for is flattered by the
attention that Lucus is giving her and in no time at all accepts his
proposal for marriage. Kristine also without as much as saying a word
pays for Lucas tuition which turns out to be a very good investment
with him graduating at the top of his class.
Al Broome, Frank Sinatra, a fellow med student and Lucas' best friend sees through his fake romancing of Kristine which has him almost knocked cold by an enraged Lucas. Throughout the movie Al is the one person who tries to keep the two from splitting up when Kristina finally senses that she's being taken for a ride by her new husband.
It's when he's still in medical school that Lucas' arrogant and rebellious attitude toward his fellow doctors comes to the surface with him challenging Dr. Detrick, Whit Bissell, a teacher at the school about a medical procurer he's teaching the students which almost has him kicked out of the class and school. It takes a very painful apology by Lucas to keep him from having his medical career from ending before it ever began.
Now a full-fledged doctor Lucas and Kristine moves into the sleepy little town of Greenville to start his practice. It's also at Greenville where he starts to have an affair with local débutante Harriet Lange, Gloria Grahame, that leads to Kristina, who was pregnant at the time, walking out on him.
Much more complicated then you would expect it to be the film "Not as a Stranger" shows human relations at their rawest and most painful. There's in the film Lucas' father Job, Lon Chaney Jr, drinking away his sons tuition money that his wife left him. We later have a very explosive confrontation between father and son where Job is left crawling into his bottle of booze and ending up later in the movie, to Lucas' shock and horror, under the wheels of a city bus crushed to death. There's also Lucus' friendship with the wise-cracking and comical yet at the same time caring and understanding Al Broome. Lucus' hurts Al by bringing out, right in front of his fellow doctors and nurses, the fact that he operated on his patient not only without his permission but without checking that if she was suffering from melanoma which could have caused the cancer cells to spread all through her blood-stream. Lucas threatens to have him not only fired from his job as a doctor at the hospital but have his medical licenses revoked. It tuned out that the tumor that Al removed was benign.
Lucas' God-like belief in his ability as a man of medicine makes it almost impossible for anyone to work with him by demanding total perfection of the medical personal in Greenville Hospital, like his does of himself. Where at the same time he's anything but the perfect husband to his wife the mentally and emotionally abused Kristina. It's when Al checked out Kristina and finds that she's pregnant and very upset about it that he realizes that his friend Lucas is slowly causing her to have a breakdown. When he sense that instead of being overjoyed with the thought of starting a family with her husband she's going into a state of deep depression instead!
Juggling his duties as a doctor with his affair with Harrit Lucas' world comes to a crashing end. It's when he's suddenly called into the hospital operating room to operate on his friend and fellow doctor Dave Ruckelman, Charles Brickford, who just had a massive heart-attack and is not expected to pull through. Lucas who preformed miracles on the operating table in the past couldn't save his friend this time around. Just when it seemed that he got Daves heart back to normal it suddenly flat-lined, causing Dave to pass away.leaving Lucus shocked and destroyed in him feeling for the very first time that he isn't as infallible as he always thought that he was.
Coming back home, from where he was earlier kicked out, to Kristina a broken and helpless man Lucas finally saw what he was so blinded to. Lucas now realizes just how much he needed Kristina and how without her he never would have made it out of medical school and in the world of preventive medicine. Kristina, to her credit, took Lucas back knowing that his arrogance and ego-maniacal sense of self-importance died on the operating table together with his and her good friend and associate Dr.Dave Ruckleman.
Stanley Kramer made his directorial debut here, following story of a medical intern who marries for money, later becoming a country doctor with an unhappy love life. Surprisingly involving adaptation of Morton Thompson's novel is both cynical and humorous, and Kramer really excels in the scenes behind hospital doors, particularly in the patient montages. He takes a good while to warm up however, and the actors also struggle getting into character. Robert Mitchum doesn't strike me as the medic type, and neither does Frank Sinatra (cutting up à la Jack Lemmon, giving the film some bounce nevertheless), but Olivia de Havilland does good work in the romance department. Second-half of the picture is more assured, if more routine, but the film is quite entertaining on the whole. **1/2 from ****
I've just been treated to this wonderful film, courtesy of the
wonderful TCM, and while it is not the best film ever made, and is
indeed flawed, I can't believe this has been SO overlooked as it has!!
This takes place in then-modern day 1955, which, if you think about it,
is just after the Korean war. I'm a BIG fan of the TV series "M*A*S*H,"
so a film mostly concerning surgeons in the mid-'50s has GOT to
interest me. But the real surprise here is that, as popular as giant
stars like Mitchum, Ms. de Havilland, Sinatra, and Crawford were at the
time of this film's release, more hasn't been said about it since then.
Mitchum and Sinatra are chums at a medical school, and their prime professor is Crawford. Mitchum is the student EXTREMELY determined to become a doctor, as opposed to Sinatra and other friends, who are pretty half-assed in their desires. Then, Mitchum finds he's having troubles coming up with enough money to finance the tuition for his next year of education. Suddenly, he meets and falls in love with a Swedish nurse, who has plenty of money to help him through the hard times. So Mitchum then marries the lady.Mitchum's friend Sinatra thinks this is a bad thing to do, and tells him so, but life goes on. Like I said, this is not a movie without flaws, but it's so full of rich performances and a cast of unbelievable stars of past and present (hey, when was the last time you saw the Little Rascals' Alfalfa and the Beverly Hillbillies' Miss Jane in the same movie?). This is so totally worth seeing. As a fan of old movies, and having a total appreciation for Mitchum, Sinatra, Ms. de Havilland and Crawford, this was an unexpected joy to behold. ***, out of ****
There has been a lot of criticism of Robert Mitchum in this film. I thought he was perfectly cast. I haven't seen this movie since I was a teen, in the 1960s. However, there were three scenes in the movie that moved me so strongly I can see them in my mind's eye all these years later. The first is the emotional scene when Olivia de Havilland can take no more of Mitchum's treatment and tells him to get out. She was so powerful and poignant. The second was when Mitchum was trying to revive Bickford and couldn't. Finally, the scene where he went back home, and de Havilland opened the door and Mitchum just stood there looking at her so pathetically. I just finished watching The Snake Pit and I'm going to go rent Not as a Stranger. She is such an amazing actress!
I am sympathetic with the films of the director Stanley Kramer, and this is not an exception. Here he was able to show how the professionals, still when they are students, project themselves and are able to go beyond their possibilities hurting many people surrounding them. This is the case of the Physician, Dr. Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum), who even forgot the financial and professional help given by his wife, the nurse Kristina Hedvigson (Olivia De Havilland) when he was student. This film touches many different aspects of the society, which are still actual at present, i.e. the relationship between the wife and the husband, the jealousy of the professional to be always the best, no matter at what cost this can be reached, the relationships of the students, and others. It is a very interesting film with plenty of morale, worth to be seen more than once. In addition, Frank Sinatra and Broderick Crawford had excellent performances in this film.
Robert Mitchum is an actor I usually like but Stanley Kramer was wrong to cast him in the central role of the idealistic doctor. A more sensitive actor (like Montgomery Clift) would have been much more suitable. Sleepy-eyed Mitchum is the one big weakness of this drama--he rarely changes his expression even when he is angrily berating his long-suffering wife (Olivia de Havilland) or best pal (Frank Sinatra). His expressionless demeanor was OK when playing tough hoods but doesn't serve him well here. Gloria Grahme plays her familiar siren role as though she has novocaine in her upper lip. But everyone else shines--Broderick Crawford as a Jewish doctor, Charles Bickford as Mitchum's mentor, and Frank Sinatra adding a much needed sense of humor to the proceedings as a materialistic doctor. Olivia de Havilland, with blonde hair and Scandinavian accent, has a couple of very strong scenes which she plays brilliantly. All of the smaller roles are well done--and particularly strong are the hospital scenes dealing with patients, operations and interns. But the big drawback is Mitchum--unable to get into his role and make his character more than a cardboard figure. Nevertheless, the film itself is still compelling and well worth viewing. The reviewers claimed that all of the actors were too old for their parts--and while this is true, only Mitchum fails to deliver.
With a cast including Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Broderick
Crawford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame, you'd expect hard-boiled crime
drama. If so, you might want your money back after seeing NOT AS A
STRANGER. One Hollywood wag remarked of the
Mitchum-Sinatra-Crawford-Marvin lineup, "That's not a cast, that's a
brewery!" and the actors lived up to their rowdy reputations, turning
the shooting into "ten weeks of hell" for director Stanley Kramer.
Mitchum described Crawford swallowing Sinatra's hairpiece with a vodka
chaser (Of course, you never know when Mitchum is putting you on. But I
like to believe he did call up Sinatra in Palm Springs to say, "Guess
what? The Crawdad just drank your wig.") Sinatra took to calling
Mitchum "mother" after he nursed Ol' Blue Eyes through a hangover. It's
too bad Kramer didn't film these on-set antics; the footage would have
been more entertaining than the plodding and earnest medical melodrama
he did produce.
The casting is spectacularly misguided; for a start, everyone is almost twenty years too old. The film opens with the 40-ish Mitchum, Sinatra and Marvin as medical students observing a dissection, and right away credibility is strained. (If I walked into a doctor's office and saw Lee Marvin in a white coat, I would run.) And whose idea was it to cast the famously jaded, take-it-or-leave-it Mitchum as the rigid, idealistic, driven hero? Only top-billed Olivia de Havilland seems to belong in this type of movie, and she suffers from a platinum dye job and a mediocre Garbo accent. I waited more than an hour for Gloria Grahame to show up, and then she was wasted on a throwaway subplot that's over almost before it begins.
No cast could have made the movie much good. It's overlong, and the script is both obvious and underwritten; a few minutes into every scene I could predict what was going to happen by the end, and I foresaw the final plot twist about halfway through the film. The first half follows Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) through medical school. For reasons never entirely clear he is obsessed with becoming a doctor, though his father (who drank up all the money his mother left to pay his tuition) tells him, "I don't think you'll make it. It's not enough to have a brain, you have to have a heart." Thus in the third scene we get the message of the movie, and have a pretty good idea of everything that will follow. Desperate for money to stay in school, Luke woos and marries Kristina (Olivia de Havilland), a frumpy Swedish nurse whofor reasons never entirely clearis madly in love with him. (We know because she keeps telling him, "I love you SO MUCH!") It's made abundantly clear that Luke is brilliant and noble-mindedhe despises the other students who just want to make a lot of moneybut arrogant and intolerant of human frailty. In his first practice, assisting a kindly and intelligent small-town doctor (Charles Bickford) he does a wonderful job, but his marriage disintegrates as he falls for a seductive wealthy widow and his wife can't bring herself to tell him she's pregnant. You just know that sooner or later he's going to falter at the operating table and be shattered by the realization that He Too is Only Human.
To this oppressive script, add heavy-handed direction that hammers each point home with obvious symbolism and simplistic montages (and a few--but not enough--moments of unintentional hilarity like the whinnying stallion underscoring the first big Mitchum-Grahame clinch), and the most relentlessly overwrought music I've ever heard. No one except Sinatra, playing the only light-hearted role, manages to crawl out from under the lead blanket of this movie. My admiration for Robert Mitchum knows no bounds, and I wouldn't say he's bad here, but he's certainly been better. It's not that he's incapable of playing characters who care deeply or zealously pursue a goal (See HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON or NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.) The problem is that Lucas Marsh is humorless, uptight and self-righteous, devoid of that perceptive, ironic, compassionate distance that's essential to Mitchum. Marsh is hot tempered, intolerant of others and blind to his own flawsin other words, it's a Kirk Douglas part. Kirk would have been perfect, but Mitchum never really connects with the character. Maybe it just didn't seem worthwhile: Mitchum never gave more to a movie than it deserved. He does have some nice moments: the encounter with his pathetic father gives some explanation for why he's so disgusted by weakness; he plays well with Sinatra, strikes some sparks with Gloria Grahame, and excellently delineates Luke's feelings for his wife, a mix of boredom, admiration and guilt. He's pretty convincing in the doctoring scenes (there are way too many of these, at least for someone like me who gets woozy at the sight of a hypodermic needle.) But he seems a little bored most of the time, not that I blame him. Maybe I should have taken my cue from the actors and had a few drinks on hand.
I rated "Not as a Stranger" fairly high due mainly to the superb cast rather than the somewhat disappointing direction. Prior to this, Stanley Kramer had done some very fine work, and the Book offered him a great opportunity to make a landmark film, but I felt that it just misses the mark. However, one cannot speak too highly of the acting of Olivia de Havilland, Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford and Charles Bickford who were all superb, while I was pleased by Robert Mitchum's efforts to portray this two-timing Doctor but still thought certain other actors would have been better suited to the role. Gloria Grahame has never been a special favorite of mine, but did do well. It has been criticised a lot over the years, but it did not deserve some of the brickbats thrown at it.
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