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Rather too much good solid Shaw has been lost in screenwriter Anatole
de Grunwald's attempt to turn a solid and surprisingly funny play about
the moral dilemma faced by a man (John Robinson, bearing a striking
resemblance to Maurice Evans) over whether to save the life of a
brilliant artist who is also a wastrel or a good man who offers far
less to posterity into a La Boheme-tinged love triangle between top
billed Leslie Caron, Dirk Bogarde (both fine and passionate, as always)
Fortunately, the screen comes alive when the quartet of Shaw's doctors are on stage debating morality and science, most especially in the persons of old Shauvian hands like Robert Morley (Andrew Undershaft in the 1941 Pascal film of MAJOR BARBARA) and Felix Aylmer (Cauchon in the 1957 Otto Preminger film and 1966 Caedmon recording of SAINT JOAN). Alistair Sim as a surgery-happy practitioner also carries his share of the comic load, with Robinson (the real lead of the film) bringing up the slightly stuffy rear.
Director Anthony Asquith , who helmed the great 1938 film of PYGMALION which won Shaw his Oscar as best screenwriter, never allows the action to drag, brings out the best of Shaw's life lessons ("those who marry happily will marry again") even when Grunwald nearly buries them in stock romantic fumbling and uses the period setting as well as he did in his still definitive 1952 film of Wilde's IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.
This ...DILEMMA may not be a great film, but given the first rate cast and handsome production, it's well worth discovering - and lovers of Shaw shouldn't think of missing it.
For heaven's sake - sparkling and witty actors interpreting brilliant Shavian dialogue with exquisite timing, exploring with the greatest imaginable finesse a huge ethical issue which is as timely now as it was then ....I have not seen or read the unedited play so I cannot indulge in comparisons, but it would seem to me that this was a very professional and refined adaptation of a very funny and wise work, which should stimulate the viewer to explore not only Shaw's original, but also all his other brilliant and fearless sashays...and for that matter why not Oscar Wilde, George Gissing, the whole exquisite corpus of the British fin de siecle....why not accept such a film as a great gift, an invitation to broaden one's literary horizons and become aware of a wonderful, lost world of refinement that will never come again? Down with the philistines!!
George Bernard Shaw's play, "The Doctor's Dilemma" is adapted here by
Anatole de Grunwald and directed by Anthony Asquith. Asquith has a
formidable cast: Leslie Caron, Dirk Bogarde, Alistair Sim, Robert
Morley, Felix Aylmer, John Robinson, and Michael Gwynn. Caron plays
Mrs. Dubedat, whose artist husband Louis (Bogarde) is dying of
tuberculosis. She approaches a doctor, Sir Ridgeon (Robinson) who has a
cure for TB but can only treat so many patients. He's very attracted to
the lovely Mrs. Dubedat and says that he must meet her husband to see
if he's worth saving. Meanwhile, he finds out that a friend of his
(Gwynn) is suffering from the same disease.
Mrs. Dubedat worships her husband and is blind to his faults, which are many. He hits people up for money that he has no intention of returning, he steals a cigarette case from one of the doctors, and he's a bigamist. The doctors are shocked to learn all of this. On the other hand, he's a great artist. What to do? At the time this play was written, it was somewhat topical, as there was a doctor who thought he had a cure for TB but didn't. Shaw, in his way, pokes holes at the doctors represented here - the surgeon (Morley) who thinks that there's an operation for every condition; the quack (Sim) who blames everything on blood poisoning. A third doctor (Aylmer) is more thoughtful, taking nothing for granted. Shaw was somewhat of a metaphysician, and apparently didn't believe in doctors. He believed that the human system could heal itself.
But though this has its comic moments - Dubedat's completely unapologetic attitude about his bigamy, borrowing, and stealing - it does raise questions about the iconic status some people achieve when they die young, and whether, in fact, they're not better off doing so. And what makes a person worth living? His good deeds or his great art? Bogarde is great as usual as the handsome, womanizing rogue, and he and Caron make a beautiful couple. If Caron was trying to prove she was more than a dancer with this film, she certainly did so, in a sympathetic performance. But for a woman without much money, she sure had some beautiful Cecil Beaton costumes. As the film is in color, they're even more eye-popping. The doctors Sim, Morley, and Robinsonare wonderful.
"The Doctor's Dilemma" is talky, especially in the beginning, but stick with it. It's not the best adaptation of Shaw for the screen that you'll ever see, but the performances make it worth it, and it's a thought-provoking movie.
I love this film. Alistair Sim and Robert Morley are marvelous as they
advocate the various and absurd treatments they'd used on their
But I'm appalled that this film isn't available for home viewing, especially when you consider how many crummy films have been released on tape or DVD.
Could it be that Shaw's estate has refused to release the distribution rights for home viewing? If so, then someone out there -- perhaps the Criterion Collection -- can convince the copyright holder to relent.
"Dilemma" may not be the best adaptation of a Shaw play (I think top honors go to "Pygmalion"), but it catches the play's flavor. The dialog is sharp and witty, and Dirk Bogarde gives another fine performance as the ailing man.
This would be a fine addition to any collection.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When one talks of Bernard Shaw's best plays, one thinks of those plays
he wrote from MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION (1895) to ST. JOAN (1923), with
a nod at THE APPLE CART (1930) and TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD (1932). After
1923 there is a slackening in his creativity - the plays become
impossible for one reason or another - in one case a horrifying
political time capsule (GENEVA, his valentine to Hitler, Mussolini, and
Stalin). But some of the great plays of the early days creak a bit
today. MAN AND SUPERMAN, his first five hour play (with DON JUAN IN
HELL as a play within the play) is not revived too often. The Fabian
sayings at the end were dismissed by George Orwell as "crackerjack
sayings" in the 1940s. THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA is a similar defective
There is no doubt that the medical profession deserves critical review every decade or so, as Sinclair Lewis and A. J. Cronin demonstrated in the 1920s and 1930s. The fact that doctors can show more interest in making pots of money than in curing the ills of man is constantly in front of us. But Shaw's attack in THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA was something else: the plot involves the age old question of who should live and who should die.
Dubedat (Dirk Bogarde) is a great painter, with a devoted wife - but he is a scoundrel. He is dying of tuberculosis, and Mrs. Dubedat (Leslie Caron) goes to see Sir Colonso Ridgeon (John Robinson) to see if he can use his tuberculosis "cure" on her husband. It has gotten good results, and Ridgeon seems willing to use it, but he slowly gets to dislike Dubedat, and begins wondering if his life is worth saving (there are alternative patients to try to help).
SPOILER COMING UP:
Certainly Dubedat (a bigamist and male chauvinist type) is questionable, if very talented. But as Shaw pursues the matter something else enters the issue that is more personal: Ridgeon finds he is falling in love with Mrs. Dubedat. It is this personal element (kept hidden until the end) that raises the play.
But now comes the part that ages it. If you read the long (typically overly long) introduction that accompanies THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, Shaw was making a commentary on the recent failure of the British surgeon, Sir Almroth Wright, to find a method of eradicating tuberculosis in the London Metropolitan area (THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA was published in 1907). Wright was on the cutting edge of scientific study on tuberculosis, like his German contemporary Robert Koch, developer of tuberculin. Wright tried to convince the public authorities to allow him to inoculate hundreds of people with tuberculin injections and the like. He was certain this would get rid of this great "white death" plague. It didn't work - it produced some interesting statistical data (earning Wright the satiric nickname, "Sir Almost Right"!). But the disease remained as prevalent as ever. Actually it just helped to show the failure of tuberculin as a cure.
Shaw the cynical satirist took up this to attack the intellectual pretensions of the medical profession on "curing" disease. If he meant that Wright had jumped to conclusions, Shaw was partly right, but the alternative of just standing around doing nothing when he had the chance seems ridiculous. Shaw goes beyond the tuberculosis issue - he attacks the profession for having "cut-happy" surgeons like Robert Morley or worse, high class quacks like Alistair Sim (he insists blood poisoning is the cause of most of man's ills, due to everyone having a particular sack in their intestines - one that he is lucky enough not to have, so he's safe!). Only the elderly, wise Felix Aylmer is an acceptable doctor to Shaw - he questions everything with a lifetime of healthy skepticism.
It is entertaining, until you realize that Shaw would simply have doctors visit you, examine you, tell you what is wrong, and then leave without doing anything for you (except if you are dying they'd make you comfortable). This is hardly what is expected of doctors in any society - people want to be better. Shaw would say that the life force would cure itself (he would keep returning to the life force - making it omnipotent in BACK TO METHUSALEH in the 1920s). That a life force may need support he'd dismiss.
One has to remember, Shaw may have read up on Wright's statistical findings, but he probably barely understood them - he was not a scientist, but a social critic and dramatist. A lifetime vegetarian, it is symbolic of the idiocy of his views on medicine that he spent part of his last years defending having to use a beef-liver extract for his health (my God! how could he dare use a doctor's prescription for medicine when he had that life force!) from criticism from other vegetarians about his hypocrisy. Apparently he never chose to notice his hypocrisy either.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There might be some confusion about this film. Back in the 1950s and
into the 60s, there was a series of British Doctor films...several of
which starred Dirk Bogarde. While this one has 'Doctor' in the title
and stars Bogarde, it is NOT from this series and the strange
foreboding music at the beginning of the film makes that all too clear!
The film, unlike the Doctor series, is set in about 1910...not
When the story begins, you learn that a doctor has come up with a definitive cure for Tuberculosis. However, he's just one man and cannot cure everyone...so he is not about to take on any new patients. He's about to say that to Mrs. Dubedat (Leslie Caron) but she utterly charms him. The Doctor is also very impressed by the artwork of Mr. Dubedat (Bogarde). So he agrees to treat the artist. Soon, however, he and his doctor friends learn the truth....Louis Dubedat is a bigamist, a liar and a thief! Clearly he's a sociopath...and a charming one to boot! Should they still treat this man or find someone more worthy? The answer seems to be no...but they do like Mrs. Dubedat and don't want to hurt her.
In many ways, Bogarde puts on a fascinating and realistic portrait of an Antisocial Personality. He has no conscience whatsoever and feels he is above conventional morality. When confronted with his infamous behaviors, instead of behaving like he's contrite, he feels completely justified in hurting and taking advantage of others. Charming and yet without a single positive personality trait! I wish I'd seen this film when I was teaching psychology...it would have made a great object lesson! It would also be interesting having them watch Mrs. Dubedat...as she surely seems like a Dependent Personality with Antisocial features...a woman who will excuse ANY action by her husband and have little regard for his victims.
So if you are not a psychology student, is it still worth seeing? Yes, the acting is quite nice and the story an interesting moral dilemma. I only have a couple misgivings about the film. The Dubedats are so horrible (particularly Mr. Dubedat) that it makes you wonder why there is any dilemma at all. Maybe they should have made the guy less obviously vile! Subtle, he isn't. Additionally, the ending went on WAY too long and was simply overdone and overly melodramatic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... and furthermore the dilemma is not really a tough choice, and just
about everybody in the film is completely unlikable except Leslie
Caron's character, Mrs. Dubedat. She is earnest in her desire to save
her husband, who is ill from "consumption" (tuberculosis) at a time
when there was no cure or real understanding of the disease. However,
she is just so incredibly naive as to how bad a person her husband
There is a doctor with a medicinal cure, and he is the doctor that Mrs. Dubedat settles upon. However, the doctor only has the ability to treat ten patients at a time, and he has only one bed left. It is either going to be Mr. Dubedat, a brilliant artist and a rotten person, or a fellow physician who is not charismatic, interesting, or imaginative, but he IS a doctor and he does take care of the poor for virtually nothing. In other words, a nice but dull guy.
Dirk Bogarde usually played war heroes or sympathetic figures, so I guess it is a tribute to his acting talents that he made most of the rogue characters George Sanders ever played look like Gandhi in comparison to Louis Dubedat. However, when Dubedat goes to talk to the doctors who might cure him, in what he knows is basically an interview process, he is just too open and frank about what a blackguard he is in front of people who can choose to save him or not without a real worry that they will choose to let him die. He borrows money from all of them individually, giving each a story that is a lie, borrows another's cigarette case and pawns it, and it turns out that the hosting doctor's maid was once married to Dubedat and that he dumped her after a few weeks after going through all of her money, and never bothered to divorce her before marrying the second Mrs. Dubedat.
Of course the great irony here is that three of the protesting doctors are in many ways as immoral as Dubedat. Like Dubedat they have respectable professions, but they really look upon their patients as objects of experimentation while profiting on their profession way beyond any accomplishments they have. I guess that might be why Dubedat laughs at them when they call him on his immorality.
Mrs. Dubedat knows that her husband is irresponsible with money and likes the ladies, but she has no idea he has made her a party to bigamy. Now the other three doctors are actually quacks, so the doctor with the medicinal cure is the only one that can truly save Mr. Dubedat. The choice to let him die might be an easy one if it were not for this doctor's own moral dilemma. He is very attracted to Mrs. Dubedat, and it is implied if she were widowed he might court her himself. Plus, if Dubedat dies, his wife need never know she was a bigamist, so he is having a hard time making a just decision when his own personal gain is at stake.
So what will be the verdict? Watch and find out. It is a bit wordy with some scenes that just go on ridiculously long and actually LOOKS like it was adapted from a play. I'd moderately recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shaw can be good sometimes, but in The Doctor's Dilemma he is not. At
the very heart of the play, the central dilemma is a forced, utterly
artificial situation. The contrast between the deserving patient and
the undeserving patient is stark and amateurish. The sick doctor is too
wonderfully simple, fantastically modest, uncomplaining, virtuous,a
complete paragon. And look how the undeserving sick artist is
portrayed--undeserving because he is "immoral," illustrated not because
he murders people, worships the devil, or sells opium to children but
because he borrows money without any intention of paying it back. And
it is suspected he lives with a woman who is not his wife. How can
anyone believe such a reprobate deserves to live? And then there is
what stands as the argument that he should be chosen to live over the
modest doctor--he is an artistic genius with such transcendent gifts
that one glance at his drawings is enough to identify him absolutely as
a genius. Wouldn't it be nice in the real world if recognition were so
immediate and complete? Not for a second does one believe in the
central situation on which the entire play depends. The devotion of the
artist's wife adds to the general air of falsity by being exaggerated
to impossible heights.
Only one doctor in the whole world has the cure for tuberculosis? And he can guarantee the cure? Remarkable. He can handle ten patients at a time, maybe squeeze in an eleventh, but a twelfth is impossible? Really. How can we be expected to believe in such an artificial situation? In a philosophical argument such a strained case would fit nicely, but hardly in a drama, which purports to put the flesh and blood of real people on the philosophical abstractions.
As for being dated, perhaps in Shaw's time there was some credibility about the idea of doctors playing the role of virtuosos, each hanging his reputation on his proprietary "cure," but it is sadly out of date today, when medical procedures are derived out of scientific testing and universally shared.
The banter of the doctors has its entertaining moments, although their offhand willingness to let their patients die is another example of the play's artificiality.
Reviews here praise the acting. Perhaps that is true of the bantering doctors, but John Robinson as the main character caught on the horns of the dilemma of the title is so stiff and proper that he conveys no emotion, no humanity, nothing real. In the later scenes I was sure the play was going to have a twist ending with Dirk Bogarde somehow being miraculously cured because I did not for a moment believe he was sick and at death's door. Itès hard to say whether that was because I didn't believe much of anything about the play or because of Bogarde's acting.
The positive reviews here leave me puzzled. I wonder whether Shaw isn't being given a free pass because of some of his other plays?
An interesting but not particularly engaging George Bernard Shaw satirical play is given a serviceable cinematic treatment from director Asquith - who clearly had fared much better with PYGMALION (1938) - but, nonetheless, the film is buoyed by a good cast (Leslie Caron, Dirk Bogarde, Alastair Sim. Robert Morley, Felix Aylmer, Michael Gwynne, Alec McCowen) and production values (cinematographer Robert Krasker, composer Joseph Kosma, costumer Cecil Beaton, production designer Paul Sheriff). As it happens, some performers acquit themselves better than others: Bogarde is fun as an impoverished but Machiavellian painter dying of tuberculosis and Sim and Morley are their usual pompous selves as two renowned "quacks" competing to treat him so to earn favors from his lovely wife (an unfortunately out-of-her-league Caron).
It's rare to come upon such clever and witty dialogue and such an admirable rogue. While this film turns the medical profession onto its hat (not a difficult trick) it does it in a delightful way that captivates and entertains. The twists and turns of the various attitudes is a pleasure to behold. Sure, Caron is a crappy actress who is way over her head among these great actors, but her stilted acting does suit her role. In any case, her acting is overshadowed by the brilliant play and the wonderful performances around her. This is a movie that must be listened to. It wasn't until I devoted my entire attention to it that I really began to appreciate it.
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