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In 1944, Capt. Josiah J. Newman is the doctor in charge of Ward 7, the neuropsychiatric ward, at an Army Air Corps hospital in Arizona. The hospital is under-resourced and Newman scrounges what he needs with the help of his inventive staff, especially Cpl. Jake Leibowitz. The military in general is only just coming to accept psychiatric disorders as legitimate and Newman generally has 6 weeks to cure them or send them on to another facility. There are many patients in the ward and his latest include Colonel Norville Bliss who has dissociated from his past; Capt. Paul Winston who is nearly catatonic after spending 13 months hiding in a cellar behind enemy lines; and 20 year-old Cpl. Jim Tompkins who is severely traumatized after his aircraft was shot down. Others come and go, including Italian prisoners of war, but Newman and team all realize that their success means the men will return to their units and combat. Written by
Captain Newman states that in the psychiatric ward, no knives are permitted. Yet Corporals Leibowitz and Gavoni, both orderlies in the ward, had quite a large knife amongst the patients to cut up the salami. See more »
Pre-MASH wartime hospital mix of comedy and tragedy
Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
Almost twenty years after WWII, a movie that reflected the growing public admission that there were many psychological victims from the war, often ignored or minimized at the time (unlike, say, Vietnam, which was just unfolding, and which demanded a different kind of accountability). And this one is set in the middle of the war, though in an Arizona military hospital far from direct action.
The star is certainly the title character, played by Gregory Peck, and Peck is his usual highly respectable self, moral and a natural leader, but likable and willing to take chances, too. That is, an ideal male, in many ways, the kind you might like to have as President, or at least the chief doctor in your hospital. He is, in particular, in charge of the mental ward, and his main intern played by Tony Curtis steals the show, on purpose. While much of the movie is funny, or at least peculiar enough to be ironic and wry, there are moments of heartfelt tragedy and even heartwrenching trauma (especially when a couple of the inmates go berserk). Third in line is a strong, sympathetic nurse (Angie Dickinson) and these three run the ward with unusual verve and intelligence. It clearly is a case in favor of the military giving good psych treatment.
There are several interesting patients, as well as a band of Italian POWs brought in for some nice comic relief (and for a reminder that people are people, even if they are enemies). The most famous and unusual is played by Bobby Darin, who I just saw in another movie from the period where he played a patient in an army psych ward, the riveting "Pressure Point." This is a whole different kind of movie, though Darin's performance is strong in similar ways in both cases. Here he even plays an impressive ten seconds on the guitar, and if you watch closely you'll see it's the real deal, not recorded later.
The color in the filming is unusually clear and vivid in a realistic way, and Russell Metty behind the camera has made a number of really solid, beautiful, richly colorful films ("That Touch of Mink" and "Imitation of Life" as well as the more earthy "The Misfits"). The lighting is usually fairly bright and broad, though there are some scenes pumped up with shadows. A couple of shots toward the end are oddly filmed against an obvious back projections (when they are rounding up the sheep) which is too bad because otherwise the standards are very high. Director David Miller isn't especially legendary, but he has one terrific film I'd recommend to anyone, "Sudden Fear" made a decade earlier. Here he shows general high production values and a sense of humor (mostly through the endlessly lively Curtis).
A nice little colorful film with a gently persuasive subtext.
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