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This movie chronicles the trials of the mentally ill and their care-givers in an over-crowded ward of a hospital. Dr. MacLeod (Robert Stack) is a new, optimistic doctor who attempts to start an out-patient program for the women in the ward. His method of treating mentally ill patients without violence or punishment is met with resistance by the head nurse, Lucretia Terry (Joan Crawford). During Dr. MacLeod's treatment, the phobias and illnesses of the various women in the test group are explored. Written by
Stacia Kissick <email@example.com>
Joan Crawford went out of her way to help an aging Herbert Marshall with his lines. See more »
When Lorna has a mental breakdown in a movie theater and rushes up to freak out on stage in front of screen, it's obvious that film on screen is a rear projection because neither she nor ushers trying to restrain her have projected images on them nor do they cast shadows on screen. See more »
A theatrical insiders looks at mental health care in a woman's ward--mostly powerful
The Caretakers (1963)
It's hard to imagine actually going to the movie to see this movie as a kind of entertainment, because it is more an experience and an emotional plea than a good idea for a first date. There's no question it's powerful, sometimes disturbing, and acted and filmed with intensity. It is, in its own way, a great movie, if you measure it only in terms of being moved. It is also a questionable movie in how it portrays these women, all of whom are "borderline" cases, and none of whom are openly diagnosed for us. Still, some of the most radical behavior is stuff I've seen first hand, and so it isn't completely unreasonable.
The big theme is interesting to see in retrospect: this seems to be about the very first shifts from large hospital care of the mentally troubled to residential care. The key to this is the notion that the patients (they call them "consumers" now) can form small, interactive "families" that encourage emotional and psychological support. It's a kind of giant co-counselling, and I think it's been shown to work in the fifty years since.
There are several equally strong characters as the plot follows one and then another, from patient to nurse to doctor. Joan Crawford gives a steely, power-performance as the head nurse, though only now and then. Herbert Marshall briefly appears as an aging, wise figure in his second to last film. The rest of the cast is made of lesser known actresses who act out the different characters of this woman's ward with disarming conviction (or theatricality, if you don't buy into their illnesses). The lead doctor is played by Robert Stack who never strikes me as quite up to any acting task, but then he's just a figurehead of authority and progress. The movie is in the hands of the women.
Director Hall Bartlett doesn't have much of a career as director, but he's managed to get a terrific cinematographer, Lucian Ballard, to make it a visually brooding and beautiful experience. And the music is by one of the best, Elmer Bernstein. The copy of the movie that streams on netflix has a flaw in the sound which was unfortunate--the quiet portions, including some important conversations, were very quiet, and then when the music and screaming explodes in other scenes it'll hurt your ears. Very very loud. It made for a clumsy viewing, moving the volume up and down, backtracking now and then to see what we missed.
Expect to be impressed and moved and possibly slightly shocked. Overlook some of the neatened up psychology that is a product of both the era and the era the movie was made. And don't look for a surprising plot. Instead you'll get to know a few of the women and when it gets to the final scenes it'll be moving and even a little joyous. If you let it.
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