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I finally landed a copy of the elusive House of God on video. Actually, a
taped copy from cable where it showed up last week at 2:36 a.m. and I just
happened to be up.
The movie has the almost impossible task of living up to one of the great American novels. Tim Matheson is well-cast as are the two police officers Quick and Gilheeney (James Cromwell and Malachy McCourt).
Charles Haid just isn't very fat, but he does a commendable job as The Fat Man. The rest of the cast is a who's who of future TV sitcom stars: Michael Richards, Joe Piscopo, Gilbert Godfried, Bess Armstrong...
I thought the movie was ok (it was filmed in Philadelphia, which is never mentioned), but it lacked the most essential element of the book: The Rules of the House of God. The first few are mentioned, but that's it.
GOMERS, Slurpers, Turfing, Buffing, Bouncing...it's all there. I wonder how someone who didn't read the book would like it?
Anyway, it's worth a peak, but don't pay $800 or whatever that place in Georgia wanted for it. I'll make you a copy for the price of a blank casette.
THE HOUSE OF GOD is a great deal of fun; a black "dramady," with
truths about hospitals and the medical profession you would ever
to hear in a Hollywood movie. Which, is probably why THE HOUSE OF
was never released in theaters, is not now nor ever been available on VHS,
DVD or laser disk, and is never shown on Turner Classic Movies (which has
the rights to the entire United Artists collection).
How this film was ever made is a mystery. Made during the hectic (and waning days) of United Artists (about the time of HEAVEN'S GATE), THOG is a scathing indictment of crass commercialism and techno-insanity that infects the medical industry in this country. The
profession can stand being seen as arrogant (THE DOCTOR, CHICAGO HOPE), incompetent (THE HOSPITAL, BRITTANIA HOSPITAL) or irreverent (MASH, PATCH ADAMS). However, apparently it will not tolerate being
portrayed as being largely composed of money grubbing ghouls.
This movie is MUCH better than most fare released in theaters. Lisa Pelliken is SCARY as a technology obsessed resident. Charles Haid is wonderful and Tim Matheson is fine. Some of the other acting is a bit too much on the buffoonish side, however. The film is mounted and photographed a bit too much like a made-for-TV movie, as well. Nonetheless, this movie is too fine and true to put down too much.
WARNING: If you DO obtain a copy of this movie (I got mine off SHOWTIME), DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, loan it to anyone without making a backup copy. YOU WILL NOT GET IT BACK!
My cousin is a neurologist, and I roomed with him and one of his
friends when I first heard of the book House of God. I also heard that
it had been made into a movie which had never been released. Apparently
it was run on cable television a couple of times, and copies circulated
among doctors, nurses and interns. I met more doctors as a result of
them coming over to our apartment to see this movie.
I haven't seen it in years, but I remember that I was very impressed with the adaptation. It is an 'inside' movie, in that those who are not doctors will not get as much out of it as those who are part of the profession, one reason perhaps why the film was not released. It was also pretty loose as far as plot and story, but so was the book. Lord knows there are a lot of movies that are far worse that did make it to theaters. The collapse of UA at the time was icing on the cake.
I distinctly remember my cousin telling me that the scenes in the ER were the most realistic he'd seen. Of course thanks to TV such scenes in the ER are a lot more plentiful.
Certainly worth seeing, and worth releasing on DVD.
Samuel Shem's novel "The House of God" is a classic in the world of
medicine, a must-read for all new doctors, a biting satire that is
hilarious and horrifying, highlighting in very stark terms how
dehumanizing medical training can be, both for the patients and the
doctors themselves. It is a work of sheer brilliance.
The movie version is none of those things.
It is never easy to adapt a novel into a movie, especially when the novel itself is a classic. However, the filmmakers here did not even try. Instead of a story, what we have here is a disjointed series of events with no connecting threads. This movie doesn't tell a story at all. It references a few key scenes from the novel to show that it was really based on it, but then throws in many, many new scenes that do nothing to contribute to the story or the richness of the film's message.
The message of the novel is entirely lost in this film, there is not even a single moment worth laughing with or laughing at, and there isn't even a story here worth following.
There could not possibly be a starker contrast between the ingenuity of the original novel and the sheer banality of this film. It is truly awful.
"You are special" , "Lets face it, Doctors are special" Opening words
from the chief resident doctor to the new group of interns on their
first day. The movie is a classic.
And the Fatman - "See these hands? These hands never touch patients. Why? Because not only are most patients better off left untouched, they are better off left unseen."
He is the good guy. Working in a system in which the primary goal of any doctor is to practice medicine, not heal patients. "Order a test, produce a complication. Order another test, produce another complication. And on and on it goes. Until the patient is 'Putzilized' (a term named after Dr Putzil, a 'slurper' extraordinaire.
Well worth a watch. And btw, its available for streaming from Netflix. I just watched it a few weeks ago.
...which I discovered immediately after finishing my own internship. As
a reflection of what the medical training experience was like in the
'70s (before the concept of diagnosis-related groups - DRGs - changed
the way in which we hospitalize patients, particularly GOMER'd Medicare
clients), the novel was the absolute truth, up to and including the
rutting behavior of 'terns and residents trying to compensate for too
much stress by going after too much sex.
Remember, it was not only pre-DRG (which first began testing in New Jersey in 1980 before going nationwide in 1983) but also pre-AIDS (which first began to manifest with epidemiological significance in 1981). By 1984, however - when this movie is considered to have been released, even though it had been finished in 1979 - its subject matter (and the novel's approach to it) simply wasn't topical any longer.
With the DRG system rammed down their collective throat by HCFA, hospitals no longer got revenue by performing all sorts of procedures and hanging onto patients for weeks on end (charging by the day). Instead, they began to be paid a set amount by third-party "health insurance" carriers according to the diagnosis-related group into which the particular patient fell. Explanations of DRG are available all over the 'Net, and I suppose Wikipedia's entry is good enough for most folks' purposes.
The whole thrust of the DRG system can be summed up as discharging each patient "quicker and sicker." A nasty situation for the admitting physician, who has to balance his/her best appreciation of the patient's needs against the hospital administration's pestering to do as little as possible as rapidly as possible to get the patient stable enough to wheel the critter out the door.
As for the matter of sexual promiscuity.... Well, that all went bye-bye when we discovered a sexually transmitted disease that transcended the status of "treatable inconvenience" to become a death sentence. If there's substance to *The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS* premise so beloved of the conservatives, have you ever wondered why the hell all us heterosexual doctors (most of us classifiable as "Hard Right" political conservatives even as college students) have practically welded our zippers shut over the past twenty years and more?
None of this, however, fully explains the failure to make the movie commercially available except on cable TV. There are certainly enough potential purchasers worldwide who are interested in the novel and would like to own a copy of the movie adaptation on home video, no matter how badly produced it might have been. So why is this film so spectacularly unavailable?
I saw The House of God on TV in the 90s, a late night slot. I finally
discovered the name of the film I saw those years ago.
All I remember is the outrageously dark humor, encapsulated by the scene of Charles Haid (aka The Fatman) raising a hospital bed of an elderly immobile patient higher and higher off the floor, while explaining to his impressionable interns that the only way an elderly GOMER will die is though accident not illness. My next realization was my lowering oxygen levels, as I was laughing so hard.
It's a great petty it's not on DVD, hardly every shown on TV and the only remaining copies of this near mythical film are old treasured VHS copies passed between medical interns.
By the way, I just checked a long list of films that were shown by Moviedrome, a BBC2 series presented by Alex Cox that aired rare cult movies. The Hose of God was not on the list, weird.
I am a third year medical student and I read the book prior to entering
medical school. I cannot count the number of times I have heard my
teaching physicians quote this book. Recently, the trauma surgeon told
me that there was a film version made of the book and that when it came
out, someone somehow nabbed a reel of it and their medical faculty had
a private showing. He said he has never seen it since.
I am wondering if anyone has a copy of it in any format and might somehow make it available to me that I might get to see it and share it with the next generation of doctors.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org please contact me and we can work out the details. I'd really like to see this film. Thanks so much.
The House of God is based on the actual experiences of Samuel Shem when he was a medical intern at Harvard's Beth Israel (as in 'House of Israel') Hospital in Boston in the mid-70s. Shem is a nom de plume (the word Shem is Hebrew for 'name'). In medical school I spent some time at the BI and got to know the doctor who inspired the Leggo. His description in the book is accurate except for the giant purple birthmark on his face which didn't exist in real life. I later trained at a different Harvard hospital in the early 90s and one of the internists there trained a year after "Shem" and corroborated many of the details. One rumor I heard about why the film wasn't released was that Harvard Med School threatened legal action. Don't know if this is true since all the names of people and institutions were fictional in the book and movie but who knows?
It's fulla GOMERS and LOLs in NAD. Also Kramer playing Pinkus was awesome. It was fairly close to the book, left out alot of the raunchy stuff the book had. Hmm, actually the book was about 70% raunchy, so it did leave alot out, but the plot is there. I really enjoyed the video, and I hope they eventually dvd encode it and release it for everyone to enjoy.
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