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John Ford Never Met A Doctor He Didn't Like
bkoganbing9 October 2006
The fact that an idealistic medical doctor was the protagonist in Arrowsmith is the reason why John Ford must have been attracted to this story and agreed to film it for Sam Goldwyn.

Allegedly it was not a happy collaboration. Two very individualistic men wanted to have their imprimatur on the film. They never worked together on a finished product again, though Ford did start filming The Adventures of Marco Polo for Goldwyn and quit.

I read the novel way back in the day when I was in high school and we only get the second half of it. There's a great deal in the book before Ronald Colman as Martin Arrowsmith goes to work for the Research Foundation and A.E. Anson as Max Gottlieb. You miss quite a lot of the character development of Arrowsmith.

Of course the plot mostly centers on Colman and his other mentor, Richard Bennett going to a Caribbean Island where there has been an outbreak of plague. Along for the trip is Helen Hayes who is Colman's wife Leora.

Colman is there to test a new serum and he's under orders as a researcher to only administer the real stuff to half his patient and a placebo to the others as a control group. This is where the racism of the time kicks in as these human guinea pigs are black, probably the descendants of runaway slaves. There is a black doctor named Marchand in the cast played by Oliver Brooks and it is a rarity among black performers at the time in that the role was hardly servile at all. Brooks seems to go along with the controlled experiment, but he becomes one of many in the cast to meet a tragic end.

With some of what came out about the Tuskegee experiments later on Arrowsmith may have been quite on target without knowing it. A harrowing thought.

Colman and Hayes are an attractive pair of leads. Myrna Loy has a much abbreviated role in the film as a New York socialite that Colman meets down in the islands. In the book he has an affair with her and marries her later on. You won't see that here.

Arrowsmith is a good film though I wish more of Lewis's story got into the final product. But it probably would have run for three hours and films just didn't do that back then.
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Cliff notes Sinclair
TheLittleSongbird10 March 2021
On paper, 'Arrowsmith' sounded like it had potential to be a great film. Great source material courtesy of Sinclair Lewis. A fine director in John Ford, though he was early on in his career at this point, who went on to direct some of cinema's finest westerns. That it was a box office hit in the day. And a gifted cast in Ronald Colman, Helen Hayes and pre-stardom Myrna Loy. Did have a couple of reservations though, as the length did sound far too short for such a big and meaty book and the reviews here were very mixed.

Can totally understand the mixed critical reception here and am very mixed in 'Arrowsmith' myself. It is not a terrible film as there are good things, but there are just too many things wrong with it to consider it a good film. There are books that would either leant themselves much better to a mini-series or should have been left alone and 'Arrowsmith' is a case of both instances. In honesty though, one doesn't really to have read the book to see how heavily flawed it is. As far as Ford's films go this is a lesser effort.

'Arrowsmith' does benefit from some good things. Will agree that in some ways that Colman is miscast, but he does bring freshness and sincerity to the lead role. Hayes is noble and poignant and Loy is suitably vivacious in a rather underwritten role. The relationship between Arrowsmith and Joyce was quite bold back then and has spark. Richard Bennett is also very good in his role.

The production values are quite good too, especially the photography. Dark, vivid and atmospheric, plus Hayes and especially Loy look fantastic in their shots. The settings are handsome and evocative. The music score sweeps without being intrusive.

However, the film just feels far too rushed and choppy, which a couple of my friends who had not read the source material also felt. The heavily condensed story is very rushed in pace and with such a lot glossed over there is a sense of incompleteness which gives off a choppy feel structurally and a lack of coherence. The characters are underwritten, especially Joyce, and their motivations vague at best.

Furthermore, the script is very Cliff notes, a case of introducing one event and character and then moving onto the next without development. It is also very stilted. Ford went on to be a fine director, but here he didn't seem to know what to do with the material or seem right for it, too routine and lightweight while at other times too heavy. Do agree that although Colman does give his all, he was too old and artistocratic.

In summary, watchable but really doesn't live up to its potential. 5/10
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Reasonably good acting, but Sinclair Lewis should have sued
theowinthrop29 September 2005
Sinclair Lewis wrote ARROWSMITH in 1923, after the first two of his blockbuster novels that dissected American Society (MAIN STREET and BABBITT). Lewis decided to make a complete study about the medical profession. As such it was brilliant - far more brilliant than this movie is. If one can think of the novel as what it is - an expose about what is wrong concerning the medical profession - the novel is a glass of fine champagne, and this movie version is a glass of lemonade! Lewis takes us along the entire career of Martin Arrowsmith - through medical school, through practice in a small town, through his marriage to Leora Tozer, through his going to the big city (New York) where he is connected to a large, well-known Foundation, to his battling the plague (and losing his wife and his co-worker), and his finally coming to terms with what he wants from his profession. For the key to the novel is that medicine is extremely lucrative, but Martin is very idealistic. He does not seek riches, but wants to help his fellow man.

The problem, as the film proceeds, is that the people who run or control the profession (or society, for that matter) can care less for the idealistic goal. For one reason or another they want results that are pragmatic or banal. For example, one would think that the Foundation (a swipe at the Rockefeller Foundation, by the way) would be really gung ho about an idealistic medical researcher. They certainly have the laboratories and talent for real progress. But they also have a strong desire for immediate results that can be used for propaganda purposes. So they keep pushing aside certain desires for private testing that Arrowsmith and his mentor Max Gottlieb (A.E. Anson) are requesting on the bubonic plague serum. The director of the foundation insists that Arrowsmith goes to a plague saturated island with his co-discoverer, for immediate SUCCESSFUL results. This leads to massive tragedy in the novel and the film.

This doesn't come across too clearly in the film. Instead it looks like Martin (Colman) would like more time to test, but the emergency prevents it. This weakens the novel's criticism. And this is not the only example.

When Martin starts out in the small town, the local medical community has this idiot running it who knows squat about modern medicine, but is great at self-advertising. The man, who looks like Theodore Roosevelt, thinks that the height of local medical activity is running a "health day" parade. This too is not in the movie.

The film, in short, short-changes Lewis's wonderful novel. In fact, more of the spirit of Lewis's attack can be found in the Robert Donat - Rosalind Russell - Ralph Richardson film THE CITADEL (based on an A. J. Cronin expose novel). That's rough, considering how important the critique by Lewis really was.

The film's cast gives it their all, particularly Helen Hayes (still the young actress who won her first Oscar that same year for THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDETTE), Myrna Loy (in a heavily cut role) and Colman. John Ford's directing was somewhat mediocre in this film, unlike later works of his. So I give it a "6" out of "10".
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Impossible to squeeze Sinclair Lewis' book into a two hour film
AlsExGal21 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film was actually nominated for four academy awards - cinematography, art direction, adapted screenplay, and best picture. Viewing it today, there are so many somewhat incomplete story lines and messages present, I am somewhat unclear about the director's goal in all of this. Sinclair Lewis' book, on which the film is based, goes into great detail about the tribulations and triumphs of studying to be a doctor and then practicing medicine back in the 1920's. It is just impossible to convey all that goes on in the novel in one 108 minute film. First of all, although young Dr. Arrowsmith comes across as an admirable protagonist who doesn't lose his idealism through all of his experiences, his character development and motivations are just not fleshed out in the film, and thus he is left an unintended mystery. His passion for medical research definitely shines through in Ronald Coleman's performance, but I had many unanswered questions. The film seems to imply that Arrowsmith is attracted to Myrna Loy's character through one scene in particular in the film. Was this intentional? The two have an affair in the novel, but if it is going to be omitted from the film - and it is - what was that one scene doing there? Arrowsmith talks a good game about loving his wife, but he seems to constantly overlook her in his passion to find new cures for diseases. Is he actually taking her for granted, or is this just a common attitude from the past in which wives always took a back seat to their husbands' careers? There is another whole part of the film that is quite troubling to a modern audience. When Arrowsmith is sent to the Caribbean to help fight the plague by testing his new serum, he is instructed to basically do what today is called a double blind study. He is to inject half the patients with his serum and the other half he is to treat conventionally. Thus, it can be determined whether or not the serum will be effective. When Arrowsmith presents his plan of action to the local plague-ridden residents, the shocked citizenry deny his help "in the name of humanity". However, a local black doctor, Oliver Marchand, tells Arrowsmith that he knows of how he can accomplish his goal - by experimenting on the black residents of the island of course! To me, this was all too reminiscent of the Tuskegee experiments and had a large Ick Factor to it.

I can't grade this film too severely since I have to take into account its year of production, the fact that dialogue had not become that sophisticated yet since talking pictures had only been universally accepted for about two years, and finally that a complex novel is being squeezed into just over an hour and a half. This film's value today is mainly as an example of one of the better transitional era talkies. Dialogue and acting were much more natural than they had been just a year or two prior to this film, but vast improvements, particularly in dialogue and technology, were just a couple of years away.
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Deceptive John Ford's Film
claudio_carvalho21 March 2016
The student of medical school Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) dreams on becoming a researcher. He seeks out Professor Max Gottlieb (A.E. Anson) that promises the position when Arrowsmith is an undergraduate doctor. Meanwhile Arrowsmith meets the nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) and they fall in love with each other. When Prof. Gottlieb invites Arrowsmith to work with him in New York, he declines since the salary is not enough to support Leora and him. He marries Leora and becomes a countryside doctor. After a while, the frustrated Arrowsmith decides to move with Leora to New York to work with Gottlieb. Soon he is invited to go to a Caribbean Island where there is an outbreak of bubonic plague to test a serum he has developed in the population and Leora decides to go with him despite the danger. Will Arrowsmith succeed in saving the inhabitants?

"Arrowsmith" is a deceptive film directed by John Ford. The story seems to be incomplete missing explanation, for example, about Mrs. Joyce Lanyon, performed by the gorgeous Myrna Loy. The relationship between Arrowsmith and his wife is also underdeveloped. Ronald Colman is too old for the role of a young idealistic doctor. Maybe the viewer that has read the novel may like this film more than one that has never read it. Last but not the least, the Brazilian title is awful. My vote is five.

Title (Brazil): "Médico e Amante" ("Doctor and Lover")
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Fun to watch an old classic
HotToastyRag24 July 2020
Based off the Lewis Sinclair epic, Arrowsmith follows a young doctor's journey as he explores different avenues of medicine and research. As you might expect, from page-to-screen, a little ends up on the cutting room floor. Still, if you like medical movies, you'll probably want to give this classic a try. It reminded me of a cross between The Citadel and The Doctor and the Girl.

As I've frequently said, there are two sides to Ronald Colman, and Arrowsmith contains the version with a stick perpetually lodged somewhere uncomfortable. He's not as passionate as he is in other movies, so keep that in mind. For a better first impression of him, try A Tale of Two Cities. You'll get a fine first impression of Helen Hayes, though, who plays his long-suffering wife. She's young and pretty in this one, a far cry from her Miss Marple little-old-lady persona of later decades. She has more passion than her husband, and she repeatedly pushes him to pursue his medical interest, even at the expense of their personal life. She never wants to be left behind, and she follows him all around the world as he conducts research for the bubonic plague.

You'll see Myrna Loy for about five minutes, but it's not her movie, so don't expect anything other than a pretty face. Colman and Hayes have pretty faces, too, and it is always fun to see a very old movie, but it's not my favorite. I like The Doctor and the Girl better, so if you find this movie lacking, you might want to check out Glenn Ford's take on it.
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just doesn't work,....
planktonrules29 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If you ignore the fact that this movie bears only a sketchy resemblance to the excellent novel by Sinclair Lewis (the first half of the book is boiled down to about the first 10 minutes of the movie) and that the title character seems like a jerk, then this movie will probably please you. Otherwise, there are certainly better Ronald Coleman movies out there.

Ronald is a hard-drinking (though you never see this in the movie) country doctor that longs to be a researcher looking for cures for a variety of medical problems. Unfortunately, he is 100% business in the movie and when his wife dies, it seems completely due to his neglect. This ISN'T the message Lewis wanted us to get from his novel and there are many sub-par moments in this film--despite being multi-Oscar nominated. This just hasn't aged well and the subtlety of the Lewis novel is missing.

John Ford directs this sub-par flick.
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Arrowsmith Depicts Doctor's Dilemma ***1/2
edwagreen13 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Wonderful film adaption of the Sinclair Lewis novel. We find a physician who is dedicated not only to his patients, but to research as well.

Ronald Colman is that doctor and with the love of his life, his wife, Helen Hayes, the two embark upon a life that will ultimately lead to success, but with tragedy abounding.

The film shows the dilemma faced by the doctor in his research to find a cure for bubonic plague.

We see that in the process of trying to save lives,certain decisions have to be made which could be looked upon with disdain and are certainly controversial in nature.

A wonderful movie dealing with the trials and tribulations of such a life.
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Science and humanity: discordant.
rmax3048234 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Ronald Coleman is Martin Arrowsmith, a young doctor who has a talent for research but gives up that career to practice medicine in a tiny North Dakota town in order to support his new wife, Helen Hayes.

He delivers babies and makes midnight house calls and all that, but he retains his research skills and they lead him to the prestigious McGurk Institute in New York. His mentor is the highly regarded medical researcher, Dr. Gottlieb, played by A. E. Anson.

After some years of hard work and neglecting his wife, Coleman discovers a serum that will "kill all the bugs, exterminate them." When he learns of an outbreak of bubonic plague in the West Indies, Dr. Gottlieb urges him to visit the place with his serum and use the scientific method to determine whether it will work. The scientific method, as described here, involves splitting the population of the island in half, then giving one half the serum and withholding the serum from the other half, making comparison possible.

Coleman, Hayes, and two other medical friends set up shop on a rainy tropical island where the only medicine the good residents know is voodoo. Coleman manages to save the island's population but at tremendous personal cost.

The 1930s, when this appeared, was a time when movies about scientific researchers, particularly in the field of medicine, were being ground out annually. There were biographical films about, oh, I don't know -- just about everybody who was anybody. Pasteur, Koch, Erlich, and Walter Reed come to mind. Often the protagonist was faced with Coleman's dilemma: prove the serum works by being cold blooded or save the victims.

Probably such biographies became so common partly because of the enormous popularity of a book about such men, written in 1926 by Paul de Kruif, "Microbe Hunters." It was a best seller for years. De Kruif was a consultant on the movie and added character sketches, although Sinclair Lewis gets the writing credit. I reread the book recently and the style is so antiquated and pompous that there's a laugh on every page.

At that, I don't know how de Kruif, a microbiologist, could have let slip a couple of obvious boners. At one point, Coleman refers to bubonic plague as a "virus" when it's caused by bacteria. And he must have known that the scientific method requires an experimental group (the people who get the injections) and a control group (those who don't) but that the two groups don't have to be equal in size. You can reduce the control group to one person out of ten, thereby giving the serum to ninety percent of the population, and you can still make satisfactory comparisons between the two.

You'd have a tough time knowing this was directed by John Ford. He doesn't seem to have invested that much of himself in it, but then this was 1931 and he had yet to hit his stride. There are still a few drinking scenes involving booze hidden in a trash can and so forth, and he employs some striking expressionistic effects in the photography.

Ronald Coleman is nobody's idea of an American country doctor, but he looks dashing and does a controlled job of filling the role. Helen Hayes -- she's okay too. She isn't staggeringly beautiful but she has a winning voice and a face that doesn't plumb the depths of ugliness. Don't know why her movie career didn't take off. Maybe she just preferred stage work. Myrna Loy appears briefly as Coleman's sympathetic friend. She's radiantly seductive, is as wealthy as Bill Gates, and nice too. At the end, she offers to be his steady date but, instead of jumping her bones then and there on the street, he throws her away and runs off to Vermont to do research with a toothpick and a ball of string. He's going to live in a cabin in the woods with a male friend of his, where, one assumes, they will live on maple syrup and the fruits of love. And he's supposed to be smart.
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little problems
SnoopyStyle11 July 2020
Gifted medical student Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) rejects his mentor research scientist Dr. Max Gottlieb (A. E. Anson) in favor of marrying nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) and being a country doctor. He discovers a serum for a cow disease and rejoins Gottlieb in New York City.

The story meanders rather than drives. I'm not feeling the romance to begin with which leads to an ambivalence about the marriage. That might be the point since it does lead to the second romance. At least, that's much more interesting. It could have turned into a fun love triangle but the movie lets him off the hook even in that case. Mostly, this is trying to be a medical journey but it's not a very compelling one. It's a lot of zigzagging rather than a three act road map. It's also asking the lead actor to play a large age range in this life but he doesn't really change his look. It's one of the small problems plaguing this movie. It's well directed by John Ford and it is watchable despite the many little problems.
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Tepid Version of Sinclair Lewis Classic
evanston_dad23 January 2018
Pretty draggy screen version of Sinclair Lewis's sensational novel about a small-town doctor who must navigate the murky place between contributing to scientific truth and helping people get better.

Ronald Colman plays Arrowsmith as well as he can, though his dandified diction and general European air were at odds with my image of the character. The film feels truncated and half baked, not surprising since it condenses a meaty novel into about 100 minutes.

"Arrowsmith" was nominated for four Oscars in the 1931-32 award year, and actually tied with "The Champ" for the most nominated film of the year (can you believe there was a time when the most nominated film would only have 4 nominations?). But it lost all of them, and honestly it didn't really deserve to win any of them. The only one I might be able to argue for is Richard Day's art direction, which takes the story from small midwestern farm houses to the tropics of the West Indies. Its other three nominations included Best Picture (in a year that saw eight nominees in this category), Best Writing (Adaptation), and Best Cinematography.

John Ford, who directed, shows none of the style and stateliness he would bring to his later career.

Grade: B-
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Early Ford
Michael_Elliott26 February 2008
Arrowsmith (1931)

*** (out of 4)

John Ford's adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel about a young doctor (Ronald Coleman) who constantly fears that he's not as good as everyone says. The doctor keeps struggling with his duties to his profession as well as his duties to his wife (Helen Hayes). I wasn't expecting too much out of this film but was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it even with all of its flaws. Ford's direction is fairly weak as he never really brings any flair to the material but this is made up with some terrific performances. Coleman steals the film and really delivers all the goods as he's able to show the frustrations of a doctor trying to do the right thing for everyone. Hayes is also very good in her supporting role as is the supporting cast, which includes Richard Bennett, A.E. Anson and Myrna Loy.
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Classic 1931 Film
whpratt130 November 2006
Ronald Colman,(Dr. Martin Arrowsmith),"A Tale of Two Cities" '35, is a young doctor who starts out in life and desires to progress into the laboratory and look under a microscope all day long. However, he no long completes medical school and meets up with Helen Hayes,(Leora Arrowsmith) and on the first date, asks her to marry him. Martin and Leora are madly in love with each other but it is difficult for Martin to establish himself as a doctor, so they move to South Dakota. Myrna Loy,(Joyce Lanyon),"The Mask of Fu Manchu",'32 plays a sexy gal who has eyes for Martin and could lead to some problems. In 1931 this was a big hit film because of Helen Hayes, a great theatrical actress and Ronald Colman the thrill of most ladies during this period of time. Myrna Loy was young and pretty and getting great attention from Hollywood and the general audiences. There was plenty of smoking through out this film and it clearly shows how the world has finally changed about its view on smoking.
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Fumbled Adaptation
Cineanalyst15 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Based on Sinclair Lewis's novel, Dr. Martin Arrowsmith (played by Ronald Coleman) suspends being a medical researcher to marry Leora (played by Helen Hayes) and become a country doctor. After concocting a remedy for cows suffering from blackleg, he returns to research.

It's a fluent story, supported by Ray June's felicitous dark cinematography and good performances. Coleman is appropriately earnest in his character's pursuit of ideals and Hayes, too, for her distressed and fragile character. The strife of Dr. Arrowsmith balancing home and work is the impetus here. Where Goldwyn, Ford and screenwriter Sidney Howard don't deserve any such Best Picture or Adaptation Oscar nominations is when they fumble the ending.

Warning: Spoilers herein

I've seen worse, but the senselessness of the Hollywood contrivance of attempting a happy end after the four most important persons in Martin Arrowsmith's life just died still took me aback. It was done quickly and sloppily, too. Additionally, they should have dropped the character Joyce Lanyon (played by the lovely Myrna Loy). The movie began with, "the story of a man who dedicated his life to service and his heart to the love of one woman." Friendship is not all that is behind the relationship between Dr. Arrowsmith and Lanyon, or at least it wouldn't be. She crosses the globe to offer her friendship--he accepts and runs off with her and another researcher for who cares what other life.
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bombersflyup10 January 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Arrowsmith is an empty experience, though not awful.

I didn't care for any of the characters or performances and the connections made are so brief and overstated as though in short form, that it's rather unconvincing as well. It is however mildly thought-provoking.
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Remember Tuskegee?
rhoda-919 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
For a movie that could have been plodding, Arrowsmith unfolds in a series of mainly short, sharp scenes that give it a very brisk pace, though this, and the compression and cuts necessary in adapting a long book, inevitably render some aspects superficial, such as the medical institution's sacrifice of honesty for good publicity. The story is an interesting and unusual one, and, though Ronald Colman is ludicrously old for his role, Helen Hayes and Richard Bennett are excellent in their meaty parts.

But the movie has a shocker for viewers of our time. Arrowsmith wants to use the white inhabitants of a plague-struck Caribbean island as guinea pigs to trial his serum: half will receive it, and half will not. When they refuse, and demand that he give everyone the serum, his experiment is rescued by a black doctor, who helpfully offers the black people as test subjects. They obediently offer their arms for the serum, or accept its refusal, and burn down villages that have been reached by the plague. As if this weren't bad enough, the black doctor assures Arrowsmith that his people will be honoured to contribute to the advancement of science.

This is horribly reminiscent of the infamous Tuskegee experiment in the South, in which black men with syphilis were divided into two groups, only one of which received penicillin, the other a placebo. Their disease went untreated for decades so that scientists could study its effects. While Arrowsmith is entertaining, it is also chilling as a reminder of how black lives didn't matter.
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Ronald Colman and the age factor...
Doylenf28 November 2006
I can't think of any other actor from the Golden Age of films who was miscast as many times as he was because of the age factor. So it was with RONALD COLMAN who was already forty by the time he played the idealistic young doctor of ARROWSMITH opposite stage star HELEN HAYES.

To his credit, he was still playing romantic leads in the '40s (RANDOM HARVEST) when he was in his fifties--and somehow, audiences accepted him regardless of what I call "the age factor". Here, in ARROWSMITH, it's painfully obvious that he was not the best choice for this title role in a trimmed down version of a Sinclair Lewis novel.

Surprisingly, the screenplay is by Sidney Howard, who had no trouble adapting Margaret Mitchell's lengthy GONE WITH THE WIND to the screen, but here seems to be obligated to cut out huge sections of the book to get to the main plot line in a hurry. Possibly, because films in 1931 did not run three hours and forty-five minutes.

Whatever, the result is a disjointed screenplay that condenses the story in a way that makes motivations and events incoherent at times. Arrowsmith begins his practice as a rather clumsy country doctor in farm country who develops an interest in serum when a neighbor's cattle become infected. When his serum is a success the doctor and his young wife move to New York where he's to work at a big clinic.

Soon he neglects his wife while he buries himself in his work to eradicate bacteria. When an outbreak of bubonic plague breaks out--well, you can see where the plot is going.

RONALD COLMAN is earnest and already quite distinguished looking as young Arrowsmith and HELEN HAYES suffers nobly as his neglected wife, infected herself through a careless action by her doctor husband. And toward the end of the story, we get a glimpse of the young and seductive MYRNA LOY in a role that is either underwritten or underwent extensive cuts. Cuts seem obvious in the abrupt ending too.

Arrowsmith's experiments in the West Indies bring a conclusion to the story. But sad to say, the film is a relic in almost every sense of the word. Hard to picture John Ford at the helm of this project--even though there is a brief glimpse of Ward Bond (one of his favorite players) in an early scene.

Summing up: Nothing deep to say about medicine nor does it work as the story of a dedicated doctor who wants to save lives during an epidemic. And it's certainly not Ronald Colman at his best.
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"Heroes of health"
Steffi_P27 January 2009
Even though only around a third of John Ford's pictures are westerns, it's still undeniable that his forte or, if you prefer, his comfort zone was in historical pictures of some sort. Arrowsmith is unusual in that it is a contemporary drama that Ford both directed and co-produced.

In spite of the above, you might think this was indeed a western from the opening scene, in which we see an ancestor of the protagonist as a good ol' covered wagon pioneer. This bit of family history is not brought up again, but it was obviously judged by Ford and Sam Goldwyn to be significant enough to open the film with, even though it would have been one of the most expensive scenes of the shoot (unless that opening shot is lifted from somewhere else, which it may well be). The point seems to be to draw a line between the struggles of the pioneers and the main story of a medical scientist torn between his home life and his career. It seems a rather tenuous comparison.

On the other hand, there could be parallels between Dr Arrowsmith and a typical Fordian westerner. Not in the character as written – I'm no auteur theorist – but in the way Ford shoots their environments. In the majority of Ford films he exaggerates the smallness of interiors and the vastness of exteriors. The homestead is safe, yet dull, and the great outdoors is exciting yet dangerous. The village where Arrowsmith practices as a country doctor is shot in much the same way as Ford would a western settlement – cramped interiors, foreground clutter and heavy use of framing. However the medical research centre, while it may be another interior, is shot so as to show off its openness and stark cleanliness, with corridors and waiting rooms so vast they look almost surreal. This is Arrowsmith's "wild west", where he is free to be a pioneer of another sort. Another tenuous comparison? Maybe, but remember directors have many choices of how to shoot a place, regardless of the script or the set design, and these choices will reflect how they view that space and what they feel it means to the story.

While Ford's use of space developed incredibly early on, the camera movement at this stage is not yet of the "invisible camera" technique that later became his standard. For those that don't know, invisible camera means you only move the camera when it's following an action, say for example a character walking to the other end of the room. If everyone in the scene is sitting still, the camera sits still. If it's done properly the audience doesn't notice the camera movement, hence "invisible camera". And yet here there is rather a lot of obtrusive camera movement. This is pretty much in line with the general style of the time, in spite of the myth that cameras were immobilised in the early sound era. Despite a few teething problems that were mostly solved by the end of 1929, cameras of the early talkies zipped around just as giddily of those of the late silents.

Ford is not known to have given his actors much coaching, nor allow them rehearsals or repeated takes to hone their performance. For this reason the acting in his pictures tends to be only as good as the raw talent of the performers. Ronald Coleman and Helen Hayes were both good dramatic actors, and here they give good – but not outstanding – dramatic performances. Richard Bennett however just gives a fairly standard, slightly comical supporting-player performance as Sondelius, and the part should either have been cast differently or he should have been prompted to play it with more conviction.

The story goes that the hard-drinking Ford was contracted by Goldwyn to remain teetotal until the production wrapped. Apparently Ford, eager to get back to the bottle, rushed the shooting even more than usual, tearing pages out of the script wherever he could get away with it. Whether this is true or just another bit of Ford mythology, it certainly makes sense. In particular the love story, crucial to the picture's impact, is massively underdeveloped. Downplaying the romantic angle is actually very typical of Ford, but even the usual Fordian semi-improvised comedy diversions are absent – with the exception of a couple of nice gags in a scene where a boy has his tooth pulled, and an almost surreal moment where a comedy drunk inexplicably wanders on and off the set. The resultant picture is full of great moments, but overall seems a little undernourished. Arrowsmith could have been an intense and poignant drama, but Ford was the wrong man for the job.
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Rushed, Early Sound Version of the Sinclair Lewis Novel
dglink29 July 2006
Although the film has not aged well, "Arrowsmith" was well regarded when it was released and garnered four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Perhaps in those early days of sound, competent use of the camera and decent recording equipment were regarded as high values that merited praise. However, with the exception of some occasionally striking cinematography by Ray June, this John Ford adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel is choppy, unevenly acted, and betrays its age.

Later in the 1930's, Sidney Howard adapted the sprawling historical novel "Gone with the Wind" into a fine screenplay that left viewers with the feeling that they had seen the entire book on screen. However, his adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize Winning "Arrowsmith" omits the core message of the novel and rushes through events in the life of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith in brief vignettes that leave viewers confused. Characters appear and disappear, decisions and moves are made without deliberation or motivation, and Arrowsmith himself comes off as a shallow individual with little regard for either those he supposedly loves or those he supposedly has dedicated his life to saving.

Ronald Colman is generally a fine actor, and his idealism in "Lost Horizon" appeared genuine. However, Colman's suggested idealistic behavior in "Arrowsmith" is not convincing, despite a few effective scenes towards the end of the film. Helen Hayes has a few good scenes as the doctor's wife, although Myrna Loy has little to do but look seductive, which she does quite well.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the Caribbean seem demeaning to the characters, and a local doctor's willingness to allow what is effectively experimentation on his fellow countrymen borders on the criminal. However, these attitudes were considered the norm when the film was made and should be viewed in the context of the period. Although most films seem far too long, "Arrowsmith" is much too short to convey the canvas that Lewis painted in his novel. Almost like a Clift Notes version of the book, John Ford's "Arrowsmith" disappoints, especially when the talent expended on its production is considered.
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Nice to know they had "Deal" movies then, too.
tonstant viewer30 November 2006
Goldwyn put together a lot of fine talent here, but none of it jells.

Ronald Colman, Laurence Olivier's idol and one of the screen's most likable actors, is just plain miscast. Helen Hayes projects annoyingly to the audience, stage fashion, rather than letting the camera discover her emotions, as even the young Myrna Loy knows how to do. Richard Bennett is enjoyably over-the-top as Sondelius but A. E. Anson's accent is a deal-breaker as Gottlieb (as if there weren't enough real Middle European actors in Hollywood at the time).

Sydney Howard's script is condensed to the point of silliness - the other reviewers here who contrast "Gone With the Wind" as a model of condensation are praising an uncredited Ben Hecht, not Sydney Howard. Ray June's fluid cinematography is beautiful throughout, with more than one shot that would wind up re-used in Ford's "The Searchers" many years later.

The story is that Goldwyn hired a bibulous Ford on condition that the director couldn't take one drink during production. Helen Hayes noticed that as the shoot progressed, Ford started discarding pages and then whole scenes, in a race to finish the film and get back to his booze. That may be one more reason that the film is barely coherent.

Hey, nobody's perfect all the time.
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I Liked Myrna Loy--But There Wasn't Enough of Her!
museumofdave17 February 2013
The kind of a movie they don't make any more, and probably couldn't and possibly shouldn't; being from 1931, it's fairly primitive in some ways, but has excellent production values and a prestige cast for the period--silent star Ronald Colman is perfectly suited as the dedicated doctor who wants so desperately to succeed in helping humanity, Helen Hayes poignantly overacting (as she so often did) as his patient helpmate; Colman's polished diction and English good looks convince the viewer of his sincerity in the face of institutional insensitivity, but the script based on the Sinclair Lewis novel tends to bog down in talk, attempting to please all the folks at the time who read the book. There was a time when movies did their best to build positive images of human beings doing their best, and this is one of those films--it does not date well, but is worth watching because of Colman--as a bonus, Myrna Loy gets to vamp a wee bit as "the other woman," and Ward Bond pokes his nose in as a cop.
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This Samuel Goldwyn-John Ford film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture
jacobs-greenwood2 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by John Ford, with an Academy Award nominated screenplay from Sidney Howard (who finally succeeded in adapting Sinclair Lewis's novel for the screen), this is probably one of the weaker Best Picture nominees. Richard Day's Art Direction and Ray June's Cinematography give it a silent film quality which was probably responsible for it being elevated to such honors.

But silent film star and outstanding British actor Ronald Colman was miscast as the titled idealistic medical student, Martin Arrowsmith, who marries nurse Leora Tozer (Helen Hayes) and settles down as a country doctor in her small Midwestern South Dakota town for a couple of years before he invents a cattle saving serum that earns him a job as a researcher working under his former professor, scientist Max Gottlieb (A.E. Anson) at the McGurk Institute in New York City.

John Qualen plays an immigrant Swedish farmer, DeWitt Jennings and Beulah Bondi play Leora's parents, and Ward Bond plays a policeman - all are uncredited. Bert Roach did receive a credit as Leora's brother Bert, as did David Landau as the state veterinarian. Russell Hopton plays Terry Wickett, another scientist mentored by Gottlieb.

After two years, Arrowsmith finally discovers something that kills microscopic bugs (e.g. bacteria), but is disillusioned when his employer Dr. Tubbs (Claude King) touts his success to the press prematurely; a French scientist had published the same results first. Arrowsmith's association with another scientist, Gustav Sondelius (Richard Bennett using a thick, if inconsistent accent), leads him to the West Indies where he works on a cure for the bubonic plague with Dr. Oliver Marchand (Clarence Brooks) and has an affair with Joyce Lanyon (Myrna Loy), though it's somewhat difficult to ascertain this fact by watching the edited film.

Alec Francis plays Joyce's older husband, Twyford. Lumsden Hare plays Sir Robert Fairland, the Governor that wouldn't accept Arrowsmith's (really Gottlieb's) terms that only half the patients were to receive the serum whereas the other half would constitute the control group.

Against her husband's pleadings per the danger, Leora travels with Arrowsmith to the West Indies where an accidental spilling of a liquid from a test tube containing a potent disease kills her while he's on a quarantined island with Joyce. Sondelius dies of the plague himself. Their deaths cause him to become reckless and intentionally violate his experiments by allowing the control group to have the serum too.

Back at McGurk, the aging Gottlieb's mind starts to go (because of Arrowsmith's actions?), but the film ends optimistically as Arrowsmith rushes off to join his peer, and fellow researcher Wickett, who'd decided to leave the institute to work in a more isolated locale.
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marcslope27 February 2012
Goldwyn prestige at its stateliest, with John Ford direction and a Sidney Howard screenplay from a famous Sinclair Lewis novel. It means to be a serious look at the corrupting influences on the medical profession--interestingly, it tells a story not unlike, and with the same ending as, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Allegro." It's hardly exciting, however, and the deliberate pacing makes one impatient for more to happen, faster. You're also asked to believe a fortyish Ronald Colman is a twentyish medical student, that he has an impeccable British accent though he's solid American stock, and that he and Helen Hayes would meet cute and fall in love cute, in a few hours. (She simpers a lot, and though she's excellent a year later in "A Farewell to Arms," here she's mostly annoying.) Ford's work is a little over-obvious here--note that close-up of the poisoned cigarette, killing any forward plotting for the next half-hour. Compensations include Myrna Loy, playing an honest and appealing upper-class lady at a time when studios were mainly casting her in Oriental-floozie roles, and a rare portrayal of an African-American doctor who's smarter and more dignified than anyone else among the dramatis personae. The production design's nice, too. If only there were more drama, and if we believed it more thoroughly.
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This tragic tale is worth seeing
schuurmanark1 December 2006
I am nearing 30 years old and just now beginning to appreciate old films. I absolutely loved Arrowsmith, cried through many scenes. I thought it was terribly romantic and tragic. I really liked the scene where he sees her scrubbing the floor and asks her out on a date. Then on the date he tells her that she is going to marry him and she pretends that she took him seriously (but seemed to be in shock that he was completely serious). Then throughout their married life it seems like one try after another with his career and then finally he decides to go back into scientific work with his old friend and mentor. Dr. Arrowsmith becomes so engrossed in his studies that he often neglects his wife, who is lonely and alone at home waiting for him. The ending, though tragic, is touching because of the last line that he says. It proves that he really deeply loved his wife...but you'll have to see this one to find out! It will be worth it to all you sappy romantics like me.
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No Smoking!
wes-connors9 August 2007
I was very confused. What happened to the Doctor on the telephone line? What happened between Mr. Colman and Ms. Loy? I guess this is a case where less is not more. (So, a scene with Colman resisting Loy's advances, and she respecting him for it, was cut?)

The acting is a collision of three types: Stage, Silent, and Talking. Some of the camera work was nice... most everything else was way below what you'd expect from even an early talking movie.

The doctors in these early films sure drink and smoke a lot... The moral of the story, I guess is that women should not smoke - witness what happens to poor Ms. Hayes!

*** Arrowsmith (12/7/31) John Ford ~ Ronald Colman, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy
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