Herbert Bock, the chief of medicine in a New York City teaching hospital, is contemplating suicide; he's impotent, his wife has left him, and his children aren't speaking to him. His hospital is also suffering from a recent spate of inexplicable deaths. In the midst of these setbacks, Bock is romantically drawn to the much younger Barbara, whose father is a patient. As Barbara restores Bock's will to live, it turns out that the hospital deaths are murders.Written by
A bustling, sharply written, dated but also timely look at the changing world of 1971
George C. Scott is amazing, just terrific as a struggling, aging, world-weary doctor. A couple of the speeches he gives (from the sharply written screenplay) are first rate quotable stuff. See this movie for him alone.
Overall, this is certainly a New Hollywood movie, straight out of the late 1960s politics and sexual revolution. It's also a bit of a middle-aged male fantasy (the director and writer and main actor being of course all middle aged males). I mean, a key line in the movie is when young and slightly batty Barbara, played by Diana Rigg (Emma Peel in the television series "The Avengers"), says to the very middle aged George C. Scott, "I have a thing for middle aged men." Or something to that effect--and you know what happens next.
But that's the weakest part of the movie. The best part is the hospital scene itself, the chaotic and scary lack of medical professionalism at an under-funded big city medical center. Scott plays the chief of medicine, Dr. Bock, and he gradually sniffs out a truly murderous element to the place, a kind of whodunnit built into this otherwise growing drama of doctors inside and protesters outside (usually) and a general sense that the old order isn't able to keep order against the rising restlessness of young people and their demands.
In a way, the flakiness of Barbara and the rock-steady but yet suicidal authority of Bock are symbolic of the two sides, the two generations, that signified so much back then. Barbara suggests dropping out and turning on, and the doctor grows to the idea. I mean, who wouldn't in his shoes, having Diana Rigg begging you to leave your miserable job and life and moving to the mountains of Mexico to make babies. That's no exaggeration--that's the carrot, and the doctor sees it the way many people saw it then, the escape as a reasonable alternative to a crumbling world.
And yet, the hospital has needs, like dying people, and a group of people displaced from their apartment building next door, and of course this murderer on the loose.
In a way, it's a sloppy, terribly constructed movie. But it has an element of abandonment and realism from the era that really works. If you just go along with the superficial parts of the plot, which are fun, you might just get sucked into the tawdry medical world in 1971 Manhattan.
The writer, by the way, is Paddy Chayefsky, and he won his second Oscar for this screenplay. It was considered that timely and sharp at the time, and there is some terrific writing, some really good dialog to keep it humming. (He did a ton of television, but also next wrote the screenplay for "Network," winning his third Oscar for that.)
The director, Arthur Hiller, moved from 1960s television to movie directing and made a lot of middling fare, though a few became well known such as "Love Story" (1970) and "Man of La Mancha" (1972). The cinematographer Victor J. Kemper is straight out of New Hollywood and his style feels beautifully unpolished and complex (he went on to do a lot of solid movies, some really terrific like "Dog Day Afternoon"), and this helps hold the disparate plot elements together.
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