Not As A Stranger
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Not As A Stranger

For a setting inherently infused with dramatic tension a story teller can hardly do better than a hospital. Doctors and nurses routinely battle disease and injury in a constant life or death battle. More than just providing a tension filled environment hospital dramas are relatable to the majority of the people in the audience. Sure a remote jungle or frozen mountain top can afford similar excitement but few people can readily empathize with such circumstances but a hospital, now that is someplace that is typically only a few miles away and always readily accessible. It is a place where everyday people are forced to face and overcome the most arduous trials an individual can be expected to endure. Doctors literally make decisions that cut to the morality of a person. This is why hardly a year goes by where medical dramas are well represented on both television and in the movies. If you look back at the most popular series on television the medical drama would be very well represented. In 1955 there was a film released by United Artist that brought together some of the best stars of the day to appear in a hospital driven drama that has been met with less than stellar response from the audience and critical community. Although it had access to the entire spectrum of plot devices that have made doctor related stories so popular just didn’t get an opportunity to just gel properly. All the elements necessary for success were present but like a great chef with access to the finest ingredients can occasionally prepare a dish where they don’t blend properly. This is what happened in this particular instance; you can’t have greatness without mediocrity. This movie just show that good intentions are one thing but occasionally the efforts fail. This flick is a study guide for filmmakers and audiences on how there are so many factors to creating a film that the chances of failure far exceed those for success. This is not to say that the movie is a complete bomb; there remain some elements here that still manage to rise above the distractions and provide at least a modicum of entertainment.

The story and screenplay came from a fairly well established married couple; Edna and Edward Anhalt. They have provided a steady stream of scripts mostly in the film noir and crime drama genre. One of the biggest factors in the plus column is the man responsible for the direction of the film; Stanley Kramer. Throughout his career he would hear his name announced nine times as a nominee for the Academy Award’s best Director category including ; ‘Ship of Fools’, ‘Guess Who's Coming to Dinner’, ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ and ‘The Caine Mutiny’. These examples of his work are among the best representations of the art of cinema. The techniques and directorial style he manifested in his work helped to guide the styles of a generation of filmmakers that would follow. Still, even the hitter with the record for home runs is bound to strike out once in a while and for Kramer this flick wad his swing and a miss. From a technical stand point Kramer permitted the production to veer off in to the realm of the melodrama, the movie had a feel that seemed more at home in a General Hospital like soap opera than with a filmmaker and cast of this illustrious stature. It needs to be kept in mind that in the long and memorable career enjoyed by Kramer this was his freshman opus. With that noted the amount of creative control afforded to a new, unproven auteur is significantly less than one with a proven track record. At this point in his career Kramer had to be more concerned with making a mark in the industry diminishing the artistic drives. The source material was a bestselling novel by Morton Thompson and was itself written with melodrama in the forefront. Having such a star studded cast may seem like a dream team for a director but according to accounts of the production there were more than the usual clashes with the grand egos present on set. Most were well-known actors although several were in a rebuilding phase in their careers. This is not the ideal set of circumstances for an inexperienced director. This is also evident with the rather limited repertoire of directorial techniques. This does give an amateurish feel to the flick; thankfully some Me. Kramer quickly matured beyond.

The basic plot follows a medical student, Lucas Marsh, played by a somewhat long in the tooth Robert Mitchum. In fact most of the students and ‘Young’ doctors look more than a decade past the age they are playing; then again I don’t ever think Lee Marvin ever looked to be in his mid twenties. The female lead was given to Olivia de Havilland who apparent had as list of diva demands. The ladies could be wooed by popular singer turned heart throb actor, Frank Sinatra. One very interesting choice in cast was Lon Chaney Jr. as Job March, father of the upcoming doctor. Although best known as the wolf-Man from the Universal Studio’s monster movie franchise this part did have the requisite acting acumen. It was obvious that there was a lack of chemistry generated between the major cast members. You can just feel the egos pouring out as they compete for lighting and camera angles. This film might be more interesting from a historical perspective but it did offer something different.

Posted 04/25/11

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