TCM Spotlight

Honoring Our Medical Heroes - Thursdays in September

Honoring Our Medical Heroes - Thursdays in September

As much as ever in our lifetimes, the current period has made us aware of the bravery, sacrifice and selflessness of those in the medical profession. As a gesture of appreciation to these tireless heroes, TCM offers a roundup of movies from five decades that celebrate the accomplishments of doctors, nurses and others in the field of medicine.

Below are the categories of films, with highlights from each.

Breakthroughs and Discoveries include the Oscar-winning biopic The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), about the French scientist of the 1800s known for his discoveries in the fields of vaccination, microbial fermentation and what came to be known as pasteurization. The film brought awards to leading actor Paul Muni and to the story and screenplay. At the time of its release, novelist Graham Greene was inspired by Muni's performance to call him "the greatest living actor."

Madame Curie (1943) stars Greer Garson as the Polish-French physicist Marie Curie, a specialist in radioactivity whose achievements included the discovery of polonium and radium. Walter Pidgeon, in his fourth of nine teamings with Garson, plays Curie's husband. Oscar nominations went to the two leading actors, along with those for Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Music and Sound. Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times that Garson "plays with that gentle, wistful grace that makes her a glowing representation of feminine nobility and charm."

Among other films dramatizing Breakthroughs and Discoveries are Arrowsmith (1931), Yellow Jack (1938), The Story of Dr. Jenner (1939), Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and Sister Kenny (1946).

Military Medicine is administered in such films as The White Angel (1936), a drama about Florence Nightingale, the English social reformer considered the founder of modern nursing. Kay Francis plays Nightingale, who proved herself during the Crimean War of the 1850s. The movie, directed by William Dieterle, was nominated as Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the movie a "worshipful biography" and Francis's performance "sincere and eloquent," if "reverential.

M*A*S*H (1970), director Robert Altman's satire of life in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during the conflict of the 1950s, is anything but reverential. Among the actors contributing to the film's outrageous humor are Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall and Tom Skerritt. The movie won an Oscar for Ring Lardner Jr.'s audacious adapted screenplay, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Director, Film Editing and Supporting Actress (Sally Kellerman). A reviewer for Time magazine called this "one of America's funniest bloody films [and] one of its bloodiest funny films."

More Military Medicine may be found in Angel of Mercy (1939), So Proudly We Hail (1943), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), Cry Havoc (1944) and Battle Circus (1953).

Dedicated Doctors include Edward Ellis in A Man to Remember (1938), an RKO release marking Garson Kanin's debut as a film director. Ellis plays a small-town physician whose funeral sparks memories of his humanitarian work in his community. This is one of a series of six RKO films that had been out of circulation for more than 50 years when TCM aired restored versions in 2007. At the time of its original release, the film was named one of the 10 best of its year. Critic Frank S. Nugent wrote that his admiration for it was "ungrudgingly complete."

Red Beard (1965), from Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, was inspired partly by the Dostoevsky novel Humiliated and Insulted and described by Kurosawa as "a monument to the goodness in man." Yūzō Kayama plays a young doctor who comes to work at a rural clinic run by an older physician (Toshiro Mifune), whose gruff exterior hides a compassionate heart. Roger Ebert wrote that the film "is assembled with the complexity and depth of a good 19th-century novel."

Other Dedicated Doctors may be found in The Citadel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Doctor and the Girl (1949), People Will Talk (1951) and Magnificent Obsession (1954).

Among our Hospital Heroes is June Allyson in The Girl in White (1952). She plays Emily Dunning Barringer, a pioneering female surgeon who, at the turn of the 20th century, became the first woman doctor to work in a New York City public hospital. John Sturges directed a cast that also includes Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock and Gary Merrill. A review in The New York Times noted that Allyson's performance lends Barringer "the stature of a crusader."

The Hospital (1971), a biting satire with an Oscar-winning original screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, stars Oscar-nominated George C. Scott as the chief of medicine at a Manhattan teaching hospital where unaccountable deaths have occurred. Arthur Hiller directed, and the cast also includes Barnard Hughes, Diana Rigg and Richard A. Dysart. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called the film "blisteringly cynical" and "one of the darkest movies ever made, a cold-eyed lament for a society torn apart by the upheavals of the Sixties."

Other Hospital Heroes may be found in Young Dr. Kildare (1938), No Way Out (1950), Emergency Hospital (1956) and The Young Doctors (1961).