A scene from DR. KILDARE'S STRANGE CASE, directed by Harold S. Bucquet for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940, Harold S. Bucquet)

I wonder, did Lew Ayres ever feel like Jimmy Kildare was a heel? I mean, he’s an unbelievably nice guy–he won’t propose to nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day sleepwalks through almost all of Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case, since there’s only one scene where she needs to do anything) because he doesn’t want to make her wait until his internship is over. If it means he loses her to wealthy neurosurgeon Shepperd Strudwick, well, so be it. In fact, he’s such a nice guy… he’s going to risk his career (and prison time) to make sure Strudwick doesn’t get a raw deal–and, presumably, can then marry Day.

Ayres is okay–he certainly doesn’t play the role with any self-awareness–he’s believable as the impossibly well-meaning Kildare. Maybe it isn’t those good intentions, maybe it’s a lack of consideration for himself. It’s selflessness as a certifiable condition. Every single one of these movies, Ayres ends up doing something illegal and he never worries about it. Usually his mom tells him it’s the right thing to do. In Strange Case–the urge to say “in the case of Strange Case” was unbearable–he’s got to force insulin shock treatment (for schizophrenia, they just call it insanity in the script) on a patient in order to save Strudwick. The obvious, putting the John Doe patient’s picture in the newspaper, doesn’t occur to Ayres or any of the hospital staff (they don’t even call the cops). I read up on insulin shock therapy, just because the film’s treatment of it is so goofy. The insulin causes patient John Eldredge’s brain to devolve to a primeval state, then the mind repairs itself. There are a couple of explanations of this phenomenon, first from Samuel S. Hinds (as Ayres’s father… who visits just in time for every movie) then from Ayres. It sounds absurd both times and I had to look it up. Couldn’t find anything about the primeval state… but it’s interesting a film from 1940 doesn’t question evolution. Of course, 1940 is before the G.I. Bill dumbed down American high schools.

Anyway, Strange Case is fine. There’s not much plot to it–Eldredge doesn’t even show up until the halfway point–and it just allows for the cast, now on their fourth picture in the series, to go crazy. Every performance in the film, from the supporting cast members who got saddled with perfunctory scenes before, is great. Walter Kingsford, Frank Orth, Alma Kruger and Horace McMahon (well, I’m not sure he was in any of the other ones, but it’s implied here) all have these fantastic scenes, just because there’s not enough story so they get more material and they’re wonderful. Emma Dunn and Nat Pendleton, who usually do get material, get even better material here. Dunn’s got her best scene in the four films in Strange Case.

And, of course, Lionel Barrymore is outstanding. He and Ayres have a good banter here, even if the movie–as usual–has him firing Ayres for a few minutes.

Bucquet’s direction is phoned in. He’s fine in his composition except for close-ups. It’s like he wasn’t going to do any, then came back and shot them. The close-ups don’t match. It must have driven editor Gene Ruggiero nuts trying to put the picture together.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case is a perfectly inoffensive (narratively, anyway) seventy minutes. It would have been a fine to sit through at an air conditioned movie house on a hot summer day… except it opened in April.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, story by Max Brand and Goldbeck; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by David Snell; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Greg Lane), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Walter Carew), Alma Kruger (Molly Byrd), John Eldredge (Henry Adams), Nell Craig (Nurse Parker) and Marie Blake (Sally).


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