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By 1934, Warren William, a familiar presence in First National-Warner Bros. movies during the early sound era, had already established his screen persona in such films as Under 18 (1931), The Mouthpiece (1932), Skyscraper Souls (1932), Employees' Entrance (1933) and The Mind Reader (1933). A dapper, well-dressed shark in a business suit as well as a charming sexual predator, William was expert at playing heartless tycoons, corrupt professionals and amoral opportunists who rarely suffered guilty consciences. His great skill as an actor was not only making these contemptible characters immensely appealing but also humanizing them in such a way that moviegoers often sympathized with their plight.
Bedside (1934) is probably the most extreme example of this since William plays one of the most loathsome characters in his entire career yet somehow manages to make Bob Brown, the protagonist, almost likeable. Released the same year that the Production Code was strictly enforced, Bedside is a sordid tale of medical fraud, drug addiction, and financial success based on the exploitation of others. Even if the film is more suggestive than explicit in its depiction of an amoral universe, the movie, directed by Robert Florey, is a compelling B-movie programmer despite an often improbable storyline and a preposterous final act plot twist to set up the moralistic "happy ending" that was so typical of the Code years.
The movie follows the rise and fall of Bob Brown, an X-ray technician whose after-hours life is an endless stream of partying, gambling, drinking and one-night stands. When Caroline Grant (Jean Muir), a love-smitten nurse, loans him money to complete medical school in Chicago, he loses all of it in a card game. Returning home in defeat, Brown soon finds a solution to his financial woes; he convinces a disgraced doctor (David Landau) with a morphine addiction, to sell him his medical diploma. Changing his name to Dr. Herbert Martel, Brown begins to build a practice of celebrity clients using flattery, deceit and more to steal away patients from reputable doctors. Since his medical experience is limited, Brown hires Dr. Wiley (Donald Meek) to perform any necessary surgeries while he specializes in consultation and publicity gimmicks to garner him praiseworthy front page headlines, cooked up by his streetwise PR man, Sam Sparks (Allen Jenkins). Standing by his side through thick and thin is his devoted but unhappy co-worker Caroline who suffers silently while Brown romances his numerous female patients including opera star Mimi Maritza (Kathryn Sergava). Brown's illegal practice is soon threatened with exposure when the drug addicted physician who sold Brown his diploma resurfaces to blackmail him.
Bedside was not well received by most film critics with The Herald-Tribune delivering this harsh verdict: "The film is lacking in any trace of dramatic value." Warren William, however, seemed immune to the criticism with the New York Daily Mirror noting, "Mr. William, always effective, does what he can to make the character sympathetic," and The New York Times confirmed this view, stating, "Mr. William is characteristically interesting as the charlatan."
Any fan of Warren William will want to see Bedside even if it is not one of the actor's best vehicles. Among the other points of interest are Jean Muir as the masochistic and rather clueless heroine and the breakneck pacing from director Robert Florey. Muir would go on to better roles - A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), The Constant Nymph (1943) - and develop into an actress of considerable promise. Unfortunately, her career was halted when she was blacklisted in 1950 as a Communist sympathizer. As for Robert Florey, he is best known among horror aficionados for such memorable genre entries as Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Face Behind the Mask (1941) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946). Although he spent most of his movie career toiling in the Warner Bros. B-movie unit, turning out efficient programmers like Bedside, he transitioned into the television industry in the early fifties where his talent was finally recognized; he earned an Emmy Award nomination (The Loretta Young Show) and five Directors Guild of America nominations before his death in 1979.
Producer: Samuel Bischoff (uncredited)
Director: Robert Florey
Screenplay: Lillie Hayward, James Wharton (screenplay); Rian James (additional dialogue); Manuel Seff, Harvey Thew (story)
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Film Editing: Harold McLernon
Cast: Warren William (Bob Brown), Jean Muir (Caroline Grant), Allen Jenkins (Sam Sparks), David Landau (Dr. J. Herbert Martel), Kathryn Sergava (Mme. Mimi Maritza), Henry O'Neill (Dr. William Chester), Donald Meek (Dr. George Wiley), Renee Whitney (Mme. Varsova), Walter Walker (Dr. Michael), Marjorie Lytell (Patient with Sprained Ankle).
by Jeff Stafford
Warren William: Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood by John Stangeland (McFarland & Company)