powered by AFI
What's more frightening than a surgical team consisting of Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Lee Marvin? It would have to be Broderick Crawford as their supervising surgeon, but that's exactly what you get in Not as a Stranger (1955), Stanley Kramer's ambitious film production of Morton Thompson's extremely thick novel. The plot may be pure melodrama - a poor medical intern marries for opportunistic reasons and eventually sees the errors of his ways - but it's merely a device for critiquing professional ethics and hospital politics in the medical arena of the fifties. Naturally, the American Medical Association was extremely concerned about the film's depiction of their profession and Kramer had to appear before their board to prove his intentions were honorable prior to filming.
Not as a Stranger was filmed at the old Chaplin Studios on La Brea in Los Angeles with some additional shooting at various local hospitals such as the Birmingham Veterans Hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Since Kramer wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, he made sure that several scenes were devoted to authentic surgical procedures such as a gastrectomy and an actual autopsy that made some cast members flinch. But if life at the hospital looked pretty grim on camera, it was a decidedly different story off the set.
Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Broderick Crawford immediately bonded during filming and formed a hard-drinking, hell-raising trio, playing practical jokes on Kramer and fellow cast members. They rearranged the props, mercilessly teased the medical advisers, and made suggestive remarks to their co-star Olivia de Havilland who took it all in stride. At one point, the "boys," with some help from Lee Marvin and Myron McCormick, staged a barroom brawl in the dressing rooms, smashing windows, breaking furniture, and ripping phones out of the wall. It all culminated with the 260-pound Broderick Crawford sailing off a second-floor balcony to the ground below with no discernable damage.
Although Not as a Stranger received mixed critical reviews upon its release, it did offer Sinatra a change of pace from the secondary romantic leads he had previously been playing in MGM musical comedies. It's true he was a little too old (he was almost forty at the time) to be playing a happy-go-lucky intern but he received better notices than his co-stars Robert Mitchum and Gloria Grahame. The former was taken to task for his dispassionate performance (although his character was supposed to be cold and impersonal) while Grahame was ridiculed for her final love scene with Mitchum, an unsubtle intercutting between close-ups of her erotic lips and a barnyard setting where a stallion cavorted amorously with a mare.
Director/Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt, based on the novel by Morton Thompson
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Editor: Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Howard Richmond
Music: George Antheil
Cast: Olivia de Havilland (Kristina Hedvigson), Robert Mitchum (Lucas Marsh), Frank Sinatra (Alfred Boone), Gloria Grahame (Harriet Lang), Broderick Crawford (Dr. Aarons), Charles Bickford (Dr. Runkleman).
by Jeff Stafford