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A harried hospital administrator copes with rising costs, a seductive young woman and a serial killer.
At the chaotic Manhattan Medical Center, intern Dr. Schaefer makes multiple mistakes that lead to the death of patient Mr. Guernsey, then uses Guernsey's now-empty bed for an assignation with an orderly. The next morning, Nurse Perez finds the intern dead in the bed, hooked up to an IV. Hospital administrator John Sundstrom calls in Dr. Herbert Bock, the hospital's chief of staff, and chastises him for failing to concentrate on his work. Bock, who is suicidal due to the collapse of his marriage, his alienation from his two grown children and his disillusionment with the field of medicine, promises to focus, and delves into Schaefer's mysterious death. He soon learns that the night nurses, assuming the sleeping Schaefer was Guernsey, administered a glucose IV that sent him into diabetic shock, and after admonishing the head nurse, Bock orders a pathology workup. Back in his office, he escapes a barrage of complaints about the underfunded, overworked staff by visiting the resident psychiatrist, Dr. Joe Einhorn. Bock discusses his actue depression, explaining that his reputation as a "boy wonder" put pressure on him to succeed, and combined with his gloomy home life led to suicidal thoughts, but when Einhorn presses him to take better care of himself, Bock declares that he simply must concentrate on work. Later, in the emergency ward, literal-minded accountant Mrs. Cushing stumbles upon the abandoned, dead body of research doctor Elroy Ives. Meanwhile, hospital executive Milton Mead's brother, William, is admitted for surgery and is furious to learn that no private rooms are available. Soon after, senior resident Brubaker informs Bock that Edward Drummond, a Methodist missionary who lives with the Apaches in Mexico, has lapsed into a coma as a result of mistreatment by various staff members, and his daughter Barbara has arrived to transport him back to Mexico. After hearing the horrifying story of Drummond's care, Bock determines to fire two of the man's doctors, Ives, whom Bock does not realize has died, and a surgeon named Welbeck who spends far more time incorporating and trading shares in his businesses than on his patients. Late that night, Barbara and an Indian shaman named Blacktree perform a ritual over Drummond, and although the nurses are appalled, Bock allows them to continue. Barbara accompanies him back to his office to order an ambulance to transport her father to the airport the next day. There, she tells Bock the story of her father's calling: After years as a successful doctor, he one day began speaking in tongues, only to discover that he was fluently conversing in an esoteric Apache dialect. Believing he had been called by God, he moved to a mission in Mexico, while she dabbled in drugs and other counterculture interests until she finally settled down with him. Barbara makes her interest in Bock clear, but he responds that he is impotent, and compares Barbara to his son, a hippie who preaches love but harbors hatred. When Barbara remains nonplussed, Bock shouts that the impotent are the true despised minority, and that his real lust is for a sense of permanent worth. Although he pioneered the field of immunology, he continues, he has now lost his desire to work and feels worthless. Furious, he throws the girl out, then prepares to inject himself with an overdose of potassium. Barbara returns, however, and when he attacks her, she responds with passion, and soon they are making love. The next morning, Bock asks Barbara to stay in town for a week, but she refuses, citing several prophetic nightmares she has had about the hospital. Instead, she declares her love and states firmly that he should join her in Mexico, as he loves her and can do necessary work there. Although at first he calls her crazy and declares he must stay to run the hospital, he soon admits that he loves her and agrees to consider her proposal to leave together within hours. Meanwhile, a demonstration rages outside protesting the eviction of black families from condemned buildings in order to make room for the hospital's new drug rehabilitation center. Sundstrom enters into a community discussion with the various factions insisting that the hospital is guilty of racism, sexism, imperialism and consumerism. At the same time, a team of surgeons begins an operation on a woman, only to realize that the woman on the operating table is neither the correct patient, nor alive. She is soon identified as Theresa Campanelli, one of Drummond's nurses. Bock has learned that Schaefer's blood contained a high dosage of insulin, proving he was murdered, and pauses in his investigation to tell Barbara that he still wants her to stay. She replies that she is offering silence, solitude and herself. Just then, someone mentions that a man wearing Schaefer's nametag is wandering the hospital. Realizing that all of the dead doctors worked on Drummond, and that the person wearing the dead doctor's name tag is probably the murderer, Bock visits Drummond's room. Although he finds the patient peacefully in bed, once Bock turns around, Drummond, perfectly healthy, attacks him from behind. Barbara walks in and helps restrain her father, who admits that he killed the people responsible for his poor treatment. Recalling how Guernsey's ghost commanded him to do God's will by committing murder, Drummond details how he killed each person simply by making them patients in their own hospital: For instance, Drummond brought Ives to the ER still alive, but the negligent interns left him to die. When Barbara announces that she must take her father back to Mexico to protect him, Bock offers to accompany them. They leave the room to arrange transportation, not realizing that Drummond's last planned victim, Welbeck, is just arriving. As Welbeck receives a phone call informing him that his partner has embezzled all their money, a fire breaks out in the condemned building and the protestors erupt in a riot. In the hospital, Welbeck suffers a heart attack from shock, and when he collapses onto Drummond's bed, the hospital staff assumes he is Drummond. Bock allows them to believe this, and he and Barbara surreptitiously hide Welbeck's wallet, pack Drummond's clothes and slip out. As they run to the ambulance, the protestors storm the hospital, joined by the young doctors on staff. Barbara loads her father into the ambulance, but Bock remains in the street and, realizing that his true calling rests with the people and institution that need him, tells her he must be stay. He kisses her goodbye and, joined by a resigned Sundstrom, re-enters the fray that surrounds his hospital.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||GP||Premiere Info:||New York opening: 14 Dec 1971; Los Angeles opening: 15 Dec 1971|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
A Howard Gottfried/Paddy Chayevsky Production in Association with Arthur Hiller
AFI-DVD, EB*, Netflix
|Color/B&W:||Color (DeLuxe)||Distributions Co:||United Artists Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Simcha Productions, Inc.|
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Probably the best sardonic movie ever made.