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I Married a Doctor (1936) is not a madcap comedy, as the title might have you think. It's an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' dramatic 1920 novel Main Street, which had previously been brought to the screen, under its original title, in 1923. For this new version, Warner Brothers changed the title apparently for the lame-brained reason that movies with doctors were good box-office at this time.
The story is about a sophisticated Chicago woman (Josephine Hutchinson) who marries a small-town doctor (Pat O'Brien) and moves to that town, where she has trouble fitting in and is subjected to all sorts of petty gossip and resentment, leading to tragedy and threatening the marriage. The New York Times found it "compactly written, expertly performed, and much more than one has any right to expect from its title" -- until the "regrettable" cop-out of an ending, which was changed 180 degrees from that of the novel.
Variety also gave the film top marks, praising the "sterling thespianism and one of the most intelligent directorial jobs turned out by Archie Mayo.... Pat O'Brien tops his own best previous efforts in a finely paced portrayal." Indeed, O'Brien is more restrained than usual here, and it pays off.
In his memoir, The Wind at my Back, O'Brien had nice things to say about his co-star Josephine Hutchinson. One of his favorite films, he wrote, was Oil for the Lamps of China (1935), in which the pair had first played husband and wife on screen. (They had also done so on Broadway ten years earlier, in A Man's Man.) Like everyone else, O'Brien thought the title "I Married a Doctor" was ludicrous: "The title was changed...on the theory, I suppose, that a world-famous novel that rocked around the world might confuse non-readers, a book that helped get Sinclair Lewis the Nobel Prize."
This was one of the last films for actor Ross Alexander, who plays townsman Erik Valborg and who had previously appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) and Captain Blood (1935). His life was already heading into tragedy. A promising actor, he had married actress Aleta Friele in 1934 as a cover to hide his homosexuality, which at the time would have been a career killer if made public. A month before I Married a Doctor started production, Friele committed suicide in their Hollywood Hills home, distraught by marriage and career problems. Alexander remarried several months later, to actress Anne Nagel, but he remained deeply troubled and committed suicide himself in early 1937, barely a year after Friele had done the same.
I Married a Doctor was one of Byron Haskin's final outings as cinematographer. Shortly afterward, he moved full-time into the field of special effects, at which he proved so successful that he was nominated for four Oscars®. In 1947 Haskin shifted gears again and became a director, turning out such films noirs as I Walk Alone (1948) and Too Late for Tears (1949), and later on such classic sci-fi as The War of the Worlds (1953) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). Haskin was a true technical pioneer of the film industry who had much to do with enabling the movies' transition to sound.
Actress Louise Fazenda, who appears as the Swedish maid Bea Sorenson, played the same role in the earlier 1923 film version of Main Street.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)
Director: Archie Mayo
Screenplay: Casey Robinson (screenplay); Harriet Ford, Harvey O'Higgins (dramatisation); Sinclair Lewis (novel)
Cinematography: Byron Haskin
Art Direction: Carl Weyl
Music: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Dr. Will P. Kennicott), Josephine Hutchinson (Carol Kennicott), Ross Alexander (Erik Valborg), Guy Kibbee (Samuel Clark), Louise Fazenda (Bea Sorenson), Olin Howland (Dave Dyer), Margaret Irving (Maude Dyer).
by Jeremy Arnold