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Captain Newman, M. D.

Captain Newman, M. D.(1963)

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teaser Captain Newman, M. D. (1963)

The doctor took a back seat to his patients when Gregory Peck starred as a conflicted Air Force psychiatrist in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963). Now considered ahead of its time, the film focused on the doctor's plight as he struggled to help men driven over the edge by the horrors of war, all the while tormented by the thought that curing his patients would inevitably mean sending them back into harm's way. Leo Rosten's 1961 novel was published the same year as Joseph Heller's Catch-22, which took a similarly cynical view of military combat. Heller's book would be filmed in 1970, the same year Robert Altman's M*A*S*H turned such attitudes into big box office.

Peck was looking for a follow-up to his Oscar® winning performance as small-town lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) when he chose to star as Capt. Josiah Newman. The role bore more than a passing resemblance to his tortured general in Twelve O'Clock High (1949), which had brought him the New York Film Critics' Award for Best Actor. But though the part may have looked good on paper, playing the eye of the film's psychiatric storm inevitably meant giving up the focus to the doctor's patients, in particular three tortured souls played, respectively, by Eddie Albert, Bobby Darin and a very young Robert Duvall.

Albert had started his career as a lightweight comic actor, coming to Hollywood to re-create his stage role in the military school comedy Brother Rat in 1938. Although he scored dramatically as an alcoholic in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and the incompetent Army captain in Robert Aldrich's Attack (1956), he was best-known for his Oscar®-nominated turn as Peck's photographer sidekick in Roman Holiday (1953). His performance here could easily have brought him a second nomination had it not been for competition close to home.

Walking off with the film's acting honors was Bobby Darin, best known to moviegoers at the time as a top forty pop singer, but with a difference. Not content to star in minor films designed to cash in on his popularity, Darin had fought for and won more powerful roles. A year earlier, he had scored a personal triumph as a Nazi sympathizer treated by prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier in Pressure Point (1962). Critics had predicted an Oscar® nod for that performance, but the film's lackluster box-office performance may have stood in his way. He won a Golden Globe nomination, however, only to lose to future co-star Peck. This time out, cast as a war hero tortured by guilt over deserting a dying friend, he scored in a more successful film and managed to land a nomination. Variety even pegged him as a favorite to win. Unfortunately, the other favorite was fellow teen heartthrob Nick Adams in the courtroom drama Twilight of Honor (1963). Whether the show-biz bible was off-base or the two similar nominees split the vote, the Oscar® went to veteran performer Melvyn Douglas for playing Paul Newman's father in Hud (1963).

Farther down in the cast list was an actor who still had Oscar® in his future. Captain Newman, M.D. was only Robert Duvall's second feature. As in his debut role -- Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird -- his performance was largely silent, this time as a captain left mute by a year of hiding behind enemy lines. It would be two years before Duvall got his breakthrough role, as Eddie Carbone, the doomed longshoreman in an acclaimed off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. That led to increasingly solid film roles, including the original Frank Burns in M*A*S*H (1970), the consigliore in The Godfather (1972) and his Oscar®-winning turn as a country-western singer in Tender Mercies (1983).

Ironically, all these strong male performances were shepherded by a director better known for his work with actresses. David Miller had started out making shorts at MGM in the '30s before graduating to features there with the Robert Taylor hit Billy the Kid (1941). His real breakthrough, however, didn't come until he helped Joan Crawford resuscitate her career as a playwright with a murderous husband in Sudden Fear (1952). Since then he had directed Doris Day in one of her best dramatic performances, as another beleaguered wife in Midnight Lace (1960) and even helped Vera Miles rise above her material in a thankless secondary role in the 1961 remake of Back Street. The one successful exception to this feminist bent in his career was a return to the Western, albeit with a modern setting, for Lonely Are the Brave (1962), starring Kirk Douglas. Even then, the film brought strong notices to Douglas's leading lady, Gena Rowlands. Despite his success with Captain Newman, M.D., however, it would be five years before Miller would land another feature assignment - the spy caper Hammerhead (1968) starring Vince Edwards. He would end his career directing O.J. Simpson in the 1979 telemovie Goldie and the Boxer and its 1981 sequel, Goldie and the Boxer Go to Hollywood.

Producer: Robert Arthur
Director: David Miller
Screenplay: Richard L. Breen, Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, based on the Novel by Leo Rosten
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Alfred Sweeney
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Gregory Peck (Capt. Josiah Newman), Tony Curtis (Cpl. Jackson Leibowitz), Bobby Darin (Cpl. Jim Tompkins), Eddie Albert (Col. Bliss), Angie Dickinson (Lt. Francie Corum), James Gregory (Col. Fyser), Bethel Leslie (Helene Winston), Jane Withers (Lt. Grace Blodgett), Dick Sargent (Lt. Alderson), Larry Storch (Gavoni), Robert Duvall (Capt. Paul Cabot Winston).
C-127m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.

by Frank Miller

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