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In this continuation of the Dr. Kildare film series, a beautiful sixteen-year-old resident of a school for girls Marcia Bradburn (Donna Reed) is engaged to a local boy, but is dismayed to find her fianc's terrible temper might harbor deeper problems.
Marcia shares her concerns with the school headmistress who contacts her friend at Blair Hospital, the wheelchair bound psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Gillespie assigns an ambitious surgeon who aspires to be a psychiatrist, Dr. Gerniede (Philip Dorn) to quietly evaluate Roy Todwell's (Phil Brown) sanity. Gerniede finds that the troubled youth is deeply disturbed and likely to be sent into a violent rage again despite his parents' belief that he is harmless. When the boy goes on a homicidal rampage, the object of his fury is the doctor he holds responsible for his diagnosis, Dr. Gillespie. In the film's tense denouement Roy travels to Blair Hospital to kill him.
Astute viewers may recognize future movie goddess Ava Gardner, who appears briefly as one of Marcia's school classmates in the film.
Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942) was a spin off film from MGM's popular Dr. Kildare series. Along with the Thin Man and Andy Hardy franchises, it kept MGM in the black and it kept Reed busy. She appeared in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and the same year as Calling Dr. Gillespie's release, Reed made another girlfriend appearance as Andy Hardy's love interest in The Courtship of Andy Hardy.
The MGM Dr. Kildare series shifted focus when its star Lew Ayres declared conscientious objector status to World War II. He was taken off the film, making Dr. Gillespie the new story focus. Reed was outraged by Ayres treatment, as Jay Fultz recounted in his biography In Search of Donna Reed.
"He is a very intelligent, deep-thinking, kindly, generous person, and I admire him tremendously as a person who has the courage of his convictions. And then they send him away to a camp! I could go out and shoot a few people every time I think of it. It's a disgrace to democracy!"
An actress known for her wholesome, girl-next-door appeal, Reed was equally levelheaded and practical in her off screen life. A sensible girl, Reed stayed in business school even after attracting Hollywood's eye, so she would have something to fall back on if a career in the movies did not pan out. Having grown up on an Iowa farm during the Depression, Reed had experienced financial hardships and took nothing for granted. Even after Los Angeles City College elected Reed Campus Queen for the second time and Hollywood studios began to express interest in signing her to a movie contract, Reed continued in her studies.
After signing with MGM, Reed went through a series of name shifts, from Donna Mullenger to Donna Adams to Donna Drake until, as the legend goes, MGM casting agent Billy Grady settled on Donna Reed. Reed appeared in four or five films a year and built a reputation for her reliability as a sweet, wholesome love interest.
Reed wasn't entirely comfortable with her new name. As author Brenda Scott Royce quoted Reed, "I hear 'Donna Reed' and I get a picture of a tall, chic, austere blonde, which isn't me. I've never liked that name. It has a cold, forbidding sound."
After appearing in numerous MGM productions in minor pretty girl roles, Reed had her first real break at another studio.
A box office failure upon its initial release, the film that marked Reed's entry into film immortality was the 1946 Frank Capra drama she was loaned to RKO/Liberty Films for, It's a Wonderful Life. Though the film is unimaginable without Reed's gentle presence as Jimmy Stewart's devoted wife, a number of other actresses were considered for the role, like Jean Arthur, Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott and Ann Dvorak.
The film set was tense, since both Capra and Stewart were nervous about rekindling their film careers in what was their first postwar production for both men. But the film nevertheless ended up the favorite movie of Capra, Stewart and Reed and proved a significant boost to Reed's career.
Director: Harold S. Bucquet
Screenplay: Willis Golbeck and Harry Ruskin from a story by Kubec Glasmon with characters created by Max Brand
Cinematography: Ray June
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Philip Dorn (Dr. John Hunter Gerniede), Phil Brown (Roy Todwell), Donna Reed (Marcia Bradburn), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Mary Nash (Emma Hope).
by Felicia Feaster