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A Man to Remember

A Man to Remember(1938)

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FULL SYNOPSIS

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During the elaborate, public funeral of Doctor "Doc" John Abbott, inside the office of attorney Clyde Perkins, three of his respected neighbors in the small Midwestern town of Westport--banker George Sykes, newspaperman Jode Harkness and store owner Homer Ramsey--open Doc's strong box, in which they hope to find money long owed to them. As they sort through the various receipts and bills in the box, Doc's career in Westport is remembered by the group: On 16 Jun 1919, a broke and widowed Doc returns to his home town with his young son Dick. Although a seventeen-year medical veteran, Doc has difficulty borrowing money from Sykes and is forced to assume his practice on the poor side of town. Soon after opening his practice, Doc is called to deliver a baby, whose mother dies during childbirth. Devastated by his wife's death, the baby's embittered father, Tom Johnson, refuses to care for his newborn and leaves her on Doc's doorstep. Many years later, the girl, whom Doc has named Jean, lives happily with Dick and her foster father, who in spite of his own debts, accepts food and animals as payment from his poor but grateful patients. After Dick graduates from college, Doc appeals to the county Board of Supervisors, which is headed by Sykes, Harkness and Ramsey, for money to build a county hospital. Unimpressed by Doc's arguments about the importance of a public health program, the board rejects his request. Later, however, the now grown Jean is shot accidentally by Sykes's irresponsible, inebriated son Howard, and on the promise that he will not report Howard to the police, Doc pressures Sykes into building the hospital. Although Doc is responsible for the needed institution, he quietly allows Homer to receive the public adulation, then is barred from working there by a calculated regulation stipulating that only doctors who have had graduate study within the last twenty years may register as physicians. Three years later, Dick returns to Westport with a degree in neurology from a prestigious French institution. To Doc's disappointment, Dick, who admits that he enjoys money for money's sake, chooses to become partners with Dr. Robinson, Doc's more prosperous competitor. When Dick then announces that he is considering a job offer in New York, his seemingly callous attitude toward his father infuriates Jean, who worries about Doc's weak heart. One night, Doc is visited by a regenerated Johnson, whom he introduces to Jean. After Jean, who is merely polite to Johnson, goes to bed, he thanks Doc for caring for the girl and gives him $3,000 as payment. Doc then applies for admission to the same Parisian school that Dick attended. While waiting for his reply, Doc treats four children who are exhibiting symptoms of infantile paralysis. To avoid a possible polio epidemic, Doc tries to have a county fair postponed but is ridiculed as an alarmist by Sykes, Ramsey and Harkness. Determined to alert the community, Doc, at his own expense, distributes warning notices throughout the town and advises people to come in for throat spray injections. His actions outrage the county medical association, who in spite of Dick's impassioned defense of Doc, vote to suspend him. Immediately after the vote, however, a late-arriving board member informs the association that dozens of polio cases have been reported in his town. Soon cases of polio spread throughout the county, except Westport, where the disease was confined to Doc's original four cases. Although rejected by the French school, Doc is elected president of the association by acclamation and is honored by the entire town, who gather outside his house and declare him a hero. Dick, who has fallen mutually in love with Jean, then tells his father that he wants to stay in Westport and be his partner. Content at last, Doc dies quietly of a heart attack just after Jean and Dick leave to attend a patient. As Doc's funeral procession concludes, a remorseful Sykes, Ramsey and Harkness collect their debt money from Doc's strong box and conclude that the old country doctor was indeed a fine man.