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The Doctor and the Girl

In the blandly but straightforwardly titled The Doctor and the Girl (1949), Glenn Ford plays the son of an upper crust New York surgeon (Charles Coburn) who returns to Manhattan from Harvard Medical School to start interning at a hospital. When he falls for and marries a lower-class patient (Janet Leigh), Coburn disowns him and Ford sets up shop on the lower east side; more family and medical dramas ensue, including plot threads involving unwed pregnancy and abortion. This being the Production Code era, it should come as no surprise how those issues are resolved.

This was one of two movies (along with High Wall, 1947) that Curtis Bernhardt directed for MGM after seven years at Warner Brothers, where he had made such films as Conflict (1945), My Reputation (1946) and Possessed (1947). The German-born director later said, "MGM was like a big, big opera house, where you had to please this star and that prima donna." Ironically, The Doctor and the Girl was a bit more like a Warner Brothers film than a typical MGM concoction; MGM production chief Dore Schary was making a conscious effort to produce grittier movies. Doctor is still a glossy soap opera, but it has more grit than is usual for MGM. One effect of the new push for realism was more MGM movies shot on location, with such disparate titles as Adam's Rib (1949), a comedy, On the Town (1949), a musical, and Side Street (1950), a film noir, following The Doctor and the Girl with prominent Manhattan locations.

The Doctor and the Girl shot all over the city, and Bernhardt later recalled hiding his camera in a special camera car so he could shoot among New Yorkers surreptitiously. He also remembered filming "some scenes on 42nd Street, I think, from the inside of a milk parlor. We shot through the window outside and people couldn't tell we were putting them on film." Other times, the camera unit roped off large areas for filming, including much of Times Square.

Doctor opened in September 1949 to respectable, if not overwhelming, reviews. The New York Times called it "a nice little bedside tearjerker" and praised the cast: "Glenn Ford does a satisfactory job... Janet Leigh is winsome and bewitching." The Times and Variety also sung the praises of supporting player Charles Coburn, who was one of Hollywood's greatest character actors.

Janet Leigh had so much fun making this film it was embarrassing. As she wrote in her memoir, "In one scene, Glenn had to carry me up two flights of stairs; it was supposed to be our wedding night. We were in high spirits, with much ad-libbing and giddiness. Glenn kept whispering, 'I don't think I can make it.' And the more he struggled, the harder we laughed, until finally I passed the threshold of restraint and wet my pants, which only made me laugh harder...I swear I could see a spot on my skirt in the actual film."

The Doctor and the Girl was the first credited, released film for Nancy Davis -- the future Nancy Reagan -- although she had previously filmed a speaking part in Shadow on the Wall, which would be released in 1950.

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay: Theodore Reeves; Maxence van der Meersch (story "Bodies and Souls")
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Art Direction: Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Film Editing: Ferris Webster
Cast: Glenn Ford (Dr. Michael Corday), Charles Coburn (Dr. John Corday), Gloria DeHaven (Fabienne Corday), Janet Leigh (Evelyn 'Taffy' Heldon), Bruce Bennett (Dr. Alfred Norton), Warner Anderson (Dr. George Esmond), Basil Ruysdael (Dr. Francis I. Garard), Nancy Davis (Mariette Esmond), Arthur Franz (Dr. Harvey L. Kenmore), Lisa Golm (Hetty), Joanne De Bergh (Child's mother).
BW-98m.

by Jeremy Arnold

Sources:

Mary Kiersch (interviewer), Curtis Bernhardt: A Directors Guild of America Oral History
Janet Leigh, There Really Was a Hollywood
William R. Meyer, Warner Brothers Directors

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