Arrowsmith (1931)

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Arrowsmith (1931) Poster

A medical researcher is sent to a plague outbreak, where he has to decide priorities for the use of a vaccine.


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28 November 2006 | Doylenf
| Ronald Colman and the age factor...
I can't think of any other actor from the Golden Age of films who was miscast as many times as he was because of the age factor. So it was with RONALD COLMAN who was already forty by the time he played the idealistic young doctor of ARROWSMITH opposite stage star HELEN HAYES.

To his credit, he was still playing romantic leads in the '40s (RANDOM HARVEST) when he was in his fifties--and somehow, audiences accepted him regardless of what I call "the age factor". Here, in ARROWSMITH, it's painfully obvious that he was not the best choice for this title role in a trimmed down version of a Sinclair Lewis novel.

Surprisingly, the screenplay is by Sidney Howard, who had no trouble adapting Margaret Mitchell's lengthy GONE WITH THE WIND to the screen, but here seems to be obligated to cut out huge sections of the book to get to the main plot line in a hurry. Possibly, because films in 1931 did not run three hours and forty-five minutes.

Whatever, the result is a disjointed screenplay that condenses the story in a way that makes motivations and events incoherent at times. Arrowsmith begins his practice as a rather clumsy country doctor in farm country who develops an interest in serum when a neighbor's cattle become infected. When his serum is a success the doctor and his young wife move to New York where he's to work at a big clinic.

Soon he neglects his wife while he buries himself in his work to eradicate bacteria. When an outbreak of bubonic plague breaks out--well, you can see where the plot is going.

RONALD COLMAN is earnest and already quite distinguished looking as young Arrowsmith and HELEN HAYES suffers nobly as his neglected wife, infected herself through a careless action by her doctor husband. And toward the end of the story, we get a glimpse of the young and seductive MYRNA LOY in a role that is either underwritten or underwent extensive cuts. Cuts seem obvious in the abrupt ending too.

Arrowsmith's experiments in the West Indies bring a conclusion to the story. But sad to say, the film is a relic in almost every sense of the word. Hard to picture John Ford at the helm of this project--even though there is a brief glimpse of Ward Bond (one of his favorite players) in an early scene.

Summing up: Nothing deep to say about medicine nor does it work as the story of a dedicated doctor who wants to save lives during an epidemic. And it's certainly not Ronald Colman at his best.

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