25 February 2008 | blanche-2
First of the popular series
Lew Ayres is "Young Dr. Kildare" in this 1938 film that began the popular "Dr. Kildare" series. Later, "Dr. Kildare" would become a TV series and launch Richard Chamberlain.
Here we meet Dr. K and his parents (Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn). Kildare's father is a country doctor, and James decides against partnering with him. He wants to intern at Blair General Hospital. As the film unfolds, he wonders if this was the wisest choice.
Kildare spends most of the movie in trouble up to his eyeballs, first with the attempted suicide of a society woman that he interferes in, and secondly with Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore), who's a real bear. Gillespie becomes a lot mellower as the years go on, but in this initial episode, watch out! Kildare spends most of the film on the verge of being suspended, and he just got there.
Though sometimes the series did approach correct medical treatment and terms, "Young Dr. Kildare" misses that boat with its suicide case. I guess no one had ever heard of anyone being emotionally disturbed - this poor young woman was almost institutionalized because the head psychiatrist in the hospital thinks she's a schizophrenic. Kildare challenges his notion and runs all over town trying to find out why she attempted suicide. The reason is pure 1930s Hollywood.
One reason these films are fun is that MGM used them as a training ground for some of its young stars - Van Johnson, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Margaret O'Brien, to name a few. In this film, Monty Wooley - not young, but still in the small part phase of his career - makes an appearance.
The "Dr. Kildare" series continued into the late 1940s, in 1942 becoming the "Dr. Gillespie" series with the same cast minus Lew Ayres, persona non grata at MGM for being a conscientious objector during World War II. Ayres did serve as a medic and chaplain on the front lines, but his principles garnered a lot of publicity and were not popular with the public, so the studio got rid of him. After World War II, he received an Oscar nomination for his role in "Johnny Belinda" and he worked until 1994, two years before his death. In 1950-51, he was Dr. Kildare on the radio. He nearly became a television Dr. K, but the network refused to honor his request for no cigarette sponsorship. When you have the courage to stand by your beliefs, as Ayres did, you soon find yourself out of a job.