3 May 2008 | bkoganbing
The Army Air Corp's Own Snake Pit
For reasons I don't understand Captain Newman MD has always been singled out for criticism, most particularly directed at Gregory Peck saying he's too stiff for comedy. I don't agree on a number of levels and this is one of my favorite films with him.
First and foremost Peck's role is not one of comedy. What he does in the film is serve as Tony Curtis's straight man. Now his role is a comic one and very funny indeed.
Peck runs the psychiatric ward in an Army Air Corps Hospital out in the Arizona desert during World War II. There's no way a man like Peck would be in the command of George S. Patton who just didn't believe in Peck's whole profession. And in Patton like fashion if someone isn't shipped back to command in twelve weeks, Peck hears about it.
Captain Newman, MD is a serious film about such people and they are at the heart of the story with Peck trying his best to fix the broken minds and psyches in our Armed Forces. Three of his cases are the drunken, guitar playing corporal Bobby Darin, the catatonic flier Robert Duvall, and Eddie Albert the colonel who has gone psychotic. Peck has a mixed record of success with these three and with others in his ward.
Bobby Darin got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, it's a fine performance but he lost that year to Melvyn Douglas for Hud. But personally I feel that Eddie Albert stole Captain Newman, MD from the rest of the cast. It's a tossup between this role and Attack for the best performances of Albert's carer.
Robert Duvall always credited Peck with giving him a good start to his long career with key roles in To Kill A Mockingbird and Captain Newman, MD. Funny thing is that Duvall has little dialog here and none in To Kill A Mockingbird. Far from the well spoken attorney who was consigliere to The Godfather. He's matched in his performance by his wife played by Bethel Leslie who is apparently much influenced by Grace Kelly in her performance. She's his prim and proper wife who tries to stir his interest in an attempt at an unusual kind of shock therapy.
Aiding Peck in his treatment of his patients are nurses Angie Dickinson and Jane Withers and orderlies Tony Curtis and Larry Storch. In his memoirs Tony Curtis says that he got along very well with Gregory Peck who he says was one of the best class acts in Hollywood. He didn't get along all that well with director David Miller who wanted Curtis to be more ethnic in his interpretation of Corporal Jackson Leibowitz. Curtis won out and I think he was right in this case. A friend of Tony Curtis's since childhood is Larry Storch and because of that Storch appears in a few films with Curtis. As Peck was Tony's straight man, Storch becomes his comic foil in a couple of scenes and they work well together.
Captain Newman, MD is a classic film, both entertaining and thought provoking, about the treatment of mental breakdowns among our military. As we certainly now are a country at war, Captain Newman, MD has a relevancy today that is timely. Absolutely do not miss it when it is broadcast.