15 January 2019 | JasonDanielBaker
"You can have a perfect garden. Why not a perfect town?"
A barely recognizable Bing Crosby (bearded, sans pipe and golfing outfit) portrays Dr. Leonard Cook, a seemingly kindly old small-town physician with a thriving practice in the idyllic town of Greenfield, Connecticut. His young protege Dr.Jim Tennyson (Converse) returns to town for a visit having completed his residency.
Cook, a widower, is the only doctor in town. With no family left he tends to people in Greenfield like they are his kin. After more than forty years as general practitioner he has delivered most of the residents at birth and henceforth taken them on as patients.
As a county selectman (A town councillor) he also puts in time to tend to community improvements. The two responsibilities, and his avid interest in gardening percolate into a warped social engineering project.
Spoiler alert. With full knowledge of medical procedure and the lesser deference that comes from experience and personal confidence Tennyson's eyes are opened to the malfeasance of Dr.Cook - his hero. Taking his personal philosophy a step further, Cook actively causes deaths of patients whose respective expirations serve the greater good as Cook sees it.
Cook, with his gardening hobby tends to view patients in a similar way to how he views plants - some are flowers, some are weeds. The weeds need to be pulled out to protect the flowers.
Good people get very old before passing on. Bad people, whilst they happen to be at their most destructive, have unexpected health problems which prove fatal. Sick people who only have suffering ahead of them are euthanized. But there has never been a suspicious death. As regional health officer Dr.Cook would know if there had. He finds no fault in his own quality of healthcare and isn't going to call in another doctor to conduct an autopsy.
Tennyson, absent from the town for five years, begins to clue in that not everything is as it seems by taking stock of the sheer volume of people who have dropped dead under suspicious circumstances since he left each of which tie in not merely to malpractice by Cook but actual murder.
The other townspeople are blissfully unaware. They don't have Tennyson's education or cynicism. Tennyson has something else they don't have - the objectivity and fresh perspective that comes from an outsider's view.
He, like a lot of townspeople lost somebody close to him - his alcoholic maniac father who used to beat him senseless. The same man conveniently died of a stroke but one week after administering a particularly severe beating in which adolescent Tennyson's arm was broken.
For the most part the now well-documented dark side of Bing Crosby remained concealed beneath his public image until years after his death when his children came forward with shocking stories of brutal abuse by his hand. Very few of his performances betrayed the cruel, sadistic nature of the man. The narrative here touches upon a number of things that Crosby should have been made uncomfortable by.
The premise of this one fascinated me for years after I had been told about it. The person who got me interested in it only mentioned it in passing and was unable to give me the title of the right details for tracking it down mistakenly informing me that it had starred Fred Astaire and that the film had been a theatrical release in 1976 instead of a TV movie with Bing Crosby made in 1971. It took me twenty years to find it.
What this narrative deals with are subjects that weren't really talked about. Euthanasia, medicine in rural areas, the "God Complex" noted in a few cases of various physicians. The shock the viewer has doesn't necessarily come the fact that this nice old man is a mass-murderer though that should be enough. The shock comes with what degree the viewer and those that they are watching the film with begin to see a validity in what he is doing.
Based on the Ira Levin stage play.
Broadcast as an instalment of ABC Tuesday Night at the Movies.