HOSPITAL, THE(director: Arthur Hiller; screenwriter: Paddy Chayefsky; cinematographer: Victor J. Kemper; editor: Eric Albertson; music: Morris Surdin; cast: George C. Scott (Dr. Herbert Bock), Diana Rigg (Miss Barbara Drummond), Barnard Hughes (Edmund Drummond), Richard A. Dysart (Dr. Welbeck), Stephen Elliott (Dr. John Sundstrom), Andrew Duncan (William Mead), Donald Harron (Dr. Milton Mead), Nancy Marchand (Nurse Christie); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: GP; producer: Howard Gottfried; MGM Home Entertainment; 1971)
“It was hard to come out of The Hospital feeling all that well.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran director Arthur Hiller (“The Americanization of Emily”/”The In-Laws”/”Love Story”) helms Paddy Chayefsky’s black comedy by missing a lot of the edginess in favor of shamelessly trivializing it into an hysterical comedy. It was hard to come out of The Hospital feeling all that well. It does for civilian life the same thing M*A*S*H and Catch-22 did for the military, skewer the system by those who are the system. The medical personnel consists of jerks, incompetents, the cold-hearted and indifferent, the greedy and victims of murder. The message here is how hospitals treat patients as if they were pieces of furniture. What might have been a riot in Chayefsky’s head, in the film comes over as crudely funny; it’s as if pissing in the wind.
The depressed loner Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is chief of staff at a major New York City hospital (filmed at the Metropolitan Hospital on the Upper West Side of Manhattan). The 53-year-old is suicidal because his wife split, he’s impotent, overworked, stressed-out and he’s estranged from his children. If that weren’t enough of a jolt, everything is chaotic at the hospital: patients are dying because of wrong treatment, such as incorrect meds and being operated on with incorrect surgeries. There’s also wholesale stealing of hospital supplies and a nasty confrontation with a local action group over slum clearance. If that weren’t enough, there’s a lunatic running around murdering people. It’s like a Marx Brothers romp, as both Bock’s personal and professional life are a mess. But the cynic finds renewed hope when he meets the radical ex-flower child and ex-nurse Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg), a waspish dropout from Boston’s snobby Beacon Hill, who has come to take her comatose scheming dotty father (Barnard Hughes) back to his dear Apaches in Mexico where he runs a Methodist missionary and where Barbara resides. Barbara and Herbert each lean on the other’s shoulder to get emotional support, and after a one-night stand the doctor gets it up and gets enough courage to live for another day.
The gallows humor was the melodramatic farce’s saving grace; the film uses its razor-sharp instruments to cut into the hides of the insensitive institutionalized health care providers like Michael Moore’s Sicko does in 2007 to the fat-cat HMOs. My major gripe was that it could have been better, as Chayefsky delivered his part of the bargain and so did Scott; nevertheless the pic flattens out as the director increasingly loses his way in all the bitterness and invented horror stories and leaves us dangling over how to get out of such an irredeemable world (where modern man is perceived as forgotten in death).
Chayevsky’s screenplay won an Oscar, while Scott was nominated for Best Actor.
REVIEWED ON 7/13/2007 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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