Arrowsmith (1931)

JOHN FORD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  USA, 1931.  .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1931/1932.

Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes in Arrowsmith.

is terrific in this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel about economic pressures in the medical industry.  Intending to be a research scientist, Martin Arrowsmith is compelled to become a family doctor in order to marry the woman he loves (), setting up shop in her dusty town in South Dakota where he administers to the good country people’s ailments.  When he takes a stab at a cure for a disease affecting the local livestock, it gets the attention of a laboratory in New York who drag him to the big city, working on cures to heal future generations while avoiding the kind of exploitation that his bosses use to generate revenue.  Arrowsmith’s work eventually gets him sent to the West Indies to work on a case of bubonic plague, taking his wife along with him at her insistence despite the danger it represents to them both (and when your wife treats vials with viruses in them like they’re dirty dishes, the danger is real).  Love, work and tragedy are all combined stylishly in this trend-setting medical drama, bolstered by the great chemistry between the two leads despite the fact that Hayes has little more to do than establish the trope of the “Honey, come to bed” role (even when they’re in the Caribbean she enters every scene from the kitchen with an apron on).   has a brief appearance in an early performance, and while the presentation of illness is dated (everyone with the plague merely looks a bit tired), the story still packs a punch.

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