For Reel

Once a Doctor (1937)
March 31, 2016, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Clemens
3.5 Stars
Once a DoctorThis ambitious programmer from director William Clemens was released the same year as Internes Can’t Take Money, the Paramount hit that launched the Dr. Kildare series of films. Perhaps more significantly, however, 1937 also saw the release of one of director Frank Borzage’s masterpieces, History is Made at Night, which concludes with a surprising Titanic-like disaster. Similarly, Once a Doctor finds its climax on the roaring seas, where a doctor will need to zipline from boat to boat in order to perform a surgery on the man that ruined his life. Once a Doctor‘s great pleasures come from this style of melodrama, accompanied effectively by the touching score by Heinz Roemheld and given more visual grace than the usual programmer by cinematographer L. William O’Connell. The usually forgettable Donald Woods is well-cast as the honorable doctor, who in the early scenes discusses death with a surprising frankness for a genre that at the time didn’t treat grim subject matter so mundanely. If the film lacks a strong romance (Jean Muir is underwritten as the love interest and the two share little chemistry together), Woods’ true on again off again affair is with his profession itself, which brings him to heartbreak in its own way. For director Clemens, this was a huge step up in quality from his earlier run of pictures—as a director-for-hire on B-pictures, he shows an unusual talent for mimicking the formula of a typical prestige film.