Plot: What’s it about?
Twilight Time recently released the Arthur Hiller directed, Paddy Chayefsky penned, 1971 satire The Hospital. Out of the comedies that Twilight Time released this year, I may have found a favorite. Paddy Chayefsky turns in a script that is as funny as it is biting. This ripping satire of the medical field and early-Seventies cultural malaise is as funny today and just as potent as it was forty six years ago.
George C. Scott stars in the film as an impotent, suicidal, alcoholic head doctor of a struggling hospital in Brooklyn. As the film begins, a patient is misdiagnosed repeatedly leading to his demise. Doctor Schaefer sees an opportunity to sleep with a nurse in the recently opened bed, and takes his chance. The next morning a nurse discovers that the doctor has mistakenly been given an IV drip that was meant for the recently deceased patient. Unfortunately, the young sexually active doctor has perished. Dr. Herbert Brock (George C. Scott) is awoken from a drinking induced haze to come in early to the hospital given the fact that one of his wards has inadvertently killed one of its doctors. Herbert has been depressed and suicidal due to his recent problems at home. His wife has left him, his twenty three year old son, a Maoist, was kicked out of the house a year earlier, and his seventeen year old daughter has already had two abortions. His world is a tornado of bad news, and the hospital only complicates things. Arriving at the hospital, there are protestors outside due to a housing development that is being evicted for the hospital to expand. Speaking to the hospital director, Brock immediately sets to work attempting to help the hospital. He also becomes aware that a perfectly healthy person was brought into the hospital a few days earlier and due to repeated misdiagnoses is in a coma. His freewheeling hippie daughter, Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg,) wants to have him removed from the hospital in her care before the hospital kills him off completely. Throughout the course of the next forty eight hours, many more deaths will occur at the hospital while Brock befriends Barbara Drummond and finds a reason to not kill himself with an overdose of Potassium.
I did not know exactly what to expect out of The Hospital. I have enjoyed some of Arthur Hiller’s other films (The In-Laws, Love Story, See No Evil, Hear No Evil) but I could not believe that this film is not better known after watching it. Paddy Chayefsky was a great writer and gave the world three Oscar winning screenplays (Marty, Network, The Hospital.) This is a case where the academy actually got things right. This film benefits from one of the best scripts I have watched in recent memory, with acerbic wit and gallows humor in spades. I love dark comedies and this one is about as dark as they come. The movie had me laughing at line after line but I was also constantly surprised by the actions taken by characters and where the script goes. The film also benefits from a tremendous performance from the great late George C. Scott. Damn if he wasn’t an amazing actor. The same man who almost stole Dr. Strangelove from Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden delivers a performance that is incredibly demanding in terms of range. The character he portrays must be animalistic, befuddled, depressed, energetic, exhausted, and make the audience laugh. It’s a balancing act that only one of the best actors could deliver and George C. Scott proves his mettle throughout the film. Diana Rigg delivers a great understated performance. Character actors Richard Dysart and Barnard Hughes are also great in the film.
This is satire that really works. I can not recommend watching this film highly enough if you love a good dark comedy.
Video: How’s it look?
Licensed from MGM/UA in 1080p with an MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 image, it’s a good-looking image. There is some specking throughout the film, but fine detail has survived the last forty six years of aging. There is some visible grain, but this film for the most part looks pretty great. Color-wise the film is reminiscent of Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail – warm hues in interiors and the exteriors are fairly grey. Victor J. Kemper’s cinematography is capable in the film but nothing incredibly special. I did find it interesting that there are certain scenes where the camera does not move despite the fact that characters’ tops of their heads go out of frame occasionally. I could not tell if this was intentional or not, but the almost documentary style approach of the shoot lends to added realism for the film. Fans will be very pleased to see how the film looks.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Twilight Time have provided a DTS-HD MA Mono track. It has excellent fidelity to the original elements. This film has a score that is only employed every so often, so the primary focus of the film is firmly on the dialogue. I wish I could say that dialogue is crystal clear, but occasionally George C. Scott’s bellowing voice can distort slightly. I feel pretty certain that this is from the original sound recording, but it would be nice if some of these small distortions had been taken care of in post-production. While rare, every time this distortion occurred I remembered I was watching a movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Isolated Score Track
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Hospital is a rewarding madcap dark comedy that has plenty of acerbic wit. Paddy Chayefsky deservedly won the Oscar for the screenplay, and George C. Scott delivers the goods with an excellent performance. For myself, this was one of the most enjoyable comedies I watched this year. If you have not seen the film before, you may want to rent it prior to a purchase simply because of the gallows humor involved. For myself, I know I will watch this film every so often. Highly recommended.