Monday, August 30, 2010

Olivia Marries a Doctor

This week, our movie is 1955's Not as a Stranger, wherein Olivia plays a superior OR nurse named Kristina Hedvigson, who falls in love with medical student Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum).  Marsh wants to be a doctor, and will do anything to get there, including marry Kristina (whom he does not love), in order to pay his way through medical school.  The big problem with Marsh, though, is not that he doesn't love Kristina - he doesn't love ANYONE.  He does love medicine, wants desperately to be an excellent doctor, but will not brook any kind of medical mistakes.  As a result, he is cold and unforgiving, with no patience for his colleagues.

Olivia's Kristina is a good woman. Somewhat unsophisticated, but an excellent nurse and a caring human being.  But she is plain.  It is interesting the way this is accomplished.  The blonde wig and very white makeup that Olivia wears makes her looked washed out. Her usual vibrancy is replaced by a ghostly, almost surreal invisibility; a symbol, perhaps, of the fact that Lucas never really sees her.  In this scene, Kristina and Lucas meet:

This movie is also chock-full of supporting performances by actors one doesn't always see in supporting roles.  Frank Sinatra, for example as Alfred Boone, another medical student who is just not up to Lucas' standards, but is a good, caring man, is just wonderful here.  His sympathetic nature radiates.  He is the perfect foil to Mitchum's uptight perfectionist.  Broderick Crawford, as one the medical school's key instructors and Charles Bickford, as the doctor who gives Lucas his first job, are also excellent, again providing a glimpse of the humanity that is necessary to a successful medical career.  Bickford especially shows us medicine as a caring profession; he knows every one of his patients, and treats them with understanding and love.

Finally, there is our only other major female role, the always fascinating Gloria Grahame as Harriet Lang, a wealthy widow who is looking for excitement. And of course, the rather studdily Mitchum is quickly within her sights.

A big thumbs up for this so often overlooked movie. If you've never seen it, by all means, give it a try.

Next week, we again venture west.

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