Friday, June 20, 2014

Dorothy Marries a Doctor

Mother Didn't Tell Me (1950) is the story of Jane Morgan (Dorothy McGuire), a successful radio jingle writer, who catches a cold and goes to the doctor.  One look at Dr. William Wright (William Lundigan) and Jane is hooked.  In short order, she and Bill have become engaged, much to the disgust of her new mother-in-law (Jessie Royce Landis).  Mrs. Wright, it seems, wants Bill to marry a former coworker, Helen Porter (Joyce MacKenzie) who is currently in medical school.  Helen will understand the obligations of being a doctor's wife - something that Mrs. Wright feels that Jane will never comprehend.  Jane, of course, is madly in love, and she and Bill rush headlong to the altar.  And then they begin to discover the many problems inherent in marriage, especially when one partner has an all-consuming career.

Having just finished an online course with Dr. Jeanine Basinger on the history of marriage in the movies, it was interesting to come across another marriage film, for this surely is a film about marriage, albeit marriage to a doctor.  We have many of the issues of conflict - money, in-laws, children, jealousy - that were discussed in the class.  But here, the jealousy is not limited to that of one spouse to another person.  In this film, the jealousy extends to the the spouse's job, which constantly pulls him from the family unit.  This is also a film about "marrying in haste and repenting at leisure".  For, while Mrs. Wright's attempted sabotage of the marriage is wrong, her fear that the couple are rushing into a lifetime commitment is on target.  This pair have no knowledge of one another, and yet wed regardless.

Once married, Jane does have good reason to be frustrated.  Bill is an absolute bonehead.  He buys a house, sight unseen, only to discover that it is an empty shambles (when he expected a fully-furnished paradise).  He never told Jane they had to move, never talked to her about the house, and spent every last dime he had to buy it.  When Jane isn't feeling well, and goes to a colleague of Bill's for some tests, Bill forgets to tell her that she is pregnant.  How this man is able to run a medical practice is beyond us.
It's not just men who get this fuzzy end of this lollipop - the women get it in spades as well.  We have Mrs. Wright and her cadre of medical wives and widows, who are a bunch of gossiping fishwives and meddlers.  We have Dr. Helen Porter, who went to medical school to get, not her MD, but her Mrs.  And we have Jane, who is supposed to have a brain in her head, but rarely acts like it.  Women are shown as totally incompetent.  Though Jane is good at her job, the minute she marries, she becomes a housewife for a man that is never home.  A sign of the times, perhaps - it seems as though this film is part of the post-war backlash against working women.

Since the film has a cute beginning, it's a big disappointment when it falls apart. Dorothy McGuire is always an engaging actress, but her Jane is eventually just annoying. And William Lundigan is far worse as Bill. He brings vagueness to a new level, and makes you want to avoid ANY doctor, not just him.

Lundigan and McGuire are not only members of the cast being misused. Leif Erickson as psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Gordon is downright insulting to the medical profession in general and psychiatry in particular. We remember Erickson not only from his many supporting film roles, but also as the imposing patriarch in the TV western The High Chaparral. In this film, you are relieved when he is gone from the screen. It doesn't help that the scenes with him serve no useful purpose; they are stupid, and not the least bit amusing. 

June Havoc's Maggie Roberts is the only sympathetic woman in the bunch, Jane's sole friend (didn't Jane have friends BEFORE she married?).  Maggie has come to terms with being a doctor's wife, but she understands the problems that are facing Jane; she lives with them every day.  Havoc, of course, was better known as "Baby June" of Gypsy fame and the sister of Gypsy Rose Lee.  However, Havoc was a notable actress in her own right.  After leaving vaudeville, Havoc appeared on Broadway (Pal Joey and Mexican Hayride, as well as playing Miss Hannigan in Annie), in films (My Sister Eileen and Gentlemen's Agreement) and on television (General Hospital).  She was nominated for a Tony Award for the direction of Marathon '33, which she also wrote, and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.  She died at age 97, in 2010.


Also wasted is Gary Merrill whose major role is to find out that Jane is pregnant (and not even get to tell her about it).  Merrill would play a doctor again in The Girl in White.  He had much more to do in the later picture.

By the end of this film, you just want it to be over.  It was a good premise, but one that is badly overdone.  This New York Times review sums it up very nicely.  All in all, this is not a film to watch if you are a fan of Dorothy McGuire (which we are).  Try The Spiral Staircase or The Enchanted Cottage instead.