At the outbreak of the Second World War, Captain Beth Ainsley (Jane Wyatt) is onboard a military transport ship. This is not her first time in the military, and the action of Army Surgeon (1942) flashes back to Beth's experiences as a member of the Army Nurse Corps in World War I. We later find out that Beth is a physician, who has chosen to serve her country in the only way she can, by volunteering as a nurse. In Europe, she meets a former admirer, pilot Lieutenant Philip Harvey (Kent Taylor), and Captain James Mason (James Ellison), a doctor who is eager to get to the front.
This is not a particularly good film - the story is all over the place, and it never really decides what it want to be. Is it a love story? A war movie? You'll not be able to decide, even after watching it. By trying to be all things to all people, what you really have is a mess.
While Jane Wyatt is always a pleasure to watch, we found Kent Taylor to be quite annoying. According to this TCM article, Randolph Scott was considered for this part; we were intrigued as how this would have changed the quality of the film. Not that he could have done much for the overall story; he'd have needed a script doctor for that. This AFI catalog entry does give an excuse for Taylor's lackluster performance - following a fight scene with Ellison, he ended up with SEVEN broken ribs.
Likewise James Ellison, a decent, if slight actor (you might know him from Vivacious Lady or The Plainsman) only gets to bristle periodically. Sure, it's a B picture, but they really could have done better. And that was reflected in the box office - it lost over $46,000.
As someone who is interested in the portrayal of women physicians on film, this did have at least one component that was fascinating. The film is very vague about Beth's military position in the frame portions of the film. We know she is an officer - a Captain in fact (and was a Lieutenant in the First World War). But, since the Sparkman-Johnson Bill, which allowed women physicians to serve in the military AS physicians (Dr. Margaret D. Craighill was the first woman doctor to enter the military), was not passed until April of 1943, Beth cannot be in as a physician. Do the authors intend this to be a call to the public for women physicians in the armed forces? And, I'm told that her rank as Captain does speak to the fact that she has re-entered the service, not stayed in the military. Were she a career nurse now, her rank would be higher. We have to assume that she is back in as a nurse, perhaps hoping that she will eventually be allowed to practice her real profession.
Next week, we'll return with a more interesting film. Sorry, we just can't recommend this one.