A Movie A Day: Quint on DOCTOR BULL (1933)
I tell you it’s Typhoid Fever and Susie’s got it. I can smell it!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I don’t know, guys, but I’m thinking these early John Ford comedies aren’t up my alley. Maybe these just aren’t the best examples… I know I like comedy of this era… hell, we’ve already covered a handful of Busby Berkeley films in the AMAD and I love the hell out of those.
When DOCTOR BULL started, I got the same warning from Fox’s DVD distribution arm that the movie was presented with the “best materials available.” Yesterday that meant a beat up, scratched, splicey 16mm print. DOCTOR BULL is much better, at least there’s no splices and you hear every line of dialogue.
Now, I’d definitely say I enjoyed DOCTOR BULL a lot more than I did UP THE RIVER, but I have to be honest and say I never connected with it at all. I laughed a couple of times, I really enjoyed the premise and I frankly loved Will Rogers’ work here, but that wasn’t enough to make the movie work.
Rogers plays the title character, a small town Doctor back when they used to… you know… help people, making little money, doing lots of housecalls. Of course Doctors today help people, but in a much less personal way. I don’t know if I’ve been in a doctor’s office in my life where I felt like I had the Doctor’s full attention.
This little town is filled with gossipers, mostly the old bible-thumping biddies, and none of them like ol’ Doc Bull too much. Mostly because he associates with a widower. It’s completely innocent, but the fact that he spends a few days a week at her house is too much for many of the community to handle.
The reality is Doctor Bull is the most bothered man in town. He can’t sleep without the phone ringing with someone complaining of a bellyache or some miniscule worry, he can’t eat without being given a list of symptoms. He can’t have a life, he can’t have any rest and his only real escape is the cider at the Widow Cardmaker’s house.
DOCTOR BULL skirts on pushing the envelope… there’s one teenage girl character who I was sure was knocked up when she met her out of town college-aged boyfriend. She gets drunk, crashes her car, thinks her life is over and the only person she feels she can talk to is Doctor Bull. Then she tells him she had a fight with her boyfriend, which is what put her in such a depression. Uh… what? A little research shows that the original novel, by James Gould Cozzens, actually went where they seemed to be setting up the character in the movie and the original intent was for them to film it, but the censors wouldn’t release it if they did.
Will Rogers is the one and only complete stand-out in this movie (with one notable exception, which I’ll get to in a minute). His performance is fantastic. Doctor Bull feels like a real person, a super nice guy… getting well into middle-age at this point. He’s light-hearted, but compassionate.
I might have personal reasons to take to his character here in that his physical appearance and temperament is pretty strikingly similar to that of my grandfather. I must admit ignorance to most Will Rogers’ work. I knew his cowboy personality, knew his name, but this is the first time I’ve seen a film of his, unless I’m overlooking an obvious one.
But he made me a fan with is performance here.
Also MVP for this movie has to be shared with Andy Devine. When I covered IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD a few days ago in this column I spent many paragraphs gushing over Buddy Hackett and how his voice just makes me happy. I think my heaven would be a world where everybody is voiced by either Buddy Hackett, James Hong’s Lo-Pan or Andy Devine.
Most of you will recognize Devine as the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney’s animated ROBIN HOOD. He’s just great as the biggest pain in Doc Bull’s ass, a soda-jerk who is the definition of psychosomatic and will chase the doc all around town, even barge in at him at home, over the tiniest twitch of a muscle or discomfort in his body.
Those two are what elevate the movie out of what would have surely been a boring experience.
The whole thing comes to a head as the Doc is blamed for an outbreak of Typhoid Fever, which he can prove he didn’t do, but it really is just an excuse for the uppity town elders to kick him out of town. And if they weren’t such dicks about it, that might be a good thing. His main medical recommendation is always a swig of Castor Oil afterall.
But the man still might have a trick or two up his sleeve… including, miraculously, discovering the cure for paralysis, which is just kind of a bookend to the movie, not the amazing revelation it should be. So I guess the old coot’s a genius afterall, but he is tired and the impression you get is that he’d be more than happy to give up his day job for a retirement filled with lazy days, cat-naps and complete meals.
Final Thoughts: Despite my really liking Devine and Rogers in this movie, it was still difficult for me to get though and it was only 77 minutes long. I’m sure a lot of value can come out of watching this movie as a film of its era, but I always hope for a little more out the work of masters like Ford. I mean, his Westerns have that, why not his comedies? Once again, I’d recommend this only to film students of John Ford completists.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Monday, November 10th: JUDGE PRIEST (1930)
Tuesday, November 11th: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Wednesday, November 12th: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Thursday, November 13th: DANIEL (1983)
Friday, November 14th: EL DORADO (1967)
Saturday, November 15th: THE GAMBLER (1974)
Sunday, November 16th: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
Ooohhh, looks like we're getting to a biggie come next Sunday. I love, love, love Sergio Leone movies and I'm practically giddy to finally work around to seeing his ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA!
Tomorrow we cap off our early John Ford comedies with JUDGE PRIEST, which I hope is my favorite of the three. I could stand to hit one of these in that box set that I can solidly recommend. See you tomorrow for JUDGE PRIEST, also starring Will Rogers!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 10, 2008, 6:19 a.m. CST
I watched these same 3 Ford comedies about a month ago. Judge Priest is virtually Doctor Bull, Part 2. Same style and pace. It's not terrible, but it's nothing I would want to see again. Rogers is always enjoyable, but the plot is paper-thin, and the version I saw had some bad sound issues. Plus, Judge Priest is one of the "1001 Movies to See Before You Die", so at least you'll have that one out of the way.
Nov. 10, 2008, 8:45 a.m. CST
Until you get deluged with posts shocked you haven't seen OUATIA. :) <br><Br> I think you'll dig that flick Quint, there's several brilliant scenes that will just stick with you, and of course the great score.
Nov. 10, 2008, 9:37 a.m. CST
I don't think I've ever seen a Will rogers film, either. Despite the mediocre review, I might put this one on my list, unless someone out there has a better recommendation. Another great comedy from the 1930s is Dinner at Eight. Jean Harlow's a lot of fun in it as well as a good cast of 1930s regulars - John & Lionel Barrymore, Marie Dressler (excellent), Billie Burke (Glinda) and others. Give it a try if you haven't seen it.
Nov. 10, 2008, 10:01 a.m. CST
Sorry to nitpick, but I've seen this mistake in two AMADs, now. A widower is a man whose wife has died.
Nov. 10, 2008, 10:50 a.m. CST
Commedy is hard
Nov. 10, 2008, 1:57 p.m. CST
by Raymond Shaw
This sounds like the kind of film where they use actually use "widder" as in "Widder Johnson's already buried four husbands."
Nov. 10, 2008, 6:02 p.m. CST
I think it just took him awhile to realize what he strengths and weaknesses as a director were. Plus, it wasn't like directors had complete freedom in those days - many times you were assigned a film. I imagine some executive acting like Richard Mulligan as Custer in Little Big Man "No John, you are a comedy director. Forgot this drama idea about an IRA informer and Westerns. I can tell, you have the appearance and posture of a comedy director."
Feb. 7, 2010, 6:52 a.m. CST
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Feb. 7, 2010, 3:46 p.m. CST
Feb. 15, 2010, 5:42 a.m. CST
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