DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE is recommended to treat the blues with an injection of good cheer from this 1954 Brit hit. Instead of the usual deferential treatment accorded physicians, this time, dispensed by a personable cast and the director-producer team of Ralph Thomas & Betty Box, the prescription is a course of spirited laughter. Based on Richard Gordon’s novel, the script was written by Gordon, Nicholas Phipps and Ronald Wilkinson. *
London, ‘St. Swithin’s Hospital’. Over five years of studying and parties (at least as much of the latter), a quartet of hopeful surgeons tax their livers and the patience of girlfriends and supervisors. Shy and a bit clumsy, ‘Simon Sparrow’ (Dirk Bogarde) repeatedly strikes out with the opposite sex until he clicks with nurse ‘Joy Gibson’ (charming Muriel Pavlow). Helping him loosen up are his genial if rowdy flatmates: jolly, consistent test-failer ‘Richard Grimsdyke’ (Kenneth More), tireless lothario ‘Tony Benskin’ (Donald Sinden) and rugby nut ‘Taffy Evans’ (Donald Houston). Taking them to task is chief surgeon ‘Sir Lancelot Spratt’ (James Robertson Justice), a fierce-tempered grizzly with a voice like a cannon.
Great stuff, the humor kept in check enough that it stays within the bounds of possibility, a series of consistently amusing incidents played with winning gusto by all. The film’s success was a major career boost for everyone involved.
Made for just £120,000 (roughly £3,651,879 in 2022), it was a massive hit on home sod, registering 15,500,000 tickets sold, fully one third of the country’s population. In the States early the following year it was barely examined, a $700,000 gross managing just 167th place in ’55, which saw a huge hit in Not As A Stranger, a star-bulging drama about medical students. That had its good points, but any laughs were unintentional: if you accept Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra and Lee Marvin as wanna-be doctors, you might want to make an appointment to see one.
With chipper work from Kay Kendall, Geoffrey Keen, Suzanne Cloutier, George Coulouris, Joan Sims, Shirley Eaton and Noel Purcell. 92 minutes.
* A former ship’s surgeon in the Royal Navy and an anesthesiologist, Gordon Ostlere, under the pseudonym Richard Gordon, wrote, among many other books, 13 cheeky ‘Doctor’ novels. Seven were filmed, including three sequels starring Bogarde; Doctor at Sea, Doctor at Large and Doctor In Distress. James Robertson Justice (now there was a character) repeated his booming Lancelot Spratt in all of them. No less than seven TV series were also spun off the concept.