PEOPLE WILL TALK, especially if Joseph L. Mankiewicz doesn’t edit his success-breeds-self-impressed tendency in crafting dialogue for his characters, whose constant chatter in this hard-to-peg 1951 picture is too glib by half and pretentious for a chaser. That fine actors recite the writer-director’s prose makes it watchable, if emotionally distant and hard to accept. As a comedy it has a better batting average than as a drama, and particularly as a romance: since it goes for all three, along with some sort of “statement on society” pitch, it fumbles as a complete package.
At a medical school, snitty ‘Dr. Rodney Ewell’ (Hume Cronyn) has issues with the successful, much-liked ‘Dr. Noah Praetorius’ (Cary Grant), urbane, charming and handsome. He seems too good to be true (uh, Cary Grant as a brilliant gynecologist, for starters), and his past has some unanswered questions that Ewell hones in on. While this professional turf battle looms, Praetorius becomes romantically involved with patient ‘Deborah Higgins’ (Jeanne Crain), pregnant and deeply depressed.
Over-plotted falderol was adapted from a 1932 German play, Dr. med. Hiob Prätorius, written by Curt Goetz. Two German films were made from it, one just a year earlier, Frauenarzt Dr. Prätorius (Woman’s Doctor Praetorius), starring, scripted and co-directed by the playwright; another in 1965, titled simply Praetorius. The American version drew a mix of applause and shrugs, and the gross placed just 42nd for the year, a vexing disappointment for Grant and producer Darryl F. Zanuck.
The two best scenes come at the start and finish. As the story begins Cronyn’s frazzled doctor has an amusing interview with a suspicious housekeeper, played by Margaret Hamilton, who for some reason was unbilled. At the finish, Grant seems to be having a grand time conducting the school’s student orchestra in Brahms “Gaudeamus igitur”. In between is a talky grab bag.
With Walter Slezak (being hearty, feels forced), Finlay Currie (an odd character for this actor, and oddly played), Sidney Blackmer (as Crain’s father, wallowing in loquacious self-pity like it was a diamond mine), Basil Ruysdael, Will Wright (good being a total cuss), Katherine Locke, Jack Kelly, Parley Baer, Carleton Young. 110 minutes.