Sunday, 21 March 2010

Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

"Mary Stevens, M.D." is one of those films that one can hardly imagine being made after the Hays Code had been fully enforced. The title clearly presents the main character as woman in what was then a man's world - medicine. And this is topic is actually tacked in the film: not only is she the only woman doctor, but also because in more than occasion we see patients been prejudiced against her, with some "returning later". The film clearly aims to educate its audience that women doctors are as good as their male counterparts, and I think no feminist would be disappointed with it. In the context of 1933, it's quite progressive. One might object that she decides to be a paediatrician rather than a surgeon, but that's quibbling. After all there are limits to how progressive Hollywood can be.

There some other things that will satisfy even the more demanding of Pre-code fans: an out of wedlock pregnancy and a moment where abortion is alluded to, clear references to corrupted politicians and depression. But keep in mind that the story itself pure soap-opera, revolving around Dr Stevens and her relationship with a colleague who only realises he loves her after getting married to someone else. Well done soap-opera, but ultimately, this is clearly belongs to the "women's picture" genre. Surprisingly enough, while it was based on a story by a female author, both credit scriptwriters are men.

Kay Francis takes full advantage of a meaty part. I confess not having seen many of her films except Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise" and not being particularly curious about them (this one being an exception). Strangely, despite liking the film and her performance, can't say I am any more curious than was before, and I have a feeling if I watch another of her films I will probably be drawn to it because of the director or co-star. I can't point out exactly why, but she doesn't interest me very much. Lyle Talboy plays her love interest. Usually cast as a not-very-nice-man, often a gangster or something equally seedy, it's curious to see him do something different for most of the film. Closing the trio of leads is Glenda Farrell as Francis' best friend and the best thing in the film. No-nonsense and always ready with a reply (as she often was in her films), she plays a nurse in Francis' practice. She also has the bitchiest remark to another nurse that we meant to think is ugly because she wears glasses. Finally worth noting Una O'Connor in a small supporting part, sadly miscast: the part is quite dramatic, but every time I hear her speak I find her funny. She had such a natural gift for comedy, and a voice to go with it, that it seems unnatural for her to anything but.
On a little note, I found the tag line (in the poster above) rather irritating. Apart from being slightly misleading is not in tune with the film's tone.


Judy said...

I find the Lloyd Bacon films I've seen a bit patchy, but this one sounds right up my street,I'll have to give it a look! I've been meaning to watch some Kay Francis and this should give me the push I need. Also interested to see that Glenda Farrell is in it - did you like her performance?

Miguel said...

Yes, I did. She's quite funny. I don't think I've actually seen a film with her where she's supposed to be the lead but she's usually quite funny.