The Caretakers (1963)

the caretakers 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Doctors with opposing viewpoints.

Two doctors working at a psychiatric hospital come at odds with each other over how to treat their patients. Dr. Donovan MacLeod (Robert Stack) believes in a more humanistic approach in treating mental illness including group therapy and more patient freedoms. Dr. Lucretia Terry (Joan Crawford) is hard-lined and exacts rules on her patients that have severe penalties if broken. The film examines their infighting and how it affects their patients.

Director Hall Bartlett has a nice cinema-verte style to the material that manages to avoid being ‘Hollywoodnized’ or overtly sanitized. The subject is approached in a matter of fact way and the patients are not portrayed as ‘crazy’ or ‘scary’, but instead as sick people looking to get well and learning how to do it. The opening sequence done over the credits and featuring all sorts of moody artsy drawings have an excellent avant-garde flair.

Polly Bergen is effective as Lorna a middle-aged mother and housewife who suffers a nervous breakdown and begrudgingly becomes a member of Dr. MacLeod’s therapy group. Some of her acting particularly when she is having her breakdown is theatrical and over-the-top, but I did like the way Bartlett shows things from her perspective allowing the viewer in a visual sense to feel what she is going through and makes one compassionate and sensitive to her condition.

It is great to see Crawford as always and the scene showing her in a leotard and teaching the other nurses judo lessons is a gem and much too brief. I was hoping to have her play up the part of the heavy more making her almost like a Nurse Ratched, which she could have easily done to perfection, but unfortunately the script doesn’t take advantage of it. I was also disappointed that we never see Crawford ever dealing directly with her patients, which seemed to me should have been necessary.

Stack in the lead is terrible and completely wrong for the part. The role required a man with a more youthful appeal instead of the middle-aged Stack who never displays the kind of sensitivity and compassion that his character supposedly has. Instead he delivers his lines in a stiff and monotone fashion and comes off like he came from the old school of acting.

The scene where his character allows the patients to go to an outdoor park for a picnic and mingle with the staff unsupervised seemed to be pushing the plausibility meter to the extreme. It also makes him look like a complete schmuck who should have known better especially when one of his patients leaves the picnic and runs away while he chases after her in a panic.

The supporting cast is outstanding showcasing many up and coming stars and is one of the major highlights for watching the film. Barbara Barrie is great as the silent and troubled Edna. Janis Paige is excellent as the brassy prostitute Marion. Susan Oliver gives one of her best performances as a young nurse who is just learning how to deal with those with mental illness and Robert Vaughn is also effective as Lorna’s long suffering and confused husband. This is also a great chance to see a young Van Williams before he starred as the Green Hornet as well as the beautiful Sharon Hugueny whose promising acting career was cut short when she was hit years later by a speeding police car.

If you come to this film looking for genuine insight into the illness you will be disappointed as it goes only to the most elementary level into the area of psychiatry. MacLeod’s speeches about how his group therapy can be a ‘cure’ to mental illness are shallow and almost laughable. However, for the era the film manages to be gritty and slick enough to pass as entertainment.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 21, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Hal Bartlett

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

4 responses to “The Caretakers (1963)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    Polly goes crackers and the laughs are virtually nonstop

  2. A camp classic

  3. Joseph Kearny

    Unintentional laughter can be the best kind and this is the movie that proves it! A comedy gem!

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