Tag Archives: Paddy Chayefsky

The Hospital (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: An incompetently run hospital.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in New York where patients routinely die due to misdiagnosis and other blunderings. There’s also a protest by a group of tenants from a nearby apartment building that’s been annexed by the hospital to make room for a drug rehabilitation center. Bock not only must deal with these issues, but also his crumbling personal life which has turned him to both alcohol and thoughts of suicide. His only ray-of-light is meeting the beautiful Barbra (Diana Rigg) who has come to the hospital to seek treatment for her father (Barnard Hughes), but just as Bock starts to come out of his depression the place becomes terrorized by an unseen assailant who begins killing both the patients and staff.

In 1969 after his wife had received poor care at a local hospital Paddy Chayefsky set-out to write a script exposing what he felt was the corruption and incompetence going on inside the American medical institutions. He managed to get full control over his screenplay and final say over any proposed changes, which was a good thing since initially the studio felt it was filled with too much medical terminology that would go over many viewer’s heads. I’ll admit there’s an excessive amount of lingo, both with the dialogue between the doctors and staff as well as the opening voice-over narration by Chayefsky, that’s done at a rapid-fire pace and I really didn’t understand it, but I still kind of liked it. I have no medical background myself, so I and most viewers aren’t going to get the ‘medical speak’, but leaving it in helps make it sound more authentic. It also impresses the viewer with how much research was put into it and you basically trust what’s going on because it ‘sounds intelligent’.

Another complaint was the shift in tone where things start out in a darkly-humorous slap-dash fashion only to end up during the second act becoming quite serious. Normally this would’ve been a big problem, but I liked the shift here. I think the reason is because underneath the comedy there’s still life-and-death consequences going on and if you’re going to make a statement movie, which this is attempting to do, then at some point things have got to slow-down and get serious in order for that statement to get out, which this thing ends up successfully doing.

While I enjoyed the fluid pace that manages to encompass not only satire and drama, but even shades of horror without ever losing its realism I did find that it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us about all of the problems without bothering to give us any solutions. There’s no focus on what the underlying causes are nor any balance by showing an well-run hospital in comparison. One might start to believe that all hospitals are like this and become afraid to ever go into one even if they are really sick, which isn’t exactly a good thing. This may have been the reason why Chayefsky himself died at the relatively young age of 58 from cancer because he feared Dr.’s would “cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them” and thus refused surgery that might’ve saved his life.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s a few issues with the casting as well. Overall, I was impressed with the performances particular Scott who got his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Rigg is also quite good, in a part that seemed better suited for Jane Fonda, who was the studio’s choice, but Rigg’s British accent and terse style makes for an interesting dynamic. You can also glimpse young soon-to-be-stars in small bits including: Nancy Marchand and Robert Walden, who later went on to co-star with each other in the TV-show ‘Lou Grant’ as well as Stockard Channing, in her film debut, and Frances Sternhagen as an exasperated medical clerk. The main problem though comes with Barnard Hughes, who appears for some strange reason in two completely different roles. He is very funny as the surgeon who finds he’s been operating on the wrong person, but then later he reappears as Rigg’s father, which didn’t make much sense. Since the father turns out to be the mysterious killer many people thought the scene with Hughes as the surgeon was meant to be the father in disguise, but that was not the intention. Again, if there’s no specific/underlying purpose story-wise for an actor to play two different parts in the same movie then don’t do it. There’s no lack of actors out there clamoring for work, so one of the two parts could’ve easily have been filled by someone else and thus avoided confusing the audience for no good reason.

It’s possible that the reason Chayefsky had Hughes playing dual roles was to help explain how the killer was able to get away with his crimes for so long. While the killer is always shown off camera, so the viewer does not know the identity, the Dr.’s and nurses do seem to recognize him as being a colleague and are put at ease just before he kills them. Of course the odds of a patient entering a random hospital and looking similar to one of the staff is astronomically low, but if this was the underlying concept, and it very well may have been, then the film should’ve eventually made this clear by having a split screen scene where Hughes the surgeon bumps into Hughes the killer.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube

Star Spangled Girl (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Norman obsesses over Amy.

This film is based on a Neil Simon play, which despite his tremendous success on Broadway became his only critical and commercial failure and was inspired by a political conversation/debate he overhead at a bar between writer Paddy Chayefsky and a very conservative housewife. The plot here deals with Amy (Sandy Duncan) a very old-fashioned young lady from rural America who moves to the big city of L.A. and meets up with two young men named Andy and Norman (Tony Roberts, Todd Susman) who publish an underground newspaper expounding radical/liberal ideas. Norman immediately falls for Amy and becomes so obsessed with her that he can no longer concentrate on writing for the paper. In order to allow the paper to meet its deadline Andy convinces Amy to come work for them to act as a muse for Norman, but Amy resists as she not only doesn’t agree with the paper’s politics, but she can’t stand Norman either.

The film’s biggest downfall is that it never touches on the political element. Had there been some substance, it might’ve worked, but the political issues are completely glossed over in the broadest way imaginable. The film really isn’t aimed for young adults anyways, but instead romantic diehards in need of an old-fashioned sugary romance where love somehow solves all problems, even when the two sides are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, making this thing severely contrived and dated even for its own era.

Roberts, who was already over 30 at the time, was too old for the role as the college kids of the day, who were the true radicals, felt anyone over 30 was the ‘enemy’ and a part of the ‘establishment’. The two men should’ve had long hair, beards, love beads and joints. Outside of one hanging picture showing the peace sign, their home decorations don’t look much different from a family home in Kansas and true radical guys from that era would’ve had posters on their walls of rock groups, naked women, Woodstock and maybe even Timothy Leary.

The Norman character is quite annoying and the way he obsesses over Amy by going through her garbage each day and following her around would get him pegged as a stalker and in serious trouble these days. What’s intended as a humorous take on a ‘love smitten guy’ is done so broadly that it gets dumb quick and eventually comes off like a mentally ill looney in serious need of some meds.

Sandy Duncan, who resembles an elf with a high pitched-voice, isn’t exactly the kind of gal that a guy suddenly goes ga-ga over anyways and it would’ve made more sense had Ali MacGraw or Cybill Shepherd been cast instead as they were more the conventional type of beauty that guys would normally get excited about. Unfortunately they both declined the role after being offered it. Having Norman get so excessively aroused over Amy simply because of the way she ‘smelled’ is pretty pathetic and equates love/romance to mindless urges controlled by animalistic scents similar to that of rodents attracted to the odor of rotted food in a dumpster.

Saying this film would’ve been better suited for an episode of ‘Love American Style’ which was a weekly anthology series that aired during the early ‘70s and focused on cute, comical love stories is not that far off-the-mark since the film was co-written by Arnold Margolin who was that show’s producer. The film even has a similar garishly colorful opening with background vocals sung by Davy Jones.

Overall it’s an embarrassing waste of celluloid with no bearing in reality whatsoever. Elizabeth Allen can be spotted briefly as the landlady wearing an ill-advised blond wig with ponytails that makes her look like the blonde lady seen on the Swiss Miss cocoa products. She never says a single word and is basically just on-hand to force the two men do go with her on all sorts of daring stunts, like parachuting, in order to help pay the rent since they lack the necessary monetary funds otherwise, which like everything else in the movie is just forced humor at its worst.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Director: Jerry Paris

Rated G

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube