Monday, 18 April 2022

Movie Review: Not As A Stranger (1955)

A medical drama, Not As A Stranger is a modestly successful story of ambition, combining character flaws, overheated emotions, and operating room dramatics. 

Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) is a medical student driven to succeed, but he can barely afford the tuition since he comes from a poor background and his father (Lon Chaney Jr.) is an alcoholic. He gets by with financial help from his best friend Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra) and the kindness of Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford). Lucas romances plain-looking Swedish nurse Kristina (Olivia de Havilland) after learning she has saved a handsome sum of money. They get married, although she only hopes he loves her. 

As he completes his studies Lucas develops a reputation as a perfectionist intolerant of mistakes and quick to judge and humiliate others. He is also genuinely interested in caring for patients and less obsessed than his classmates about getting rich. Upon graduating he accepts a position in the rural town of Greenville assisting the elderly Dr. Runkleman (Charles Bickford), gaining valuable experience although his marriage to Kristina grows ever colder. Lucas then meets the alluring and lonely widow Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame), and is tempted into considering an affair.

The first movie directed by producer Stanley Kramer, Not As A Stranger adapts a Morton Thompson book into an engaging-enough cinematic experience. The emotions are often running hot and never far from the surface, but the plot offers a worthwhile drama filled with memorable characters, several medical crises, and crackling interpersonal dynamics. 

The 135 minutes of running time are rich with incident and rarely drag, the screenplay by Edna and Edward Anhalt providing a bountiful central character arc. Marsh's single-minded drive to become a doctor is fuelled by humble origins, but his inability to modulate, accept imperfections, and choose his spots lands him in repeated trouble. He has the smarts to apologize, but will need to confront his own fallibilities before properly coming to terms with the difference between idealism and success.

Despite the undoubted talent on display, the casting choices are dubious. Robert Mitchum (38 years old) and Frank Sinatra (40 years old) are too old to convince as medical students, and they lumber through the first half looking exactly like middle-aged guys not too interested in pretending to be up-and-comers. Meanwhile, Olivia de Havilland's Swedish accent randomly fades in and out. A smoldering Gloria Grahame and the supporting veteran actors fare better, while Lee Marvin has a small role as another medical student.

On several occasions Kramer takes his cameras into the operating room, and the surgery scenes are often tense and sometimes boldly graphic. Two crisp and humorous montage sequences effectively convey experience gained over the passage of time: the first as Marsh and Boone become residents and commence treating patients; the second when Marsh starts working as a small-town doctor. Not As A Stranger may lack scalpel sharpness, but comfortably meets the requirements to graduate.



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