Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Straight to video... Doctors' Wives (1971)

I’ve been *trying* to have a clear out and, hidden in what my wife politely refers to as the glory hole (or is that gory hell?) are a number of large plastic container boxes filled full of VHS cassettes... All left there for a rainy day like a “transitional media” version of King Arthur: ready to rise again in England’s hour of greatest need...

Some of these tapes go back a long way and have, in some cases, never been played ...almost forgotten. Time to clear up and clear out but…maybe, just maybe there’s something in here worth watching and possibly worth saving.

So… I set up the video plugged into the back of the DVD and started to copy a few possible gems onto the hard drive for review “at a later date”…that date normally never comes but a high pollen count left me sneezing and weary… in need of something undemanding to watch…
And, so it was that I pressed play on Doctors' Wives, a 1970 film with a good cast, adult themes and an 18 certificate. Based on the book by the appropriately-named, Frank G. Slaughter, no doubt the kind of blockbuster sold in airports the world over, this was a complex and ambitious tale involving five marriages in various states of disrepair, yet all held together by the fact that the men are doctors and the women are let down…

We see them at first segregated in two groups at a social club, the men cigar smoking and discussing business and the women casually playing cards whilst talking about infidelity.

Lorrie Dellman, played by Dyan Cannon,  is the alpha female and most challenging of the group, then there’s the smart one (Janice Rule), the drunk one (Cara Williams), the up-tight one (Marian McCargo)  and the welsh one (an excellent Rachel Roberts).

Lorrie suggests that she should sleep with al of their husbands in order to let them know where they’re going wrong, “don’t worry, “ she says to their varying astonishment and disgust, “I’ve already got about half way…” This puts the cats amongst the roosters and each couple starts to re-examine the nature of their relationships, their trust, their love and not just their sex lives.
Shockingly Lorrie is shot dead soon after by her husband (John Colicos) who finds her in the middle of ticking off another of the doctors (George Gaynes…aka Dr McGill husband of the up-tight one).

Whilst this early homicide is a waste of the talented Dyan Cannon it does serve to up the dramatic pace as the lover in question almost dies and has to be saved by some highly-graphic surgery and an alert staff nurse (the excellent Diana Sands) who just happens to be having an affair with the doctor doing the saving... Dr Brennan (Richard Crenna) husband of the smart one.
It’s a soap opera of a story with many twists and turns and no doubt an attempt to do for hospitals what Airport did for …those places where planes come and go.

It is good - ridiculous - fun and there are some excellent performances especially from Rachel Roberts who’s confession of a one night stand with the  voracious and experimental Lorrie is quite the best bit of acting in the film followed by Gene Hackman’s astonished response with a rolled up newspaper.

This couple are bought together by the revelations that follow in Lorrie’s death yet others are pushed apart but all come to make honest re-appraisals of their lives.
The film’s end features the unlikely scenario of Lorrie’s murderous husband (John Colicos providing his dependable line in barely concealed malevolence...) getting temorarily released to operate on the son of Dr Crane’s lover (are you keeping up?). He is the only man who can perform the operation and accepts only on the grounds that he can make his escape…. Will the boy survive and will Dr Death gain liberty?

This very professional film has the feel of a 70s US TV film – with lots of familiar faces - but the subject matter and the odd smattering of nudity, combined with some unflinching shots of in-surgery operations, elevate it to a more cinematic level.

I watched this on TV a long time ago with my folks…some of the scenes would have been uncomfortable viewing for the teenage me. Now it’s very much a period piece and very much worth saving from the video box unlike the 30 or so sent for recycling…
Plenty more where that came from but maybe some more dusty gems?