The Hospital (1971)

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Movie Review
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Director: Arthur Hiller

Starring: George C. Scott, Diana Rigg

You take a risk every time you enter a hospital, be it from the germs you might catch from any one of the dozens upon dozens of patients who are shuffled in and out, or from doctors/nurses whose lackadaisical approach towards their profession gives you a new appreciation for the term ‘medical practice.’ You also take a risk, albeit a non-life threatening one, each time you decide to watch a movie you know little about. Occasionally I find one so toxic that I wonder if there’s any way to somehow magically restore the hours of my life that were wasted in the process. Most of the time, I find ways to be entertained. Every so often, a movie like 1971’s “The Hospital” comes to my attention that is not only great but also reminds me of how rarely we still find actors and screenwriters with this much collective talent.

Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) is the chief of staff at a teaching hospital in Manhattan. Bock loves this hospital above all else. That helps explain why the former family man is now living alone. His wife left him, and he and his children are no longer on speaking terms… especially his ‘pinko commie hippie’ son, whose challenge against his father’s manhood has left Dr. Bock feeling impotent. That the hospital is also going to the dogs doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Dr. Bock. The method by which it is happening, however, does. Members of the hospital staff are dying, their expiration apparently the result of mistaken identity and incorrect diagnoses. Outside, the situation is just as chaotic. The hospital’s annexation of a nearby, rundown apartment complex has drawn the ire of its residents… and they are not about to have their voices go unheard.

Dr. Bock is on the verge of suicide when, in the middle of all of this madness, he meets Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg), the daughter of a coma patient and an ex-nurse who these days is a free-spirited woman living with her father on an Indian ranch. I’m left a little uncertain as to whether Barbara was supposed to be American or British, as Rigg’s accent appears to fluctuate until late in the movie where she just seems to declare, “Screw it, I’m British. Deal with it!” The two have a long talk, after which a thoroughly drunk Dr. Bock tears off Barbara’s clothes and has sex with her… three times. Looks like that pesky impotence is cured! Moreover, the good doctor finds that he loves Barbara, and even considers the possibility of leaving the hospital with her.

Eventually it is revealed that, unbeknownst to Barbara, her father is not only not comatose but is in fact the person responsible for the dead doctors and nurses. Showing himself to be quite mad, Mr. Drummond (Barnard Hughes) essentially uses the “God told me to” defense, claiming that he’s been instructed to pass judgment against the corruption and indifference of modern medical practice. As the protesters make their way inside the hospital, Dr. Bock conspires to help Barbara get her father out of the building with the intention of high-tailing it for Mexico. At the last moment, as he takes a look at the growing hysteria, Dr. Bock realizes he can’t leave his beloved hospital behind, and instructs Barbara to go on without him.

As seems to have been common with screenplays written by Paddy Chayefsky, “The Hospital” is darkly humorous and disturbing all at once. One example of this is the scene where the super-annoying nurse is seen badgering a man, only to declare him dead. When asked how she has come to such a conclusion, she observes that he must be dead “because he wouldn’t give me his Blue Cross number.”  The man renowned also for films such as “Marty” and “Network” could have had even more brilliance to offer the world if he hadn’t died at the young age of 58. Ironically, given the subject matter of “The Hospital,” the cancer that killed Chayefsky in 1981 might have been curable if only he hadn’t refused treatment.

Bringing life to Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script are two equally important cogs in this machine, actors George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. The best scene in the movie is the one in Dr. Bock’s office where he and Barbara trade their origin stories. If the whole movie consisted of just these two alone in a room talking to one another, believe me, I’d watch. Their caliber of actor is an endangered species among the current generation, and it’s even more rare to find two such talents paired up in the same movie.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Sounds totally insane! Can’t wait to see it!

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